This Side of Paradise | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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This Side of Paradise | Book 1, Chapter 2 : The Romantic Egotist (Spires and Gargoyles) | Summary

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Summary

As Amory Blaine walks up to Princeton on his first day, he feels self-conscious and awkward. He realizes that he is the only young man there wearing a hat. He meets one of the other young men staying in his dorm, Kerry Holiday, who invites him to dinner. Amory soon finds that he is beginning to love Princeton and decides to "be one of the gods of the class." He tries out for the football team but injures his knees and is forced to take a break.

Amory finds himself missing St. Regis where he was known and admired, but it spurs him to find his place at Princeton. He learns that it's best not to stand out too much and to commit to very little. He also frets that the elite members of his class have not accepted him immediately, and tells Kerry that he wants to be admired. Once day in the food hall, Amory strikes up a conversation with another student, Thomas Parke D'Invilliers, about literature and poetry. Amory ponders whether a friendship with him will improve his standing with the "in" crowd. He takes Thomas under his wing and tries to teach him about the social system when it comes to his way of dressing and speaking.

The war begins the summer after his freshman year, yet Amory finds little to be interested in about it. If anything, he hopes that it will be long and bloody, to satisfy his penchant for drama. He joins the cast of Princeton's drama club, which is rehearsing a new play. During the school holiday, the club tours eight cities, and afterward Amory leaves for Minneapolis.

He's excited to see Isabelle Borge, a girl he grew up with there who is also returning for the holidays. He's also noticed that the attitudes of girls his age seem to be changing—they are more open to flirtation and first kisses. Isabelle ponders her reputation as a "Speed"—a girl who's been kissed, and likely more than once. She also ponders Amory's reputation, because he seems to have been involved with many of the girls she knows. In the Minnehaha Club, she and Amory size each other up while mutually ignoring each other, until Isabelle approaches him, noting that he is her dinner partner and they are "coached for each other."

Throughout dinner they flirt with each other, and after the dance they retreat to a solitary corner couch. Amory asks Isabelle if she thinks he is conceited, and she replies that he seems self-confident. He begins to feel the pressure of having to leave to return to Princeton later that night and tells her he is deeply attracted to her. As Amory kisses her hand, Isabelle imagines that her life will be full of endless scenes like this with different boys, but before they can kiss on the lips, they are interrupted.

Back at Princeton, Amory finds that he is beginning to be accepted by the "minor snobs." Later, he realizes that this spring of his sophomore year was the happiest time of his life. One day, he and his friends ditch school to drive to the coast for the weekend. After they return to campus, Amory begins to slack off in his classes while he attends more parties. He also keeps up a correspondence with Isabelle Borge. Amory admits to Thomas one evening that he wants to marry her, and the two debate the merits of their time at Princeton.

One evening on the way back from New York after a night of drinking, the first of a group of their cars is in an accident. One of Amory's friends, Dick Humbird, whom he admired as a "a perfect type of aristocrat," a role model of "what the upper class tries to be," dies. Two more are gravely injured. Amory is haunted the next day by flashbacks of seeing Dick's dead face but is determined to put it out of his mind because Isabelle is due to arrive to attend the prom with him. Isabelle arrives, and she and Amory go to dinner and the prom. After the prom is over, Amory accompanies her family to their Long Island summer home, and reckons that he has never been happier in his life.

Analysis

Amory Blaine's arrival at Princeton only continues his preoccupation with his social standing and how other people can help him achieve it. Amory's plan has more to do with finding acceptance through manipulation and illusion rather than by proving himself in some fundamental way to his peers. This mirrors his notion that he can become successful without having to give in to social conventions. Significantly, as he becomes increasingly wrapped up in his need for social status, Amory seems to worry less and less whether this tactic prevents him from being true to who he really is.

Amory's relationship with Isabelle Borge demonstrates the ways he both has and hasn't matured since his interaction with Myra St. Claire. As before, he is immediately smitten and overcome by his emotions, forsaking any cautionary signs that might be there. This rashness will get him into increasing trouble and heartbreak throughout the rest of the novel. For all his flirtations with girls, Amory's experience with Isabelle is also marked by his innocence. For all his supposed sophistication, he will become more wounded and skeptical as he falls in love over and over again, only to be disappointed. Isabelle, for her part, is only 16, and so for her, Amory "summed up all the romance that her age and environment led her to desire." He represents the concept of "romance" or "man" for Isabelle—she is unable to see him as a real person.

The trip that Amory takes with his friends to the seaside foreshadows some major events and influences to come. Alec Connage shows himself to be someone who constantly gets himself into trouble: walking out of establishments without paying and acting carelessly with girls. The trip also reveals how when Amory is in close proximity with people that he wants to be his friends, he often acts as a follower rather than a leader, going against the meaning of his name.

Witnessing the death of his friend, Dick Humbird, affects Amory in a way that not even he seems to understand for quite some time. Dick was someone Amory looked up to as a model of upper-class behavior. Amory's immediate response is to be repulsed by Dick's death physically and spiritually. In typical fashion, he is able to push its impact out of his mind in order to focus on the most important thing to him in the moment—the impending arrival of Isabelle, whom he plans to take to the prom. But the reverberations of Dick's death stick with Amory for the duration of the novel, signifying that life can be ruthless and senseless, even in the face of the order and rationality Amory tries to impose on it. Turning away from death is turning away from the reality of life, but Amory is still young. Incapable of processing what has happened to his friend, he turns to his egotism for safety.

Amory's reaction to the development of the war overseas reveals the way in which he is largely indifferent to events that don't directly affect him—the mark of a true egotist. The narrator notes, "The whole affair failed either to thrill or interest him." Until the war begins to have a direct impact on him, the entire event seems abstract and a stand-in for mere entertainment. Though this may seem callous, it reflects Amory's youth, naïveté, and egotistical way of viewing the world.

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