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the diamond as big as the ritz
Transcript of the diamond as big as the ritz
THE DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ
JOHN T. UNGER
John T. Unger begins the story as guilty of wealth-worshipping as anyone else.
"I like very rich people," he tells Percy. "The richer a fella is, the better I like him" (1.22).
John comes from a town where
"the simple piety prevalent […] has the earnest worship of and respect for riches as the first article of its creed,"
and he seems to have taken this creed to heart
Upon arriving at the Washington estate, he can do little more than stare in wonder and worship at the extravagant wealth of his friend's family.
He is so overwhelmed, in fact, by the sensory cascade of the lavish château, that he simply falls asleep at dinner.
To be sure, John is an outsider – both at the Washington estate and in his time at St. Midas'.
Sure, his family is affluent, but they live in a small town in Mississippi, where
"a function that would be considered elaborate would be doubtless hailed by a Chicago beef-princes as 'perhaps a little tacky'" (1.3).
When he goes off to school, he journeys into a new world – a world where wealth reigns supreme.
And if St. Midas' is the gateway to this world, the Washington estate is the inner sanctum.
John's time at the Washingtons' estate is interesting, because it's never exactly clear if he's there as a or as a
We suspect from the start that he won't be allowed to leave (given the extent to which Braddock has gone to ensure his diamond stays secret), but John doesn't realize this until Kismine gives the game away, nearly at the end of his stay.
On the one hand, he is treated like royalty while he's there – but on the other hand, the dark threat of murder or imprisonment hangs overhead the whole time.
John claims here that he has been disillusioned – and that such disillusionment is valuable.
Do we believe him? Has he learned his lesson about the dangers of
and the immorality of attaining it on the backs of others?
It's hard to say. What is interesting is that John presents this disillusionment as a sort of wealth in itself.
Perhaps in this way, then, he is not
as poor as he seems to be.
One question to consider when thinking about John's character is whether he's learned anything from this mess.
After escaping from the château with Jasmine and Kismine, he makes plans for his life in Hades.
There are several confusing lines here( what's up with the ending)
But there is one specific line we'll look at here. After Kismine posits that her entire
youth has been a dream
, John agrees that this is the nature of being young. Then he adds:
"There are only diamonds in the whole world, diamonds and perhaps the shabby gift of disillusion. Well, I have that last and I will make the usual nothing of it." (11.30)
John T. Unger Timeline and Summary
We learn that John is sixteen and grew up in Hades, Mississippi in an affluent family. He is now ready to go to St. Midas' prep school in Boston.
John has a tearful good-bye with his parents.
John enjoys hob-nobbing with the wealthy kids at school. He spends summers with wealthy families.
John becomes friends with the reserved Percy Washington. He accepts an invitation to spend the summer with Percy.
He travels by train, buggy, and finally automobile to Percy's place in Montana. On the way, he learns that Percy's father has a diamond as big as the Ritz Hotel.
John is awed by the sights and sounds of the opulent Washington estate. He falls asleep several times in the course of the night.
The next morning, John hears from Percy the story of the Washington family.
John meets Percy's sister, Kismine, and thinks she is perfect.
John goes on a tour of the estate with Braddock. He learns about the imprisoned aviators and hears of the escaped Italian prisoner.
He falls in love with Kismine; they share their first kiss together.
John learns from Kismine that Braddock intends to murder him before the summer is over. He and Kismine decide to elope together.
John hears a noise outside his bedroom; he spots Braddock in the hall with three slaves and fears for his life. Then he realizes that the place is under attack. He goes to get Kismine and tells her to put some jewels in her pocket. He escapes with her and Jasmine.
Out in the woods, John spies on Braddock as he tries (and fails) to bribe God.
John and the two girls make their way down the mountain. They watch it explode, killing the rest of the Washington family and the attackers.
He learns that Kismine has brought only rhinestones with her.
They plan for a life in Hades.
Braddock Tarleton Washington
Braddock Washington is the embodiment of the values critiqued in Fitzgerald's satire: an insatiable desire for wealth, the absence of religion, and the will to destroy others for personal gain.
Because he descends from George Washington and Lord Baltimore, it's clear that Braddock is in many ways a symbol for America's own founding and expansion into the West.
Given this connection, Braddock's lines of dialogue take in a particular importance. Consider the following two statements:
"How could a man of my position be fair-minded toward [the imprisoned aviators]? You might as well speak of a Spaniard being fair-minded toward a piece of steak." (6.37)
"Cruelty doesn't exist where self-preservation is involved." (6.44)
This is just the attitude that Fitzgerald critiques with his story. Braddock not only is willing to exploit others for his own purposes, but he also thinks there's nothing wrong with it. He thinks it's
as Kismine will later say, to get
as much as you can out of other people
(8.33). This is the attitude, the narrative seems to argue, that led to things like slavery.
Of course, the
in all of this is that Braddock is himself a
and in his own château. Sure, he has the aviators imprisoned below the ground, but he has himself imprisoned in a much larger, much better disguised prison. He is, in many ways,
a slave to his own obsession with wealth.
His entire life functions around hiding the diamond from others. He serves this obsession flawlessly.
So it's no surprise when Braddock gets his just desserts in the end. After first trying to bribe God, Braddock ends up
in the explosion of his
own giant diamond mountain
. It's fitting that actually goes inside the mountain to die –
it's is his prison so he cannot leave it, even in death.
It's also fitting that he goes in voluntarily (just as he's voluntarily committed himself to a prison of his wealth), and that he leads his family in there with him –
Braddock is a victim of his own volition.
Braddock Tarleton Washington Timeline and Summary
We learn that Braddock Washington has a diamond as big as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
When Percy Washington tells John his family history, we learn that Braddock inherited the diamond from his father and, deciding that he had enough wealth, sealed it off from further mining. Since then, he's done everything he can do conceal its existence from the world.
John meets Braddock and finds him to be interested only in his own opinions. Braddock takes John for a tour of the estate, explaining the various methods by which he keeps his mountain secret. One of these methods turns out to be shooting down planes overhead and then imprisoning the aviators.
Braddock takes John to the prison and then banters back and forth with his underground prisoners. He says that he would be happy to free them, if only they could guarantee their silence. He wishes them no ill will, he insists.
We learn from Kismine that Braddock always kills any guests at the estate
John finds Braddock in the hallway elevator and is afraid for his life.
After his estate has been attacked by the aviators, Braddock offers God a diamond bribe.
When God declines to accept, Braddock leads his family into the mountain to die.
Kismine Washington is Percy's youngest sister and the
interest for our
She is, like her father's diamond, flawless. Let's take a look at the blossoming of first love:
[John] was critical about women. A single defect—a thick ankle, a hoarse voice, a glass eye—was enough to make him utterly indifferent. And here for the first time in his life he was beside a girl who seemed to him the
incarnation of physical perfection.
Kismine is an extension of the seemingly flawless, beautiful Washington château. But like the prison that lies beneath the ground of the estate, a darker secret lies underneath.
just using John
for the summer – he'll be
at the end. She knows this, and yet does nothing to stop it. It upsets her, but only in the way having a headache on your birthday would make you upset.
She doesn't see anything fundamentally or morally wrong with the picture – she's only depressed that thinking about the matter will take all the fun out of her summer.
"It's only natural for us to get all the pleasure out of them that we can first,"
she tells John (8.33). She claims that she's
about the whole mess, though admits that she would rather see John
"put away than ever kiss another girl"
The problem here is that Kismine doesn't understand the
value of human life – or death.
"We can't let such an inevitable thing as death stand in the way of enjoying life while we have it,"
she explains to John.
"Think how lonesome it'd be out here if we never had any one. Why, father and mother have sacrificed some of their best friends just as we have"
This problem of valuation continues throughout the story. Later, when the slaves quarters' are destroyed in the bombing, she laments,
"There go fifty thousand dollars' worth of slaves, at prewar prices. So few Americans have any respect for property"
Kismine's inability to understand
the real value
of anything – not just its monetary value – is the result to her upbringing. She's used to being able to buy anything – and we mean anything – so it's no surprise that she has little respect for non-monetary value.
Just as her father is made the victim of his own shortcomings, so is Kismine at the end of "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz," when she brings rhinestones in her pockets instead of diamonds.
"I think I like these better,"
she says. "
I'm a little tired of diamonds"
(11.11). Kismine is indeed tired of her life of luxury and ease, demonstrating once again that
money can't buy happiness
. She's bored with her life to the point where she's excited about the prospect of being poor. '
We'll be poor, won't we?' she says to John with childish delight, 'free and poor. What fun!'"
TIMELINE AND SUMMARY
John meets Kismine and thinks that she is the most perfect creature he has ever laid eyes on.
She explains that she's going to finishing school in New York in the fall.
Kismine chats about her family to John.
She flirts with John.
Kismine and John fall in love; they have their first kiss together in July. They want to get married next year.
In August, Kismine reveals, somewhat accidentally, that her father intends to kill John, just as he's killed all of his other guests. She doesn't think this is a big deal, though she's upset that the news will spoil the fun for her and John in the time they have left.
John and Kismine decide to elope, the better for keeping John alive.
John runs to get Kismine when the estate is under attack. She's excited at the prospect of being poor, as she believes it will be great fun. He tells her to empty her jewelry box into her pockets, which she does.
Kismine, Jasmine, and John escape from the château and into the woods. Kismine falls asleep.
Kismine gets hysterical when she sees the rest of her family go into the mountain, which she explains is wired to blow.
That night, after they've made their way to safety, Kismine empties her pockets. Turns out that she opened the wrong drawer and took rhinestones instead of diamonds. She thinks that's OK, however, as she was getting tired of diamonds and thinks rhinestones are more interesting.
Kismine starts planning for her life in Hades with John. She asks if her father is going to be there in Hades; John explains that she's mixed-up.
Kismine muses that her
youth seems to have been a dream.
All three of them fall asleep together.
Percy is John's in to a world of
luxury, ease, and garish wealth
Though we don't know it at the start, we find out later that Percy willfully brought John to his home to die; he knows full well that his father murders all his family guests. Percy drops out of the story once Kismine enters the picture, so we never get to hear his thoughts on the matter or listen to his attempts at justifying this behavior. We assume, though, that he shares his sister's shallow feelings on the situation.
John does conclude, after all, that both
"Percy and Kismine seemed to have inherited the arrogant attitude in all its harsh magnificence from their father,"
"a chaste and consistent selfishness [runs] like a pattern through their every idea"
Percy takes on another important role when he fills John in as to the history of the Washington family. This is the part of the text where we start to see the connection between the history of the Washington family and the history of the US. This is where the satire aspect of the story kicks in. As the hidden narrator of his family's history, Percy provides John – and the reader – with all the background info we need.
We don't get to see anything of Percy in the dramatic bombing scene, but we are told that he goes into the mountain to
die with his family.
We're not sure how Percy feels about this whole thing, or what his reaction is to the attack. He seems to be fated, however, like his father, to go down with the ship.
Percy arrives at St. Midas' school in Boston. He is reserved and uncommunicative about his home life.
He befriends John and then invites him home for the summer. On the train ride home, Percy reveals that his rather has a diamond as big as the Ritz Carlton hotel.
His first morning at the estate, John listens to Percy tell him the history of the Washington family over breakfast.
Percy goes on a tour of the estate with his father and John. He urges his father to show John the prison
We don't hear from Percy again, but he is with his father when the family goes into the mountain right before it all blows up.
Percy Washington Timeline and Summary
John T. Unger is the clear
in "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz." We experience the bizarre happenings of the story through his eyes – the eyes of an outsider, both to the Washington estate and to the world of extravagant wealth as a whole. We root for him as he tries to escape from Braddock and from the object of the story's satire – America's obsession with wealth.
JOHN T. UNGER
Because Braddock tries to kill our hero (John Unger), he's a shoe-in for the role of
. On top of that, he embodies the obsession with wealth that Fitzgerald satirizes in this story. Braddock thinks nothing of imprisoning or murdering the people who stand in his way, and he's exploited dozens of men (the most obvious example being his slaves) in the name of personal success.
America's Obsession with Wealth
When you look at "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" as a parable rather than just as a story, you realize that the real antagonist isn't a specific character, but the idea being critiqued through satire. In other words, Braddock isn't the antagonist – the mindset and values which Braddock represents are. We're talking mainly about the insatiable desire for wealth, and the willingness to do jut about anything to get it.
John T. Unger and Percy Washington
These two prep school friends are a good candidate for the classic literary
John comes from a moderately affluent family, while Percy is the son of the richest man in the world. Wealth impresses John, while it is simply part of daily existence for Percy. Both boys suffer from the same material obsessions, though John is arguably more free than his companion from the prison of Braddock's giant diamond.
If you couldn't tell from her name, Kismine is the romantic interest for our young protagonist. The love story isn't central to the story, but it's part of the "coming-of-age" element of the genre. As John learns more about life, wealth, and values, he also learns a bit about love, and Kismine is a key part of this.
"The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" as Satire
"The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" may be a fun fantasy story, but it's also a major critique of American history and American values. One of the early tip-offs is Percy's explanation that his family descends from George Washington and Lord Baltimore – two men who were integral in the founding and expansion of America.
The story of Fitz-Norman Washington, Percy's grandfather, quickly becomes a parallel for the expansion of the U.S. into the west.
Fitz-Norman set out after the Civil War to seek his fortune; when he found that fortune, he exploited the country's natural resources for his own material gain and then safeguarded that secret through the manipulation and pain of others. The slaves are a key example here.
Fitz-Norman took advantage of them by convincing them that the South won the civil war and that slavery was still legal. He then convinced them his giant diamond was a rhinestone mine, and kept all the profits for himself.
Fitzgerald makes the point that
material success has its costs
– and that those who seek it blindly falsely believe that the exploitation of others is natural for their own purposes.
A great example is the passage in which we learn that Fitz-Norman
"was compelled, due to a series of unfortunate complications, to murder his brother, whose unfortunate habit of drinking himself into an indiscreet stupor had several times endangered their safety. But very few other murders stained these happy years of progress and expansion,"
Through this hyperbole, Fitzgerald points out how absurd it is to sacrifice human life in the name of material gain.
The giant diamond itself is a symbol in this overarching satire. To begin, it is an emblem of the garish excess of the Washingtons' wealth.
Excessively large diamonds are considered vulgar; so a diamond as big as the Ritz is the epitome of tacky glut.
It's also significant that Washington built his château on top of the diamond – he's built his home, literally, on the mountain of his wealth.
Religious and Mythological Allegory
"The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" is full of religious allusions, both explicit and implicit. To begin with is the dichotomy between John's hometown,
Hades or Hell
, and Percy's home, which in contrast appears to be a spin on the
Garden of Eden – paradise
We know this is an important dichotomy because Fitzgerald keeps reminding us of the religious allusion inherent in the name of John's hometown. To start is the reference to the inscription over the gates of
an old-fashioned Victorian Motto"
that is, admittedly,
"a little depressing"
(1.8). This is a humorous allusion to the inscription over the gates of Hell:
"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." We also notice that everyone keeps jokingly asking John, in reference to his home town, "Is it hot enough for you down there?"
On the surface level, this refers to the fact that John is from the South (as opposed to most of the New Englanders with whom he goes to school). But it is also a joking reference to the fact that Hades is Hell, and that Hell isn't exactly known for its air-conditioning. We also notice that, when John leaves home, his father tells him,
"We'll keep the home fires burning"
Finally, at the end of the text, Kismine asks John if her father will be in Hades when they get there.
"Your father is dead,"
he explains to her.
"Why should he go to Hades? You have it confused with another place that was abolished long ago"
(11.24). The tricky part here is understanding why John, Kismine, and Jasmine willingly look forward to going to Hades at the end of the story. Why would they want to go to
, especially having just left the
Garden of Eden?
Interestingly, we get another reference to Hell about halfway through the text – not in reference to Hades, but rather to the underground prison where Braddock keeps the aviators he's shot down.
"Come on down to Hell!"
the men call to John when Braddock opens their cage (6.17). This is fitting, since the prison is below ground while
(or the Washington estate) is above.
All this Heaven and Hell business is merely one element of the network of religious allusions that runs through "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz."
The village of Fish
is another, and in fact a rather bizarre segment of the story. It's one of the few places where the narrator breaks from John's point-of-view to comment or explain more objectively what's going on Let's take a look at this confusing passage:
The Montana sunset lay between two mountains like a gigantic bruise from which dark arteries spread themselves over a poisoned sky. An immense distance under the sky crouched the village of Fish, minute, dismal, and forgotten. There were
men, so it was said, in the village of Fish, twelve somber and inexplicable souls who sucked a lean milk from the almost literally bare rock upon which a mysterious populatory force had begotten them. They had become a race apart, these twelve men of Fish, like some species developed by an early whim of nature, which on second thought had abandoned them to struggle and extermination.
Out of the blue-black bruise in the distance crept a long line of moving lights upon the desolation of the land, and the twelve men of Fish gathered like ghosts at the shanty depot to watch the passing of the seven o'clock train, the Transcontinental Express from Chicago. Six times or so a year the Transcontinental Express, through some inconceivable jurisdiction, stopped at the village of Fish […]. The observation of this pointless and preposterous phenomenon had become a sort of cult among the men of Fish. To observe, that was all; there remained in them none of the vital quality of illusion which would make them wonder or speculate, else a religion might have grown up around these mysterious visitations. But the men of Fish were beyond all religion—the barest and most savage tenets of even Christianity could gain no foothold on that barren rock—so there was no altar, no priest, no sacrifice; only each night at seven the silent concourse by the shanty depot, a congregation who lifted up a prayer of dim, anaemic wonder. (2.1-2)
The religious allusion is to the twelve disciples of Jesus (who is often associated with the ichthus fish). But the village of Fish is a desolate, barren land, a land "poisoned" and "bruised" and otherwise destroyed. This village of religion has abandoned religion. If the men of Fish are "beyond all religion," if "the barest and most savage tenets of even Christianity could gain no foothold on that barren rock," then America truly has turned away from God.
So if Americans aren't worshipping God – what are they worshipping? In a word:
The religious terms in this story always refer to wealth, not to God. Consider St. Midas' prep, John and Percy's fancy school. They've chosen to make a saint of a king who could turn anything into gold. John reflects that
"the simple piety prevalent in Hades has the earnest worship of and respect for riches as the first article of its creed,"
and that if he deviated from this standard
"his parents would have turned away in horror at the blasphemy"
Money is the new religion in this land
– men deify the wealthy and worship at the altar of diamond and gold.
Speaking of altars of diamonds, how about that attempted bribe at the end of the story? Braddock, realizing that his own destruction is at hand, tries to
by promising him a giant diamond. Take a look:
Braddock] would give to God, he continued, getting down to specifications, the greatest diamond in the world. This diamond would be cut with many more thousand facets than there were leaves on a tree, and yet the whole diamond would be shaped with the perfection of a stone no bigger than a fly. Many men would work upon it for many years. It would be set in a great dome of beaten gold, wonderfully carved and equipped with gates of opal and crusted sapphire. In the middle would be hollowed out a chapel presided over by an altar of iridescent, decomposing, ever-changing radium which would burn out the eyes of any worshipper who lifted up his head from prayer—and on this altar there would be slain for the amusement of the Divine Benefactor any victim He should choose, even though it should be the greatest and most powerful man alive. (10.14)
So what does it mean that Braddock's bribe doesn't work? It could be that Fitzgerald is making an argument that religion is so fundamental that it cannot be destroyed by our vapid worship of wealth. God is still there, the story seems to threaten, an we'll all have to own up to our actions at the end. There is certainly a Judgment Day feel about this final scene – the aeroplanes in the sky are described as "
a dozen dark-winged bodies in constantly circling course" raining down fire on the land below
(9.18). Later, the planes are described as
"golden angels alighting from the clouds"
(10.22). Braddock is being judged for his sins, and is ultimately forced to pay for them.
Another interpretation for God's refusal is that he simply isn't there. Braddock offers a bribe; no result. This may indeed be a land devoid not only of religion, but of divine presence altogether. We could go a step further and say that the people who dwell in this land and deify wealth have killed God.
Does "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" function primarily as social satire or as a fantasy story?
How does John's character change throughout the course of the story? What does he learn?
t is the main character (the central or primary personal figure) of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, who enters conflict because of the
The audience is intended to most identify with the protagonist
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz Setting
St. Midas' school, outside Boston
the Washington estate in Montana
Most of "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" takes place on the five-square-mile land of the Washington estate, somewhere in the middle of Montana. By all accounts, the Washington château appears to be a paradise. Fitzgerald's lavish descriptions characterize the excess and opulence of the flawless chateau and its surroundings. It's hard to read into the estate a reference to the Biblical Garden of Eden – especially in contrast with Hades, or Hell, from where John hails. We talk about this fully in our discussion of religious allegory in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory," so be sure to check that out.
One of the interesting elements of the Montana setting is the specific imagery Fitzgerald uses to describe the land in which Washington has set his estate. Take a look at the following few pages and see if you can find the common theme we're talking about:
The Montana sunset lay between two mountains like a gigantic bruise from which dark arteries spread themselves over a poisoned sky. (2.1)
Out of the blue-black bruise in the distance crept a long line of moving lights upon the desolation of the land, and the twelve men of Fish gathered like ghosts at the shanty depot to watch the passing of the seven o'clock train, the Transcontinental Express from Chicago. Six times or so a year the Transcontinental Express […] stopped at the village of Fish, and when this occurred a figure or so would disembark […] and drive off toward the bruised sunset. (2.2)
After half an hour, when the twilight had coagulated into dark, the silent negro […] hailed an opaque body somewhere ahead of them in the gloom. (2.4)
It was apparent that they had surmounted some immense knife-blade of stone. (2.17)
"gigantic bruise," "dark arteries,"
"blue-black bruise," "bruised sunset," and "coagulated"
sure pack a imagistic punch. Fitzgerald uses the imagery of a physically injured body to describe the Montana landscape, suggesting that something – or perhaps someone – has hurt the land. You could interpret this any number of ways. Perhaps, by abandoning God and worshipping at the altar of wealth, the religion-less men of fish have bruised their land. Perhaps men like Washington have poisoned the country by exploiting its resources (like diamonds) for their own purposes.
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
Third Person (Limited Omniscient)
For the most part, we experience the bizarre events of this story along with its protagonist, John Unger. We get to hear his thoughts, his perspective, and we generally aren't privy to things outsider of his own range of perception. Because of this, we see the Washington Estate through the eyes of an outsider. The estate is painted as a strange, unknown world because that's what it is to John Unger. Consider how different things would appear if we heard the story through, say, Percy's eyes.
Though we do stick to John's perspective for most of the story, there is the occasional moment where the narrator breaks through and provides us with his pearls (diamonds?) of wisdom. When the village of Fish is described, for example, we know that this is the narrator speaking, not a glimpse into John's thoughts. Another important passage is the slightly cryptic message about youth inserted about halfway through the story ("it is youth's felicity as well as its insufficiency that it can never live in the present" [5.3]).