WHAT FITZGERALD MEANT WHEN HE WROTE THAT THERE ARE NO SECOND ACTS IN AMERICAN LIFE. Adam Gopnik begins his article on F. Scott Fitzgerald in the New Yorker (Sept. 22) by pointing out that Fitzgerald’s famous line that “there are no second acts in American life” is generally misinterpreted. I was surprised to realize that I was one of those who had misinterpreted it. I had in fact always thought that it was obviously incorrect because it is so easy to give examples of Americans who reinvent themselves or who have success after a period of failure.
What I had missed was that Fitzgerald was writing at a time when the three act play was the norm. Gopnick interprets Fitzgerald as saying that “there is no room for the graceful intermediate development of themes before the catastrophe arrives….second acts are where the slow stuff happens.”
So Fitzgerald was making a much more subtle point than I had realized—and one that I will have to think about.