This Side of Paradise | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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This Side of Paradise | Book 1, Chapter 3 : The Romantic Egotist (The Egotist Considers) | Summary

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Summary

Amory Blaine and Isabelle Borge get into a fight over something trivial, a moment that ruins his previous bliss. He has a hard time keeping his temper when she doesn't share his sense of humor, and Amory realizes that he has "not an ounce of real affection" for her. He tells her that he is leaving early the next morning, and Isabelle accuses him of being ridiculous. She tells him that he is conceited and lacks self-confidence—he's always talking about himself. Amory lays awake that night, worried that he is "temperamentally unfitted for romance." In the morning he grows unhappier, feeling that Isabelle has ruined his year and that she was nothing more than "what he had read into her."

After returning to Princeton, Amory slacks off in his classes, risking being ejected from the campus newspaper. After failing his exams, he receives a letter telling him that he is off the newspaper. Amory immediately regrets what he has lost. He considers the many versions of himself he has been throughout his life, and his influences: Beatrice Blaine, St. Regis, and Princeton. But he thinks that perhaps now he can just be fundamentally himself. That Thanksgiving his father passes away, and Amory attends his funeral "with an amused tolerance." A few days later, he learns about his family's financial affairs, which have dwindled over time from once-considerable wealth. Amory visits Monsignor Darcy over Christmas and confesses that he feels like leaving college. Monsignor Darcy advises him against it, and tells him to "do the next thing," to keep moving forward in his education.

Back at Princeton, Amory bids farewell to Kerry Holiday, who is enlisting in the war. One evening he and his friend, Fred Sloane, travel to New York, where they go out with some friends. They stay up late into the night, attending parties and drinking. At one point, Amory spies an older man watching him in a café. He is shocked to see the man again at the home of one of his friends later that night. He realizes that something is not quite right about the man's appearance and shouts at his friends to look at the man—but his friends don't see him. Amory bolts out the door and runs and runs, convinced the man is following him. After slowing down, he is struck by an epiphany—the man had the same face as his friend who had died in the car accident, Dick Humbird.

The next morning in his hotel room, Amory tries to clearly recall what transpired the night before. Frustrated and frightened, he demands that he and Sloane leave New York immediately. He begins to worry that he is going mad, and takes the train back to Princeton. His roommate, Thomas Parke D'Invilliers, is waiting for him and tells him that he had a dream that something awful happened to Amory. Amory doesn't tell him about the strange man he saw in New York and tells Thomas he does not want to hear about the dream. A few hours later as they sit in their room, Thomas tells Amory he sees something watching Amory through the window. Amory then tells him the story of the strange man in New York and confesses that he thinks he's seen the devil.

Analysis

Amory Blaine experiences some progress in his self-development. His friendships begin to be more important to him, as they surpass his need to be admired and reflected. His friendship with Thomas Parke D'Invilliers in particular is strengthened after Amory allows Thomas to see his vulnerability and fear—a necessity for two people to bond with each other. Thomas will remain a consistent, steadying figure for Amory throughout the novel, as the two men seem at ease being themselves around one another.

However, Amory still can't seem to find his way with women, whom he either elevates to mythical proportions or views with contempt and disdain. The abrupt ending of his relationship with Isabelle Borge demonstrates how fickle and naive Amory can be—he is able to shut off his feelings for her in an instant when she annoys him. Amory, like Isabelle herself, is more intrigued by acting out an abstract concept of love than he is in the reality of loving the other person. He fundamentally sees their relationship as providing another opportunity for him to see himself as important or powerful.

Princeton has become a place where Amory finds solace and stability, as evidenced by his relief once he returns after his upsetting trip to New York City. Amory will return to Princeton later in the novel during another personal crisis, and the college seems to offer him a sense of home that he never had with Beatrice Blaine or in Minnesota. At Princeton, Amory begins to discover who he truly is, outside of his mother's influence. Amory's epiphany after failing his exams is that he is returning to "the fundamental Amory"—someone who rejects convention.

Amory's visit with Monsignor Darcy further reaffirms this notion about himself, when they debate the notion of "personality" versus "personage." Amory sees himself as a "personage," someone who is able to be fundamentally himself rather than worry about how others see him. This revelation allows Amory to stop clamoring for social approval and attention.

Amory's strange hallucinatory experience with seeing the devil with the face of Dick Humbird has a strong and lasting effect on him. It's one of the first clear moments in the novel when Amory is not fully in touch with reality. The experience deeply rattles Amory; readers question his sanity, just as he does. The vision appears to Amory in the middle of a wild party, and in this way it might represent Amory's ambiguity about his own reaction to Dick Humbird's death, as Amory represses his horror and simply goes on partying. Yet even stranger is the fact that Thomas also sees a face hovering near Amory—a moment that seals his bond with Amory. Thomas and Amory's exchange here reveals their strange kinship and mutual understanding—Thomas tells Amory he had a dream that gave him a premonition that something was wrong, yet Amory tells Thomas not to share it, as if they both already know the outcome. The moment also establishes Thomas as Amory's protector, as he seems to intuit that he must help Amory's fragile sanity in the moment. The moment seems to frighten them both, even as it solidifies their bond and enables Amory to feel safe in his vulnerability around Thomas in the future. Despite sharing the experience, neither seems able to express what it has made them feel.

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