May Day by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Author: Francis Scott Fitzgerald
Published: The Smart Set (July 1920), Tales of the Jazz Age (1922)
Genre: Short Story
“May Day” was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and was published in The Smart Set‘s July 1920 issue, and his 1922 book of short stories, Tales of the Jazz Age. The story revolves around a snobbish group of affluent Yale grads who happen to have a party when the May Day 1919 riots break out. After socialists denounced Eugene Debs’ conviction, riots broke out in several places, including Cleveland, Ohio, and New York City.
1. Synopsis of May Day
“May Day” follows college student Philip Dean as he navigates the May Day riots with his friends in New York City. “May Day” illustrates the disintegration of the social order as well as a historical event and depicts how individuals from different socio-economic and religious backgrounds intertwined their lives during the riots. The story primarily focuses on Gordon Sterrett, a suicidal artist hanging onto his last hope of being recognized. These are just a few of the characters that come to form Fitzgerald’s political tale.
2. Story Summary
2.1. A Loan
The narrative begins with a wave of recently discharged World War I soldiers arriving in New York. A former soldier and aspiring artist named Gordon Sterrett is traveling to the Biltmore Hotel to meet Philip Dean, a buddy from their time in college. Gordon requests a loan, revealing that he is jobless and being blackmailed by a lady known as Jewel Hudson. Philip expresses reluctance, viewing Gordon as “bankrupt – morally as well as financially.” The two discuss an upcoming Yale alumni event that they will both attend.
2.2. The Mob
The story now follows Carroll Key and Gus Rose, two demobilized soldiers. Before being attacked by a group of soldiers, a Jewish man exclaims the negative repercussions of the war. As they march down Sixth Avenue toward Tenth Street, the mob swells in size. Carroll and Gus join the crowd but depart in search of alcohol. They make their way to Delmonico’s, a restaurant with a storeroom that adjoins the ballroom where the fraternity dance is being held.
2.3. The Dance
Edith Bradin, Gordon’s ex-girlfriend, is at the dance with her current beau, Peter Himmel. Soon, Edith decides to visit her brother Peter Himmel, a reporter under the New York Trumpet. Henry is a socialist, and Edith senses that he disapproves of her hedonistic lifestyle.
Out of the blue, Jewel Hudson has come to look for George. He informs her that he does not have the amount she wants, and they leave for unknown whereabouts.
2.4. The Uprising
At the New York Trumpet, Edith is updated on the conflict by Henry and his colleague, Bartholomew. The soldiers are described as “not know what they want, or what they hate, or what they like.” These soldiers, whom Carroll is part of, soon attack the office, labeling the reporters as traitors. Carroll is pushed out of a window to his death while Henry’s leg is broken.
2.5. The Afterparty
When the party is over, the rich and drunk masses head to Delmonico’s. Jewel and Gordon arrive just as chaos erupts. Philip and Peter are kicked out for their rudeness to the staff and for instigating a food fight.
In the morning, Philip and Peter return to the Biltmore. Gordon wakes up in a shady hotel on Sixth Avenue with a hungover. He discovers that he and Jewel had engaged in sexual intercourse. Gordon leaves the hotel to purchase a gun and shoots himself in the head, the blood spattering on his art supplies.
Gordon is a struggling, poverty-stricken artist who is being blackmailed by a woman named Jewel Hudson.
Gordon’s college friend. Unlike his friend, he is successful in his career.
4. Writing Style
Fitzgerald’s interests at the time in socialism and the naturalistic fiction of Frank Norris are reflected in the story’s structure and subject. His condensing of the action into a single day and the camera-like technique of focusing on one person before zooming out to reveal a bigger setting are Modernist, and Naturalist approaches.
5. Quotes from May Day
“Love is fragile — she was thinking — but perhaps the pieces are saved, the things that hovered on lips, that might have been said. The new love-words, the tenderness learned, and treasured up for the next lover.”
Recommended: Short Stories Quotes by F. Scott Fitzgerald
6. Frequently Asked Questions about May Day
Why did Gordon Sterrett kill himself?
As a struggling artist, Gordon’s last straw is when he realizes he has slept with his blackmailer. The depressed Gordon then shoots himself out of despair.