THE DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ
A SHORT STORY
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St.
Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896, to Edward
and Mary ("Mollie") Fitzgerald. In 1898, the family moved
to upstate New York, where Edward worked as a
salesman for Procter and Gamble. By the time the family
returned to St. Paul, Fitzgerald was twelve years
old, and his parents enrolled him at St. Paul Academy. At
St. Paul Academy, he wrote stories for the school
magazine and performed in school plays. After the
academy, he went on to the Newman School in
Hackensack, New Jersey, a Catholic prep school.
In 1917, he entered the army. One of the most
significant results of Fitzgerald's military service was
that, while stationed in Alabama, he fell in love with
Zelda Sayre, the daughter of a judge on the Alabama
In March 1920, his first novel,This Side of Paradise was
published. A week later he married Zelda Sayre. That
same year, Fitzgerald's first collection of short stories was
published, entitled Flappers and Philosophers. These two
books established Fitzgerald's reputation as the official
chronicler of the Jazz Age, the name used for the 1920s.
He was especially known for his stories featuring
flappers, young women exploring the new social and
fashion freedoms and rebelling against the restrictive
mores of the past.
In October 1921, Zelda Fitzgerald gave birth to the
couple's first and only child, a girl named Frances Scott
Key Fitzgerald, whom the couple called Scottie. Then in
1922, Fitzgerald had two more books published: The
Beautiful and Damned, a novel, and Tales of the Jazz
Age, his second collection of short stories, which includes
―The Diamond as Big as the Ritz."
Fitzgerald's heavy drinking, and Zelda's gradually
deteriorating mental health took a toll on their
marriage. In 1924, the couple spent time in
France, where Fitzgerald wrote his best-known
novel, The Great Gatsby (1925).
After The Great Gatsby, the quality of Fitzgerald's
work was erratic, affected by his continued drinking
and his stressful relationship with Zelda. However, his
1926 collection of stories, All the Sad Young
Men, garnered favorable reviews, though it did little to
improve the Fitzgeralds' financial situation. Despite
mounting debt, the couple lived extravagantly, much
like the characters in Fitzgerald's fiction. In
1930, Zelda suffered a complete mental collapse and
In 1934, he finally finished his fourth novel, Tender Is the
Night, which he had been working on sporadically since 1925. At the
time of its release, critics were not fond of the book, feeling that it
was a less successful treatment of the same themes explored in
The Great Gatsby. In 1935, Fitzgerald published a collection of short
stories entitled Taps at Reveille, which was reviewed by few critics.
Fitzgerald was aware of the decline of his work and wrote a series
of essays on his own emotional decline as an artist, published in
In 1937, Fitzgerald moved to Los Angeles, California, to find work as
a screenwriter. While working in the film industry, he began writing a
novel set in Hollywood, to be titled The Last Tycoon. Before he
could finish the book, however, Fitzgerald died suddenly of a heart
attack on December 21, 1940. The unfinished novel was published
posthumously in 1941. He was survived by his wife Zelda, who died
in a hospital fire in 1948, and his daughter Scottie, who died in
John T. Unger
John is the protagonist of the story. He was born and raised in Hades
and is some-what embarrassed by his birthplace. He loves material
goods and works to impress others because of it. As he states to
Percy, "The richer a fella is, the better I like him." However, although he
obsesses over wealth, he is also a sensitive young man, as he begins
crying upon separation from his father. He is not entirely self-
motivated, as he may appear at first. In fact, he has a kind heart. He is
appalled at the Washingtons for their lack of sensitivity for other humans
and when saving himself at the end, he also saves Kismine and
Jasmine, without a second thought.
He is the elusive friend of John, who invites John to his home for the
summer, fully aware that John will have to die. This proves his
selfishness as well as his disregard for human life, as he would rather let
John die than be without a friend for the summer. He is
conceited, insensitive, and is obsessed with wealth. "I love jewels. I've
got quite a collection of them myself," he proudly informs John. He even
refers to his limo as "old junk used for a station wagon." He shows that
he cares for nothing except for his own personal wealth and happiness.
Mr. Braddock Washington establishes himself as the antagonist early upon
meeting him. Percy's father and the richest man in the world, he stumbles upon a
diamond the size of an entire mountain and goes to great lengths to protect his
wealth. He has captivated slaves, "darkies," to mine the diamond, and even has
aircraft guns to protect the mine. He has complete disregard for the human
race, and anyone that comes to his home is locked in a cage in the ground or
promptly killed. Even when his end is near, he tries to bribe God with a
diamond, even though it is the diamonds that have caused his destruction.
She is Percy's younger sister who falls in love with John. Because of her love
for John, she warns him of his upcoming death and says that she is "sorry that
John will have to be put away." This statement of hers also brings out another of
her traits. She is very naive of the common world and even death. Although she
hasn't invited any "guests" to stay at the house yet, she believes that she will
"harden up to it." Her naivety also prevails when she is looking at her collection of
rhinestones. She states that she would much rather have rhinestones than
diamonds, because she was "getting a little tired of diamonds." As she has only
experienced her own rich life, she is also very naive of the average life style. She
casually states to John, "Think of the millions and millions of people in the
world, labourers and all, who get along with only two maids."
She is another sister of Percy Washington and a static
character. The readers do not learn too much about her except
that she is also very "hardened" by the wealth. She thinks little of
inviting friends to her home, knowing fully that they will be
murdered at the end of their stay. However, she is selfish and
would rather have their company for the summer before they are
murdered, than be without friends.
Underneath his all-green golf course, Braddock Washington has
imprisoned two dozen aviators who had the misfortune to
discover his property. They are a spirited bunch, shouting curses
and defiant insults at Washington when he stops by for a visit but
also trying to talk him into releasing them. When they hear that
one of their number managed to escape, they dance and sing in
The story tells of John T. Unger, a teenager from the
town of Hades, Mississippi, who was sent to a private
boarding school in Boston. During the summer he
would visit the homes of his classmates, the vast
majority of whom were from wealthy families.
In the middle of his sophomore year, a young man
named Percy Washington was placed in Unger's form.
He would speak only to Unger, and then very rarely, but
invited him for the summer to his home, the location of
which he would only state as being "in the West", an
invitation Unger accepted.
During the train ride Percy boasted that his father was
"by far the richest man in the world", and when
challenged by Unger boasted that his father "has a
diamond bigger than the Ritz-Carlton Hotel."
Unger would later learn that he was in Montana, in
the "only five square miles of land in the country
that's never been surveyed," and the unusual and
bizarre story that proved Percy's boasts to be
Percy's ancestry traces back to both George
Washington and Lord Baltimore. His
grandfather, Fitz-Norman Culpepper
Washington, decided to leave Virginia and head west
with his slaves to enter the sheep and cattle ranching
business. However, on his claim he discovered not
only a diamond mine, but a mountain consisting of
one solid diamond.
Washington immediately found himself in a quandary.
By all accounts he would be the richest man ever to
live – however, the sheer quantity of diamonds would
drive their value to virtually nothing.
He immediately hatched a plan, whereby his brother
read to the negroes a fabricated proclamation by
General Nathan Bedford Forrest that the South had
defeated the North in the American Civil War – thus
keeping them in perpetual slavery. Washington
travels the world selling only a few diamonds at a
time, in order to avoid flooding the market, but
enough to give him enormous wealth.
In order to keep the diamond a secret, the Washington
family goes to appalling lengths. Airmen who stray into
the area are captured and kept in a dungeon. People
who visit are killed and their parents told that they
have succumbed to an illness while staying there.
John falls in love with Percy's sister, Kismine, who
accidentally lets slip that he too will be killed before
he's allowed to leave. That night, an escaped airman
launches an attack on the property and Percy's father
offers a bribe to God, "the greatest diamond in the
world", but God refuses. John, Kismine and
Jasmine, another sister, escape while Percy and his
mother and father choose to blow up the mountain
rather than leave it in the hands of others.
Penniless, John, Kismine and Jasmine are left to
ponder their fate.
Through Unger's perspective, Fitzgerald condemns not
just the Washingtons' amoral lifestyle, but also the
middle-class attitude towards wealth that makes their
lifestyle possible. The reader waits in vain for Unger to
speak out, to express some outrage or horror at the
Washingtons' way of life, but until his own life is
threatened, Unger seems willing to overlook almost
anything to continue enjoying the luxuries and
pleasures of their home. Because Unger is not as
wealthy as his classmates at St. Midas, he is even
more easily seduced by their lifestyle, and his
astonishment at the home's extravagance is more in
line with what the average reader might feel.
This short story has several themes running
throughout. However, the reader soon learns
that the central theme Fitzgerald wished to
display was that too much money and material
goods causes a person to lose their sense of
reality and morality. This is made evident
through various events that take place in the
story. For example, it is the diamond itself that
has caused the Washingtons to isolate
themselves in the hills of Montana. They wish to
preserve the mine for themselves and live their
lives in solitary in the hills. In addition, their
sense of morality is entirely lost, as they either
kill or cage everybody that enters the
property, even if someone just accidentally
The Washingtons will even go to the extent of
inviting friends to the home, having fun for the
summer, and then killing them at the end of their
stay so that they can not report what they have
seen. This moral decay continues until the very
end, even when the Washington's have been
discovered. Instead of praying to God, or even
pleading, Braddock tries to bribe God with
diamonds to save his wealth. Needless to
say, his bribe is rejected, and the mountain is
destroyed. Fitzgerald's lesson was clear: if you
become too obsessed with material wealth, the
decay of morality will soon follow.
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" is told from the third
person point of view, from the perspective of John T.
Unger. Fitzgerald makes his story come alive with detailed
descriptions of the environment and the characters.
Although his style is very simplistic, and he doesn't use a
lot of sophisticated vocabulary, his figurative language
gives the story a sophisticated sound. For
example, similies appear on almost every page: "The
Montana sunset lay between two mountains like a gigantic
bruise from which dark arteries spread themselves over a
poisoned sky." His metaphors provide effective
descriptions as well: "Percy's mouth was a half-moon of
scorn." From the figurative language, the readers are able
to grasp a feel of what it would be like to be in the shoes of
John T. Unger.
Fitzgerald's use of extreme exaggeration, increases the
feeling of fantasy, and his descriptions of the
Washingtons' home have a surreal quality. By making the
chateau impossibly luxurious, Fitzgerald lets the reader
know, once again, that this is not a literal or realistic story.
A diamond as big as an entire mountain, a clear crystal
bathtub with tropical fish swimming beneath the
glass, hallways lined with fur, dinner plates of solid
diamond, a car interior upholstered in tapestries, gold and
precious gems — all these extravagant, unreal elements
add to the otherworldly character of the Washingtons'
property. Furthermore, they seemed to suggest a sense
that too much is indeed too much.