The Jelly-Bean by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1920
The magic trick:
Creating a sympathetic male character in Jim the Jelly-bean
Fitzgerald stories often lack strong male leads. The men he writes seem to range from heinous to utterly non-descript. So it’s nice to see such a memorable – and sympathetic – character in “The Jelly-Bean.” Funny thing is Fitzgerald actually writes in the story’s second sentence: “Much as I desire to make him an appealing character, I feel it would be unscrupulous to deceive you on that point.” The story that follows, though, almost undoubtedly wins the readers’ affections for Jim Powell.
He is simple, lazy, uneducated, naïve and well-meaning. In other words, Jim the Jelly-bean has the worst qualities with which to achieve success in Fitzgerald’s world of wit, money, and charm. Nancy brings that world to Jim’s attention and the one-night dalliance breaks his heart. The reader sees this tragic arc forming from the very start, making Jim’s plight all the more affecting.
There is some question as to whether or not Jim is the human stand-in for the American South, and the story is one big regional kiss-off by Fitzgerald. But I don’t think the case is that strong, and I’m not sure it matters either way. If the reader’s sympathies fall with Nancy and the selfish, drunken, status-obsessed youth, then I think that says more about the reader’s moral compass than that of the South/Jim Powell. And that’s quite a trick on Fitzgerald’s part.
“Jelly-bean,” she said, “are you here, Jelly-bean? I think – “ and her slight unsteadiness seemed part of an enchanted dream – “I think you deserve one of my sweetest kisses for that, Jelly-bean.”
For an instant her arms were around his neck – her lips were pressed to his.
“I’m a wild part of the world, Jelly-bean, but you did me a good turn.”
Then she was gone, down the porch, over the cricket-loud lawn.