Hero in “Tender Is the Night” by Scott F. Fitzgerald

Subject: Literature
Pages: 6
Words: 1688
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: Undergraduate

Fitzgerald models the character of the Dick Driver in the manner of an archetypical hero. He is a bright young man with a degree and position to make a fine psychiatrist one day. Instead, like any of the modern heroes he goes on a quest to cure an incurable mental disease of a patient with whom he falls in love.

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Dick Driver, in the beginning of the novel, is described as an enthusiastic doctor’s apprentice who is handsome and attractive. Dick’s physical appearance is described as:

“… reddish and weather-burned, so was his short hair—a light growth of it rolled down his arms and hands. His eyes were of a bright, hard blue. His nose was somewhat pointed and there was never any doubt at whom he was looking or talking… his voice with some faint Irish melody running through it, wooed the world” (Fitzgerald 3)

He was one of those handsome men who are courteous, self-disciplines, adorned with the required social etiquettes (Shunnaq 187). However, his self-sacrificing nature that defined his character ironically brings him to his end. Initially, Dick Driver’s fervor is endless. He was ambitious and aimed to become of the most successful psychologists. He was devoted to his work and sincerely abided to the obligations of his profession. Though he is zealous but his character is marked by humility and modesty. Fitzgerald ironically steers the archetypical hero who is ready to commit himself fully to his professional career into the mess of emotional bonding. His humane compassion becomes the reason behind his ultimate failure.

Hesitation and uncertainty mark the core of Dick Driver’s character in Tender. This character of Fitzgerald’s hero has been similar in his first three novels (Shunnaq 188). However, Fitzgerald pointed out the mood swings that swarmed Dick – at one point he would he ecstatic with spirit and would sweep everyone with excitement, however, he would then be engulfed in his own melancholy that he never displayed to others. He is unsure of his future, which leaves him constantly speculating about the future. Such mood swings, and uncertainty was characteristic of the post-war world that ran high on doubts (Shunnaq 188).

As Dick’s character as an optimist and his admirable qualities are displayed to the readers, Fitzgerald moves on to describe his failures. There are many considerations that bear on Dick are his design and ambition for future and other emotional forebodings that torment him. Shunnaq mentions that the reason for Dick’s descent was his “professional aspirations, his personal hopes to find love, and a feeling of uncertainty concerning his future as a professional psychiatrist ultimately aid in leading to his deterioration and loss of credibility” (189).

However, his emotional restraints as a psychiatrist was not full proof and so he fell in love with one his patient. Dick had a profound impact on the unstable mind of Nicole Warren and he emerged as her first love and savior. Almost like a knight in shinning armors, Dick emerged to save Nicole. Giving special attention to Nicole was part of the initial plan in order to gain money and fame for the clinic by curing the granddaughter of one of wealthiest and well-connected man in America. All this pressure may also be the reason behind Dick’s decision to marry Nicole and “devote half of his life to being doctor and nurse and all” (Fitzgerald 140). Though Dick pronounces his love for Nicole, but one cannot refrain from thinking that there might be another reason for Dick to be engaged to mentally incapacitated Nicole was due to an element of pity that he felt for Nicole as he watched her already flimsy world shattering into pieces. Hence critiques believe that Dick’s reason for marrying Nicole could not have been simply love: “This marriage is an ideal means for this young doctor to link both his professional and personal life, to fulfill his humanitarian aspirations, and to control a relatively unpredictable variable: the future.” (Shunnaq 191).

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Fitzgerald draws a subtle comparison of Dick’s quest to marry and cure Nicole to a classic hero’s quest to an adventure. This is the romantic quest that all archetypical hero ventures out to. The quest is the key to the hero’s happiness and fulfillment and in case of Dick; it was the means of making his personal professional life complete. However, the tragedy of Dick’s heroic quest is the quest itself – his marriage to Nicole. Dick is aware of the consequences of such a husband-nurse role and through the course of their marriage “he had perforce, hardened himself about her, making a cleavage between Nicole sick and Nicole well. This made it difficult now to distinguish between his self-protective professional detachment and some new coldness in his heart” (Fitzgerald 168). Ultimately the fissures of their marriage grow larger and Dick realizes that e has to let her go if he wanted her to get well.

Fitzgerald uses many images to demonstrate the anti-hero in his novels. Dick Driver in search of isolation and a stable future enters in a relationship that ends him. in this respect Dick’s quest is similar to that of Jay Gatsby who to searches for stability and happiness in his quest for Daisy.

Dick, like other Fitzgerald’s heroes, is haunted by isolation. Initially Fitzgerald introduces Dick as a happy enthusiastic character but one who has an acute understanding of isolation. However, his marriage to Nicole initially becomes a source for his respite from his seclusion, but eventually he ends up creating superficial relationship with Nicole’s family whom he considers selfish. Dick becomes the hero who remains in isolation and as the story matures, Dick’s isolation intensifies.

In the later part of the novel, Dick becomes anxious and restless. Dick’s appearance starts showing his rising anguish and distrust for the Warren family who he believes had been taking advantage of him. His physical appearance shows his affliction: “his chin dominated the lines of pain around his mouth, forcing them up into his forehead and the comer of his eyes, like fear that cannot be shown in public” (Fitzgerald 105). In isolation and frustration, Dick resorts to drinking. Wanton alcoholism and exhaustion of his energy ultimately pushes Dick to leave Nicole. In the end of the novel, we find Nicole rejuvenated, cured of all her ailments, but Dick had lost all his drive, ambition, and dream. Instead of a high flung professional, Dick settles as a psychiatrist in a small town. Thus, Fitzgerald’s hero diminishes in his stature from the exotic classical hero to an insignificant, failed man.

Psychoanalysis of Tender is the Night

Dick Driver is a psychiatrist. So effectually, he is expected to be the master of words. His education and profession has trained him to reconstruct the life of mentally ill people in order to return their past. He is supposed to be adept in linguistics and language. Instead, when the novel ends the readers find Dick wordless and involved in scandalous licentious relationships. Hence Cokal says, “Dick has lost his linguistic magic (except with the ladies, who have got him into trouble before) and can no longer muster the narrative skills necessary for psychiatric work” (Cokal 88-89). It is further pointed out that Dick, by the end of the novel, is completely incapacitated and has lost complete control of “his own psyche” (Cokal 89). Cokal discusses the case of Dick Driver using Freudian theory, indicating that Dick’s initial infatuation towards Nicole was a means of stitching “her together”, much as he arranges his work (Fitzgerald 135). Nicole’s blonde hair and expensive clothes dazzles the then the love-struck Dick. Thus, Dick says that he is “thankful to have an existence at all, if only as a reflection in her wet eyes” (Fitzgerald 155). The description that Dick gives of Nicole is similar from that given by Papa Warren. The trauma the Nicole faces of a childhood tragedy haunts their relationship. Their married life, though begins with modest fun and frolic, soon looses its harmony resulting in a classic doctor patient narrative. A critic of the novel, thus states:

To cure hysterics, psychoanalysts rely heavily on the mechanism of transference, establishing a parental relationship between patient and analyst: a patient sees her doc- tor in the role of a person who has traumatized her in the past, usually a parent; the doctor stoically insists that she must help herself and find her own cure, push her own analyses of events as far as they will go. It is an accepted and important part of the psychoanalytic script, and one that provides insight into the general process of constructing a case history and, more generally, telling a story. (Cokal 90)

In case of Dick, he injects himself inside his patient’s life through love and then marriage. In doing so, according to the theory of psychoanalysis, he “exacerbates the disorder” (Cokal 90). This may have eventually cured Nicole, but had driven Dick to nothingness. Bui points out that Driver’s desires and actions were “insecure and irresponsible” (30). Driver then associates in a relationship with Rosemary, but he looses both of them, especially Nicole. In a way, it can be argued that the demise of both, Driver’s career and sexual desire, occurred by the end of the novel.

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The hysteria that had to be treated in Tender presents a specific Freudian side to it. Bui has pointed out that “the Freudian theory of counter-transference, treid to argue that due to a reversal of therapeutic treatment, Doctor Driver is the best illustration of American dream-neurosis” (29).

Anti-Hero in Tender is the Night

The presence of crime fiction in American literature has been well documented however, little attention ahs been paid to the unconventional crimes presented in the novels (Chapman 7). In case of Tender, the crime that has been committed was before the time when the novel is set. However, the immoral act makes the climax and/or anti-climax in the novel. The incestuous relation that Papa Warren had with child Nicole not only counts as an immoral act, but also a crime. Papa Warren actually molested a child. This fact is often neglected in the novel.


Bui, Thi Huong Giang. “Hysterical Fantasy in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.” Studies in Literature and Language 5.2 (2012): 29-35. Print.

Chapman, Mak Christopher. The Criminal Protagonist: Moral Collapse, Ethical Ambiguity, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Twentieth-century American Crime Fiction. University of Texas at Dallas, 2004. Print.

Cokal, Susann. “Caught in the Wrong Story: Psychoanalysis and Narrative Structure in Tender Is the Night.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 47.1 (2005): 75-100. Print.

Fitzgerald, F Scott. Tender is the Night. New York: Random House, 2001. Print.

Shunnaq, Susanne Ramadan. The Trasitional Epic Hero in American Literature: Alger, Fitzgerald, and the Philosophy of Success. Ann Abor: Bell and Hovell, 2000. Print.

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