This Side of Paradise | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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This Side of Paradise | Book 1, Chapter 1 : The Romantic Egotist (Amory, Son of Beatrice) | Summary

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Summary

The novel opens with a description of its main character, Amory Blaine. He inherited "every trait ... that made him worth while" from his mother, Beatrice Blaine. In contrast, he inherits only his height from his father, Stephen Blaine, and a "tendency to waver at crucial moments."

Beatrice Blaine was beautiful in her youth and had an excellent education. She married Stephen Blaine during a period when she was "a little bit weary, a little bit sad," and subsequently gave birth to Amory. As a boy, Amory was a great companion to her, and she took him everywhere with her rather than rely on governesses to tend to him. Amory's father "didn't and couldn't understand" his wife, and "hovered in the background." Amory's and his mother's relationship is close, and Amory seems to understand her deeply from a young age. Beatrice does her best to give Amory the same education she had. They travel often, "attached to no city" of their own. Beatrice always enjoys making new acquaintances because she loves to retell stories of her history to them.

When Amory is 13, his appendix bursts while they are traveling, and Beatrice—after suffering a nervous breakdown—decides that Amory will live in Minneapolis with his aunt and uncle and continue his studies there. He often struggles with concealing how superior to his peers and teachers he feels himself to be, and his classmates make fun of the way he speaks, so Amory feigns stupidity to fit in.

After two months in Minneapolis, he receives a telegram from a girl named Myra St. Claire, inviting him to a party. Amory attends Myra's party on the appointed day and plans his entrance before walking in late. He is shocked to find that the party has left him behind, and Myra is waiting alone to take him to their destination. Amory lies and tells her that he was in an automobile accident, and asks her to forgive him for delaying her.

In the car, Amory grabs her hand, and when they arrive at the party's destination, he tells her he likes her. He kisses her on the cheek. But immediately afterward, he feels revulsion and wishes he could leave. Myra asks him to kiss her again, and he says he doesn't want to. She leaps up and declares that she hates him and is going to tell her mother what happened. Her mother soon enters and interrupts them.

Amory spends two years in Minneapolis, where he falls in love again and suffers through the death of his beloved dog. He follows sports, reads extensively, and "collect[s] locks of hair from many girls." His teachers find him to be "idle, unreliable, and superficially clever," although he dreams often about how he is destined for glory and about the amazing person he will become. He begins to form his own philosophy, "a sort of aristocratic egotism," in which he relies on his ability to learn things quickly and be smarter than most other people. Amory believes himself to be "exceedingly handsome" and fascinating to all women, as well as exhibiting "complete, unquestioned" mental superiority. But he also senses that he has personal flaws, including a lack of "courage, perseverance, [and] self-respect."

After two years, Amory returns to Lake Geneva to see his mother. Upon seeing her waiting for him at the train station, he feels a sense of pride, then immediately worries that he can't measure up to her charm anymore. During his first few days with her, he feels "in a state of superloneliness." Beatrice reveals to Amory that she doesn't feel understood by anyone. She asks Amory if his time in Minneapolis was horrible, but he tells her that he mostly enjoyed it, that he adapted and "became conventional." He also tells her that he wants to go away to school, and she reluctantly agrees. Beatrice tells him she will send him to a boarding school in Connecticut, but first he will go to visit her friend Monsignor Darcy in New York. He and Monsignor Darcy get along at first sight and establish a father-son relationship.

At his new school, St. Regis preparatory, Amory is considered conceited, arrogant, and "universally detested" by his classmates. He resents his teachers and shows indifference toward his studies. Amory makes a few friends out of loneliness but has no respect or affection for them, using them instead "simply as mirrors of himself." On the last night of his first term, Mr. Margotson, a senior teacher, sends for him. He tells Amory that he likes him, but he's noticed that he's not popular with the other students. He informs Amory that this is probably because he is "rather too fresh." Amory leaves indignantly, proclaiming that he already knows this. Later, Amory visits New York City, where he sees a Broadway show that flames his romantic dreams of finding an ideal girl.

In his second year at St. Regis, Amory looks back on his previous year and marvels at how much things have changed. He feels that his time at St. Regis has "drilled Beatrice out of him." He has become a star quarterback on the school's football team, a student actor, and the editor of the St. Regis Tattler. As a result of these achievements, the qualities that other students once despised in Amory are now tolerated, and even admired. Amory decides to attend Princeton University for college.

Analysis

The first chapter of the novel establishes the influences and formative experience of Amory Blaine's boyhood. Amory's relationship with his mother and their nomadic lifestyle foreshadow some of the problems that will recur for him throughout his early adulthood, such as a constant sense of dissatisfaction and fickleness toward other people. Amory has a difficult time making friends and has learned a sense of superiority from his mother that he has a hard time relinquishing.

Like many adolescents, Amory is trying to define himself as an individual and is self-absorbed. After living a fairly unconventional life with his mother, he is unsure of his place in the social world and feels alienated from others. To conceal his insecurity, he develops what he calls his "aristocratic egotism," a phrase he uses to defend the superiority and entitlement he displays to the world. Yet Amory also suffers from a fleeting self-awareness that only magnifies his acute sense of separation from people his own age. He knows that despite his arrogance, underneath it all he lacks "courage, perseverance, [and] self-respect." He also faces a continuous battle of overcoming his prejudices toward other people in order to find the sense of belonging he craves. Throughout the novel, Amory grapples over a battle with what it means to be conventional, and whether or not that is a life he wants for himself.

Relationships with girls and women are a strong thread throughout the novel, and Amory's first and most formative relationship is with his larger-than-life mother, Beatrice Blaine. Amory is unusually attuned to her emotions and whims and, at times, acts as her emotional caretaker. He is particularly observant of the ways in which she can be self-serving and senses her destructive nature and how it shapes their lives. The narrator notes that by the time he is a small boy, "even at this age he had no illusions about her."

This primary relationship influences the kind of love he will look for in women later in life, and his inability to form a stable emotional relationship with any of them. Most of the girls and women he encounters over the course of the novel find Amory immediately charming and handsome, something that he knows and uses to his advantage. The first of these fleeting relationships with a likewise love-struck 13-year-old is with his schoolmate, Myra St. Claire. Although Amory pursues her intensely, he is disgusted by her needs and vulnerability, and he becomes cold and distant when he feels trapped. This pattern will continue through many of his young adult relationships. It is significant that the label "egotist" appears repeatedly in reference to Amory in Book 1's chapter headings. In fact, the title of Book 1 is "The Romantic Egotist," and Amory battles his ego throughout his romantic endeavors. He yearns for romance yet is unable to sustain any sort of fulfillment from it due to his own ego.

This egotism deeply affects Amory's relationships with other boys and men as well. Amory prides himself on his adaptability. But even he recognizes that he collects friends because they will act as mirrors in which he can see his idealized self reflected back at him. It's significant that Amory announces to Beatrice after his experience at St. Regis that he has "conventionalized" himself in order to adapt to his peers. Amory becomes increasingly obsessed with social distinctions and navigating his place in them, another extension of his egotism.

Ultimately, he decides he'd rather become a "slicker," someone who still achieves success without subscribing to conformity. Yet this dreaming about who he wants to become is significant—the narrator notes, "it was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being." Taking the actions to become the person he dreams of proves more difficult and his idealized self no more than an illusion.

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