So at lunch the other day Paul mentioned The Ice Palace, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and has subsequently shamed me into reading it. As a Northerner who’s married to a Southern woman, it sounded to me like essential reading. (Of course, to a New Englander such as myself Virginia is practically the deep South, but from the more Southern states’ point of view, VA is practically the North.)
So I’m slightly distressed by what I see as the message of the story, and more so because Fitzgerald was from Minnesota himself, and Zelda was from Alabama. Of course that marriage had its share of issues, but still. It seems to me that he’s saying more or less flat out that Northerners and Southerners are different species, practially aliens to one another.
*** Spoilers ahead ***
Our heroine, Sally Carrol, has some fun experiencing winter sports, but it’s suggested that the locals are just humoring her, that they don’t actually enjoy this stuff. I’d think that Fitzgerald would know better than this, being a Northerner himself. Northerners love winter sports. I mean, what the heck else is there to do in the winter in the North? We ain’t going swimming, that’s for sure. Except maybe the Polar Bears, but even Northerners think those guys are weird.
Sally Carrol then proceeds to have a meltdown – pardon the expression – in an ice palace that’s built for a local carnival. As an aside, I envision this thing as looking like the Icehotel in Sweden. The ice is, I believe, supposed to be symbolic of Northerners’ coldness and distance, their oppressive puritanism. Personally I’ve never bought all that about Northerners being standoffish. We’re just efficient. Why do we need to get to know the cashier and everyone in line at the grocery store? We don’t. Let us check out and let us go home. The self-checkout line was invented by a Northerner, I’ll bet you anything.
Fitzgerald gets into the stereotypes by Northerners and Southerners of the other: Southerners are degenerates, Northerners are dull and grey. My problem with this is, I don’t know where Fitzgerald thinks that leaves us. We’re alien to each other? We should all just stick to our own kind? I’m not buying it. I don’t know, maybe there was more of a cultural divide between the North and the South in 1920. But me, I think a North-South marriage has done very well by me.
Of course, if, as Paul says, Sally Carrol is a stand-in for Zelda, then I think the story is one hell of a damning indictment of that marriage.
Jeff you and Paul may shame me into reading this story yet.
(By the way, I can’t stand self-service checkout lines.)
If you know a little about Scott and Zelda then you know that that marriage was all about drama, confusion, differences and meltdowns. Plenty to go round on all sides. And well documented as well. Zelda was finally in Highland Hospital in Asheville (note the relation to the Ice Palace) when she died not of cold but of fire. Highland is a private mental hospital.
Also note the date of the story. Not TV and barely any radio as we know it. Regional differences between the upper Mid-west and the deep South were much greater then. That we might still see the shadows of those differences today makes the story stronger and keeps it alive — keeps it from being just an historical curiosity.