The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

October 19, 2012
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A story without hyperbole is like a dulled knife; it lacks the sharpness and witty edge of a paper which utilizes exaggeration. In the legend of King Arthur, Excalibur is a sword famed for its keen blade. It defies the resistance of even the most formidable of armor. A story with hyperbole can have a similar effect on the intimidating walls that guard the minds of readers and critics. Hyperbole emphasizes the impact of an author’s message. It hones the narrative into an incisive weapon. This is especially evident in the narrative of John T Unger. In “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”, F. Scott Fitzgerald utilizes hyperbole to criticize the excesses of the rich, and without this language, his message would lose its sharp, piercing insight into the twisted minds of the wealthy.
The hospitality and kindness of the family are exaggerated in order to satirize the excesses of the rich. Unger is transported to a mansion akin to the wonders of King Arthur’s home. He sees” an exquisite chateau…melted in grace… in translucent feminine languor…” (Fitzgerald pg.82). Unger is exposed to lavishness on a scale that he can scarcely imagine. He is then fed a magnificent dinner on plates “with two layers of diamond” while embraced in a “chair curved insidiously to his back…which [engulfs and overpowers] him” (Fitzgerald pg.82). Fitzgerald emphasizes this hospitality in order to criticize the opulence of the rich. This hyperbole makes the Washington family look suitably garish and snobbish, a perfect target for criticism.
By using hyperbole, Fitzgerald criticizes the blind pursuit of wealth and the self-serving nature of American society. This quest for wealth is similar to the tales of King Arthur and his knights, who seek glory and renown at any cost. But unlike the noble warriors of old, who risk their lives, the Washington family is willing to endanger other lives and even kill in order to maintain secrecy. Percy Washington boasts of “a half dozen anti-aircraft guns… a few deaths and a great many prisoners” (Fitzgerald pg.81). Such nonchalant views of murder and imprisonment are suitably hyperbolic because they expose the moral depravity of the wealthy. Without this exaggeration, the madness and ruthlessness of the family would have been compromised and the author’s criticism would have been weakened.
The author exaggerates the physical features of Kismine in order emphasize the paradoxical nature of her innocent beauty which clashes with her callous attitude towards her family’s victims. Unger is as captivated by her perfection as he was by the extent of the Washington’s wealth. She is described as having no defects; “the incarnation of physical perfection” (Fitzgerald pg.90). Kismine is essentially a modern Queen Geneviere, perfect and resplendent, but innocent and willing at the same time. By giving such a wonderful impression of this girl through the use of hyperbole, Fitzgerald increases the shock that the reader feels about her disturbing lack of consciousness. Through her beauty, Fitzgerald shows that kindness and innocence are facades for callousness in the wealthy.
The exploitation of the slaves and their extreme degradation are highlighted by Fitzgerald to show the cruelty of the rich. The slaves are described as primitive and completely submissive. Their slurred speech and the outrageous fabrication of the South winning the civil war are major examples of hyperbole which accentuate the injustices that these servants suffer. The slaves are victims of a lie which traps them within this insular and racist environment. They are lead to believe that “General Forrest had…defeated the North in one pitched battle” (Fitzgerald pg.87). Through this tale, the Washington’s manipulate their slaves, who lack even an iota of freedom. This hyperbole allows Fitzgerald to criticize the mendacious ways of the rich and how they manipulate the truth for their own benefits.
Hyperbole is used to show how the wealthy dehumanize their less fortunate peers and strip them of their identity. The slaves have been brainwashed to do the dirty work of the Washington’s while the family enjoys the fruits of its wealth. The slaves are unlike the knights of Camelot. The knights willingly sacrifice their lives for the greater good of their kingdom. They possess free will and opportunity. The slaves, however, are deprived of their social life and their dignity. This degradation spreads even to their dialect which “has become an almost indistinguishable patois” (Fitzgerald pg.93). The slaves have become mindless and have lost their heritage. By exaggerating the plight of these poor souls, Fitzgerald conveys how the wealthy exploit their power by undermining those beneath them.
F. Scott Fitzgerald uses hyperbole in “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” in order to emphasize the lengths to which the wealthy will go to preserve their fortunes. Fitzgerald shows that the empowerment of wealth is a double edged sword; it can grant immense luxury but it can also lead to extreme corruption. This is seen in the story where both reader and Unger are shocked by the enormous wealth of the Washington family and also by its exaggerated cruelty. The use of hyperbole makes the impact of this chilling criticism even stronger.





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