Like Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, Nicole Diver seems less a fully developed character than a vehicle to help account for the downfall of a man. One often has the feeling that F. Scott Fitzgerald's female characters are a projection of one or another side of Zelda, but that in no one of them was he able to successfully portray his wife completely and with veracity.
Nicole Diver's portrayal begins with her childhood history, when her father violated her after her mother's death. She remains a child in the Diver marriage largely because she transfers her feelings of paternal authority to Dick Diver. When she seems to outgrow Dick at the end of the novel, she is actually only placing herself in bondage to another, less worthy, man. She lives out the song which she plays to Dick on the hospital grounds before their marriage, for the lyrics conclude: "Just like a silver dollar goes from hand to hand, / A woman goes from man to man."
As has been pointed out in the foregoing critical commentary, Nicole Diver's illness is drawn from Zelda Fitzgerald's own case history, a fact which weakens her in many ways because Fitzgerald seems unable to distance himself sufficiently from his own wife to draw a credible fictional creation. Nicole is revealed first by her letters to Dick, letters which initially exhibit serious instability, then gradually lead to her confession that she would like someone to love her, a sign that she has improved, since a hatred of men might be expected of a victim of incest.
She still seems a child as she waits perfumed and nervous for Dick on the hospital grounds. In the sections after their marriage, her coherency flashes on and off so much that it is difficult to detect much growth in her as a character.
Fitzgerald is unconvincing when he tries to show that Nicole is the agent of Dick Diver's tragedy because Fitzgerald never allows her real maturity; when she does change, she does so too rapidly. Although she shows her husband tenderness on the Golding yacht and she is understands his need to impress Rosemary in the last chapters, she is almost immediately thrust into a role of evil. Fitzgerald's description of her eyes being "white crook's eyes" is thrust upon us, making her no longer childish but wicked. Fitzgerald seems to allow her evil eyes to be discovered by Tommy Barban to indicate that Dick has always been able to bring out some good in her, while, with Tommy, she releases her unrestrained self
During her brief affair with Tommy, Nicole changes; she has known that Dick has been viewing her with growing indifference and that a crisis is due. The affair releases her sexual energy, and she approaches Dick for a major confrontation. At this point in the novel, Fitzgerald describes Nicole as being filled with arrogance because of her wealth and a detestation of Dick's past attempts to minister to her; she has used Dick the physician, flaunting her wealth and beauty before him. What makes her character even more confusing is that after she has finally triumphed over Dick, she tries in the last Riviera scene to go back to him but is restrained by Tommy. Either she has not rejected Dick as completely as she thought she had or, what is more likely, she is an inveterate victim, a pawn of men who hand her, like a shining silver dollar, from one hand to the next.