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The Ice Palace Summary and Analysis

Summary of The Ice Palace by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, “The Ice Palace” was first published in 1920 in “The Saturday Evening Post”, and was included in his very first collection of short stories published in 1920, Flappers and Philosophers. The story primarily revolves around the perceived divide between the northern and southern states of America, and traces the story of a southern girl, Sally Carrol’s engagement with a northern guy, Harry Bellamy. The story is written in third-person omniscient narrative voice.

Cnsidered as one of America’s greatest novelists of all time, Fitzgerald is primarily remembered for his best-known work, The Great Gatsby, and the depictions of Jazz Age in his fiction

The Ice Palace | Summary

The story is divided into six parts. Part I opens with the description of a street housing the Butterworth, Larkin and Happer houses in Tarleton, Georgia, on a late September afternoon. The nineteen-year-old protagonist, Sally Carrol Happer was watching her childhood friend, Clark Darrow, struggling to park his old, barely-functional car. Despite knowing that it is the afternoon, Sally Carrol wishes Clark “Good morning”, and he points it out that it is far from morning. She asks her if she wants to go swimming, and she lazily agrees. Dark, lean, having ‘ominous’ eyes and a somewhat petulant expression most of the time, Clark had a small but steady income that was just enough to sustain himself and keep his car running. He had graduated from the Georgia Technological University two years ago, and has spent the last two years in his hometown hanging out with a crowd of girls who have grown up beautifully, Sally Carrol foremost among them, and a group of young boys who would willingly give him company. Every once in a while, one of these youths would bid farewell and disappear somewhere in the North which was more progressive and modern, but most of them “they just stayed round in this languid parade of dreamy skies and fireily evenings and noisy niggery street fairs– and especially of gracious, soft-voiced girls, who were brought up on memories instead of money.”

Clark asks Sally Carrol if she is engaged to a Yankee i.e., a person belonging to the northern states of the USA, and she avoids answering the question directly. Clark tries to persuade her to not marry a northerner and she asks who should she marry instead. Although Clark offers his services, Sally Carrol insists that she knows him too well to fall in love with him. She asks him what if he loves the Yankee, but Clark disbelieves her, insisting that he is very different from them, the southerners. As they are joined by more of their friends, Marylyn Wade and Joe Ewing, Marylyn repeats Clark’s question to Sally Carrol, asking if she is engaged. As she evades the question again, Clark asks if she does not like them. Although reassuring him that he and all the boys at home have a place in his heart that nobody would ever take away, she tells him that the reason she is marrying a man from the north is because she wants to travel, meet people, live in a place “where things happen on a big scale” and wants her mind to grow, all of which do not seem possible down South. The South, with its way of living in the past, its lazy days and nights, its carelessness and generosity are all very special to her, but marrying here would make her restless. The energetic, wild side of her that needs to sustain itself with progress and change will only be satisfied in the North.

In November, her fiancée, Harry Bellamy visits her for four days, to decide upon a time for their wedding. On his last afternoon in Tarleton, she takes him on a walk to one of her favourite haunts, the cemetery. She loves Harry, and besides, he can offer her everything she wants in life. They walk through rows after rows of graves from various decades of the nineteenth century, stopping in front of the grave of a woman named Margery Lee, 1844-1873. Sally Carrol imagines the twenty-nine-year-old woman to be dark, who always wore a ribbon in her hair, and had hoop skirts of ‘alice blue and old rose’. She has a clear, fantastical picture of her in her mind, and believes that none of the men she could have married, came back to her alive from the Civil War, since there is no mention of Margery Lee’s marriage anywhere on the grave. As Harry points towards the unnamed graves of dead Confederate soldiers, Sally Carrol’s eyes tear up for the unknown unnamed men who died for the ‘most beautiful thing in the world – the dead South’. She insists that as a northerner, he would never understand completely how she feels for these graves, for the South that is essentially living inside a dead dream or past. The young couple kiss, and head home, discussing Sally Carrol’s upcoming visit to Harry’s place in North in January, Harry excitedly chatting on about the Winter Carnival to be held at that time. They settle on a March wedding as the scene closes.

Part III opens with Sally Carrol travelling up north, too cold even inside a luxurious railway carriage. The extreme cold intrigued her as she got down in the morning to meet her fiancée and in-laws. She excitedly watches the train rush past the snowy North, ‘her land now’. On the station, she is reunited with Harry and is introduced to his brother, Gordon, and his wife, Myra. Back at Harry’s home, she is introduced to his parents. She finds the house and the rooms ‘just comfortable’, neither attractive nor otherwise, having the impersonality of most hotel rooms. Harry warns his fiancée that unlike the South which is more family-oriented, the North is more individualistic and does not store up the memories of past generations beyond three. He goes on excitedly about the winter carnival and the ice palace in it. Sally Carrol is nervous about socialising in an unknown culture and land, but Harry reassures her, asking her if she is glad to be her. Although Sally Carrol asserts that she is, she feels like she is “acting a part”.

However, at a dinner party in the evening, she feels alienated in the crowd of men talking amongst themselves and women sitting with their “haughty and expensive aloofness”. Harry praises the good-looking crowd of athletes in this “man’s country”. A friend of the Bellamy’s, Roger Patton introduces himself to Sally, and she takes an immediate liking towards him. Throughout the party, Sally Carrol’s finds herself being treated with a kind of formal reverence usually accorded to older women, on account of her status as engaged. This stands in sharp contrast to the casual, warm, flirtatious exchange that young women would usually engage in back in the South. She and Patton talk for a while, he being the only speck of warmth and understanding Sally Carrol finds in this crowd of cold northerners.

A professor and a Philadelphian native, Patton is instinctively sympathetic of her plight, although he does not address it directly. As he reiterates Harry’s previous comment about the gathering being an unusually good-looking one, Sally adds that it is ‘very canine’. Seeing Roger’s confusion, she explains that she thinks of people as either canine or feline. She herself is a feline, as are most southern men, and most of the northern women in the party. Harry, and most northern men, are distinctively canine. ‘Canine’ for Sally Carrol implies ‘a certain conscious masculinity as opposed to subtlety’. Patton finds this theory interesting, adding his own theory that people in the northern states are ‘freezing up’ in an Ibsenesque manner, the extreme cold making them “righteous, narrow, and cheerless, without infinite possibilities for great sorrow or joy.” He tells him that northern USA has a substantial population with Swedish descent as the climate mirrors that of Sweden, remarking that Scandinavians have the highest rates of suicide in the world. The gloomy climate only mirrors the gloominess of the people up north. As they move on to brighter topics of conversation, Sally Carrol develops a bond with Patton.

Part IV notes the passing of Sally Carrol’s first week with the Bellamys playing childish games in the snow. She likes her future father-in-law; his Kentuckian birth makes her feel a connection between her new life and her old. The women, however, feel hollow and utterly devoid of any personality, like her sister-in-law, Myra. She feels that the only thing they have is beauty, and “they fade out once you look at them.” Mrs. Bellamy, Harry’s mother, earns the worst of her opinions as she not only embodies the town’s inherent hostility towards strangers, but also cuts down Sally Carrol’s name to just Sally, which she detests, making her feel half-clothed and depersonalised. One day, while taking a walk with Harry, they encounter a young girl with a complexion as red as strawberries. As Sally Carrol marvels at her, Harry condescendingly reminds her that everybody is healthy here given the cold climate. Immediately later, they come across a man with extremely baggy trousers.

As the couple laughs, Harry judges the man as a southerner from his trousers, offending Sally Carrol. He continues with his prejudiced comments, adding that he thinks of current southerners as ‘degenerates’, also adding racism to his list when he adds that this condition in the South is a result of cohabiting with the colored populations for too long, that makes the whites “lazy and shiftless”. Sally Carrol is visibly hurt and offended, and Harry apologises and the two make up.

Part V opens with a description of a particularly cold night that makes Sally Carrol feel like the entire town is deserted, leaving no living soul behind. She is terrified at the thought of her own grave being covered in snow, instead of being washed with sun and rain. Harry and she head towards the ice palace and as it comes into view, Sally Carrol thinks of ice as ‘a ghost’, with the palace being full of the spirits of dead people and a dead time. As they marvel at its scale and magnificence, Sally Carrol instinctively recites two lines from Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” –

“It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!”.

They sit and enjoy the musical performances of various clubs and gangs as Sally Carrol sits silently, marvelling at the phantasmagoria of light, sound, echo and reflections within the crystal mansion that appears to her like:

“the North offering sacrifice on some mighty altar to the gray pagan God of Snow.”.

As the show ends, Harry drags her towards the labyrinth. He walks excitedly ahead of his fiancée who loses sight of him, getting lost inside the labyrinth of ice, trapped in the darkness and cold. Lying in the snow after looking for a way out in vain, she desperately wishes for some southern help to come rescue her from this maze of ice and cold that is alien to her. She hallucinates, seeing visions of Margery Lee, till Patton and two other men come and rescue her from the cold. As she is carried out of the ice palace, she screamingly declares that she wants to go back home the very next day.

The final part, Part VI, is a depiction of Sally Carrol in a lazy summer afternoon back home in Tarleton, accompanying Clark for a swim, symbolising life coming full circle for her.

The Ice Palace | Analysis

The story fundamentally revolves around the differences between the northern and southern states of USA, and the stereotypes and prejudices they hold against each other. While the South is associated with a stagnant, nostalgic presence that lives exclusively in a past that is only present in their memories, the North, although progressive and offering more opportunities and exposure, is undeniably cold and oppressive. Although Sally considers the boys of her hometown ineligible for marriage given their lack of ambition and the will for growth or change in any form, she herself embodies the nostalgic romanticisation of memory that she associates with the South, through her imaginary visualisation and sentimentalisation of Margery Lee, and the dead Confederate soldiers.

Thoroughly a Southern summer girl, the coldness and harshness of the North, standing in a sharp contrast to the lazy but warm hospitality and sociability of the South, suffocates her. Harry himself shows his true colors back in his home soil, the charming suitor turning into a prejudiced, racist, and chauvinistic man who stereotypes southerners while valorising the North’s hypermasculine culture in which “men are the center of all mixed groups.”

In an Ibsenesque manner, the Northern climate has frozen up its people into driven, but cold and rigid individuals who barely allow any display of emotions or warmth.

The most problematic aspect of his story remains the treatment of the question of race and slavery, as well as the invisibilization of the actual motives that led up to the Civil War. In her romanticisation of the dead Confederate soldiers who have died in vain “for the most beautiful thing in the world – the dead South”, there is a deliberate omission of the true motivation of the Confederacy, that of upholding slavery. Sally Carrol’s “dead South” was exclusively constructed on the broken backs of dead and tortured black slaves, in order to defend the rights of whom, the Union, predominately consisting of the North, enters into a war with the Confederate South.

There is also an interesting reversal of the north-south attitude regarding race, when Harry makes a racist comment about Southern degeneration being a result of their cohabitation with Colored populations. Astounding in its bigotry, Harry actually typifies the conventionally Southern view of Blacks as inferior races that bring down the morality and value of White populations through their contagious contact, while the predominately Pro-abolitionist North usually adopted a more progressive view of racial differences. This reflects the true nature of the American society in the early 1900s, where even descendants of abolitionists would view blacks as inferior and degenerate, enough to contaminate the White race, but not enough to deserve a fate like slavery.

 

 

 

 

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