Question 8/31

What intervention is Fitzgerald’s “The Diamond As Big as the Ritz” making in regards to American capitalism? Is loving the (U.S) nation tied to loving capitalism? What is the benefit of using satire as a rhetorical device? In addition, explore how notions of high-culture and low-culture, in regards to class, put Fitzgerald’s work in conversation with “Nation and Nationalism.”


-Aly Thomas

8 Responses to Question 8/31

  1. ryanspencer says:

    In “The Diamond As Big as the Ritz,” Fitzgerald seems to satirize those who benefit the most from the country’s capitalistic system, the filthy rich, as in opposition to the nation and perhaps completely outside of the nation. Despite functioning off of the American system of capitalism, Percy and his family must live on “the only five square miles of land in the county that’s never been survey.” In fact, since this land isn’t even on the map, it could be argued it exists outside the country. The only connection the land seems to have to the country is the economy. Since the Washington’s do not allow anyone to leave the area it has removed itself completely from the community of the nation. The Washington’s don’t follow the USA’s laws (they have slaves!). In such satire, Fitzgerald seems to suggest that since those at that those at the tippy-top of the economic don’t follow the law, seclude themselves, and attempt to remain outside of the government’s watchful eye, they themselves are not really part of the nation itself.

    • Gilberto Rosa says:

      I definitely agree with you in your analysis of “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” Moreover, I think the reading shows us a way in which capitalism is a concept solely aimed at the working class in America. Naturally, in order for capitalism to work there must be a social hierarchy to begin with but there also needs to be a group of people that are at the bottom and stay at the bottom. As Fitzgerald shows us in the text, those at the top operate under a different system of governance. In doing this, Fitzgerald is also showing us the ways in which capitalism is so inextricably tied to America that once you have the key into capitalism, that all of your different privileges allow you to obtain, you also get the key that leads you out of America. In the end, I feel as though this reading and this analysis of it as a polarized notion of “high culture” and “low culture” is an essential read for anyone living in America; it shows the way power works with cycles of oppression against those at the bottom that ultimately support those at the top.

  2. Michaela Cabral says:

    Throughout the story, notions of wealth and duties/rights connected to wealth remain central and can be compared to capitalistic ideals. One of the largest “selling points” of capitalism is that within a free market, there is no governmental control, so sellers can determine prices and workers can work more for more money and “success.” In the case of Braddock Washington, he has a ridiculous amount of wealth, but it is no way due to his own actions, only due to the accidental discovery of the diamond mountain by his father. It seems as though the text is showing an unfortunate reality: even if capitalism promises economic mobility, it is often the case that people have undeserved wealth and often remain rich, rather than there being possibilities for hardworking individuals, like the pilots, to rise. Braddock Washington’s quest to develop and maintain his fantastic wealth leads to his use and abuse of people. His black slaves, who he just refuses to tell that slavery was abolished and refers to as property, are worked in horrible, extreme and inhumane conditions. In pursuit of this wealth, he relies on the work of others. He is using the market just to benefit himself and his family, no one else, and on the backs of others. Personally, I don’t think loving the United States and loving capitalism always go hand in hand (even though they often do). Capitalism is just one aspect of the United States, albeit a prominent one, and a person may appreciate the other aspects of the United States enough to love it (or vice versa, with someone might not love the United States but support capitalism). In the story, the Washingtons live in a place that, according to Braddock, is not in the United States but it’s own unsurveyed entity. Although Braddock benefits from capitalism, he doesn’t even identify with the nation. The satire employed in this work of hyperbolic fiction is effective because it shows an extreme version of how wealth, power and corruption affect a person. It’s not a realistic story, but it inspires real emotions and concerns in the characters and the reader. Finally, some aspects of “Nation and Nationalism” can be seen in “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” An example of low culture and high culture within the story are the subcultures of the slaves and the Washingtons. Braddock Washington works to keep the slaves in deplorable conditions, using his own dominance and assertion of his power. In the world, there are many places and cultures that do not identify as nations, and larger, nationalistic, self-proclaimed nations take advantage of the cultures that are seen as “lesser,” as Braddock does to the slaves. Another aspect of the “Nations and Nationalism” text that can be seen in Fitzgerald’s story is the way in which the slaves, who have lived in isolation, have developed their own culture and dialect different from the outside world; the text points out that those living in isolation have different cultures and a lack of assimilation because they are exposed to nothing else.

    • Abigail Gardener says:

      This is a really great analysis! I agree that loving the nation doesn’t necessarily mean one loves capitalism as well. I actually think that Fitzgerald’s stark juxtaposition of the social classes prove that capitalism does not have to be synonymous with the nation, because as you said, Braddock Washington did not work to make his fortune. Rather, his family was lucky enough to happen upon great wealth and he inherited that wealth. He provides no opportunities for upward economic mobility because he has slaves rather than hiring actual workers. In fact, Washington is so wealthy that he seems to not even be a part of the nation anymore. He and his family live under their own set of rules (for example, they see nothing wrong with murdering for their own selfish purposes). I would agree that although Braddock may love and benefit from capitalism, he does not love the nation he is technically a part of because he is so far removed from it.

  3. Conor Amrien says:

    Fitzgerald’s “The Diamond As Big as the Ritz” is making a statement regarding economic disadvantage of certain groups in relation to nationalisms present in the U.S. I think it is important to point out the high and low-cultures utilized in the story in order to satirize the love of American capitalism that is frequently associated with American nationalism as a whole. Both the Unger’s and the Washington’s are of the “higher class” in the case of “The Diamond As Big as the Ritz”, however, the Washington family’s wealth exceeds the Unger’s significantly, making the people of Hades the low-culture in this story.
    Through the use of satire, the reader gets an idea of this spectrum through ridiculous proportions. This is even more evident from the title of the story. A diamond as big as the Ritz-Carlton is fundamentally ridiculous in terms of size. Many people of lower classes cannot even picture what the Ritz-Carlton looks like, making the size of their wealth only comprehendible to the class who can afford to attend such a luxury. While diamonds are quite literally the symbol of the Washington culture, a culture revolving around only the pinnacle of wealth, they become worthless if the Washington’s fortune were to be discovered.
    Meanwhile, it is no coincidence that John Unger comes from the town of “Hades” and that he will never forget that. Hades, the name of the ancient Greek underworld is the primary allusion. This perpetuates the idea of high and low-culture, especially with the Washington’s being on top of a mountain. The name also evokes a sense of the long-gone past in comparison with a name like Washington, the first president of the United States, and fairly recent in comparison.
    I would argue that the Washington culture transformed into a nationalism the moment they were discovered, which led to Percy, Mr. and Mrs. Washington, and their many slaves to die for this diamond culture. Meanwhile, John managed to slightly convert the two sisters towards his way of life, transforming the low-culture he comes from.
    I believe it is important that the Washington’s wealth is nearly inconceivable in proportion, and exceptionally volatile in state within the story. They have so much wealth, yet it could vanish if the populace were to discover their fantastical diamond. This is why it was so interesting that Kismine takes the rhinestones instead of diamonds. Wealth disparities, nor wealth itself define a nationalism, despite the importance we place upon both in the United States.

  4. jkoslofsky says:

    A “Diamond as Big as the Ritz” is only valuable if it is hidden. Fitz-Norman Culpepper Washington is highly aware of the fact that his discovery would lose all value in a society that is aware of its existence. Capitalism demands that value is directly connected to supply–one does not have to be an economics expert to see that we live in a system that emphasizes and values scarcity, even if that scarcity is constructed. And the wealth of the Washington family relies on the perception that a diamond as large as their own does not exist. Thus it is capitalism, specifically capitalism’s reliance on scarcity to create value, that causes Braddock Washington to take the drastic actions necessary to hide his absurd diamond. The Washingtons are seemingly willing to spend any amount of money to control the perception of the global supply of diamonds–which is of course their undoing. Fitzgerald seems to suggest at the story’s conclusion that no one entity can control a market, whether that means a secret nighttime escape from the chateau or an assault from the italian air force. As Braddock finds out, you can’t bribe god, and any “perfect” capitalist nation will fall eventually. By presenting the extreme, Fitzgerald demonstrates the self destructive nature of both excess wealth and capitalism as a whole.

  5. Alex Bordona says:

    Fitzgerald equates America’s love of capitalism with religion, insinuating that the pursuit of material wealth is akin to religion in American culture. I do not believe it is possible to fully love America without loving capitalism, as it plays/played such a major role in our culture and in the formation of our nation. One way Fitzgerald suggests this in the naming of his characters. The Washingtons are the most capitalistic characters in the story, and Washington is more or less considered the ‘father’ of our nation.
    Satire forces readers to look at the thing or culture that is being satirized. It is extremely direct and hyperbolic, and if one has any degree of self-awareness / cultural awareness, it is impossible to overlook the points that are being made. I think that satires are probably also fun to write, and allow the author to expose that which s/he is satirizing in a humorous and absurd way.
    I may have misunderstood what was meant by ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture in Nations and Nationalism. I understood ‘high culture’ as the appropriated and ‘sanitized’ version of the ‘low culture’- or folk culture -of the peoples that was redesigned and made marketable or enforceable on a wider scale. Something that the government or the elites took from the majority or majorities and remade to suit their own purposes. If this is the case, I am not quite sure how to relate Diamond to Nations, at least in terms of high v low culture.

  6. LaShawn Simmons says:

    Fitzgerald’s “The Diamond As Big as the Ritz” highlights the extremities one takes to protect their wealth by any means necessary even if it’s at the expense of others. This is highlighted in how the Washingtons hold visitors captive and many cases visitors are killed. In addition, Fitzgerald displays how the Washingtons produce this large scale production of diamonds that contributed to issues of warfare in other countries; all of which were in efforts gaining profit. One could argue that loving the nation is tied to loving capitalism due to the roots of entitlement that accompanies protecting one’s product or labor. Keep in mind that part of capitalism involves commodifying one’s labor. An intervention such as the one shown in this reading is received well when veiled in satire. Any other form would invite extreme castigation from other critical thinkers alike and the general public. In Gellner’s piece, he defines the success of nationalism by its ability to eliminate extraneous high culture and revive and even invent a local low culture by providing access (56). However, this isn’t done in the “The Diamond As Big as the Ritz”. The story itself highlights direct reflections of high and low culture through the functions of each character; Braddock Washington maintains the luxury and character of the space in a way that juxtaposes the work of the enslaved characters that maintain the land/house with their subservient positions. There is no room made for mobility. One could even argue that this is in efforts to protect an efficient capitalist society.

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