“Jim Powell was a Jelly-bean”, the story begins. What is a Jelly-bean? It’s a derogatory term for someone without ambition, goals or achievements in their life.
In his late teen years, Jim Powell was a bit antisocial and socially awkward. Weren’t we all? Jim, however, successfully transferred these qualities into his adulthood.
Jim wasn’t always ambitionless, as he transitioned into his twenties, he went off to war and came back as many veterans did, to limited opportunities and experienced in a world that didn’t apply to the world to which he returned. Jim’s ambition faded as he held up casual and part-time jobs to pay the bills, not so much “living” as merely continuing his existence.
Try as they might, Jim’s friends couldn’t help him out of his funk….except for one person.
Jim was captivated with Nancy Lamar. She captured his attention any time Jim laid eyes on her. His heart leapt and he felt pangs of romantic longing, but he discovered that she was set to be married to Ogden Merritt, the son of a wealthy manufacturer.
In the story Nancy, Ogden and Jim happened upon each other at a dance, and Jim went off to find a quiet spot to be alone with his thoughts. Nancy stumbled across Jim, looking for assistance in removing some troublesome chewing gum from the sole her shoe. Jim suggested gasoline and the two of them went looking for some.
During their exploration they got to know each other a little bit, Nancy surprising Jim with some of her answers to his questions. They returned to the dance, and Jim watched as Nancy burned up the craps table, continuing to surprise Jim with her style and vivaciousness.
Nancy, however, was well drunk and after a string of initial success, quickly found herself in trouble at the craps table. Jim, recognizing she was drunk, stepped in to win her money back….which he did. Deeply grateful, Nancy expressed her inebriated and not-entirely-serious love for Jim.
A short while later, Jim watched Ogden and Nancy leave the dance. It was obvious to Jim that Ogden was not pleased with the events of the night, and the two went their separate ways.
Suddenly, something which had lain dormant in Jim for years reawakened as Jim rediscovered his ambition. If you want to know what happens next, you’ll have to read the story.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is better known for other works, from one of his novels, The Great Gatsby to short stories like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. The Jelly Bean was published in 1922 in the collection Tales of the Jazz Age, and is in the public domain in countries where copyright is Life+70 and in the USA.