Abstract

References to world’s fairs, state fairs, and amusement parks appear throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fiction as part of his examination of American life, but the influence of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, has largely been overlooked. Fitzgerald attended the Exposition in 1901 as a young boy, and he continued to attend state fairs throughout his childhood. He had an uncanny ability to mine popular trends for their cultural insights. He recognized that popular culture often reflected the country’s aspirations and desires while communicating its anxieties and fears. In the late 1920s, when he decided to turn to his childhood as inspiration for a new series of stories about youth culture, he chose the setting of a state fair in “A Night at the Fair” (published in the 21 July 1928 issue of the Saturday Evening Post) for exploring some of the hierarchies shaping contemporary life. For Fitzgerald, world and state fairs seemed to put every aspect of the nation—from its current practices to its vision for the future—on display in the same time and place. Ultimately, whether through the grandiosity of its architecture and celebration of modern technology or its messages about race and gender, these fairs provided a vehicle for some of Fitzgerald’s most searing commentary on American excess and inequality.

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