Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

Tag Archives: Jazz Age

This Side of Paradise- A Romantic View

In the last post I aired my grievances on the character of Amory Blaine (unfortunate man!).  But there is another way of looking at his character- and the book as a whole.  The whole plot of This Side of Paradise is a bildungsroman for the 1920′s- it is the coming of age for both Amory and a new American culture.

flappers

Amory is self-centered and has an inflated sense of entitlement- however he eventually realizes this and tries to grow beyond it.  There are many instances where Amory the person glimmers beneath the superficial surface; whether he finally has emerged by the end of the novel as he claims is less certain (to me at least).

But really- can the reader blame Amory?  He is born into a rich family, his mother Beatrice is indulgent and self-centered to a T and young Amory bases his own behavior and outlook on hers.  Everyone around Amory treats him as special because he is wealthy, charming, and attractive.  This is compounded when he comes of age in the high-flying Roaring 20′s.  In an era where people don’t want to think too deeply, but just want to have fun, Amory is a perfect fit.

An example of how jaded the young of the era are is a quote from a conversation between Amory and a friend at Princeton; “We want to believe.  Young students try to believe in older authors, constituents try to believe in their Congressmen, countries try to believe in their statesmen, but they can’t.  Too many voices, too much scattered, illogical, ill-considered criticism….  For two cents the voter buys his politics, prejudices, and philosophy.”

Amory is not pressured to be anything but superficially charming and entertaining, and it is only his own realization that there must be more to life that makes him eventually want to stretch himself to find it.  The two catalysts for this are a friend’s death in a car accident and the failure of a romance (because although Amory did have money it still wasn’t enough).  Amory expresses his frustration at life not working out exactly as he thinks it should; “There were days when [he] resented that life had changed from an even progress along a road stretching ever in sight, with scenery merging and blending, into a succession of quick, unrelated scenes…”

Who has not felt as Amory did?  Fitzgerald captures more than just an era of the remote past, he is talking about every era and everyone’s experience growing up- how we want to be part of the group, but still feel as if we are (secretly of course) the most-est special-est person there.  How we want success, but may not always have the drive to run after it.  How we struggle to connect with others, but so often fail.  How we make up who we are and what we believe in, based on a thousand different ideas, experiences, influences- and how our image of ourselves doesn’t always match reality.  Amory’s frustrations were Fitzgerald’s own, and our own too.