Abstract

How might a contemporary critical reader gauge the character Jules Peterson in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night? An “Afro-European,” Peterson is dead in a Paris hotel room in 1925, but how that death signifies in a wider circumference of American racial issues and attitudes deserves exploration. Scholars and readers need to probe Fitzgerald's racial imaginary, even when we sense he is less centrally engaged by this key subject than we might be in our ideological climate. This article positions the Jules Peterson portrayal as a test case in examining Fitzgerald's narrative choices in his fourth novel. In his impulses, Fitzgerald recreated the tensions in the American popular culture at large with regard to the consumption of racialized sexual images in early modernism. Toni Morrison's analysis in Playing in the Dark depicts race and blackness in American fiction as composed of “the associative language of dread and love that accompanies blackness.” Applying Morrison, the argument here is not as centered on Fitzgerald's “views on race,” however they may be interpreted with evidence from his own era. Rather it is concerned with his conscious and unconscious representations of a racialized fictional American imaginary that dictates repetitive usage of color and thus influences our readings of Tender Is the Night. Jules Peterson is the bold summoning of a troubled emblem from Fitzgerald's racial and gendered imagination, rendering possibilities and nightmares that burst the bounds of his major novel.

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