This Side of Paradise | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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This Side of Paradise | Book 2, Chapter 5 : The Education of a Personage (The Egotist Becomes a Personage) | Summary

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Summary

Amory Blaine hovers outside a theater on a damp, cold night and ponders the state of men and women, coming to some negative conclusions. He claims to detest poor people because poverty is the ugliest thing in the world. Amory hops on a bus and contemplates the fact that he only has $24 to his name. He decides to leave New York City the next day. After getting off the bus Amory wanders aimlessly, considering his past and wondering whether he is better or worse than any other man. He considers that "there were no more wise men; there were no more heroes" now that he has lost sight of Burne Holiday and that Monsignor Darcy is dead. He also feels disillusioned by women, particularly the ones he has loved.

Amory attends Monsignor Darcy's funeral. He is beset with grief after seeing him in his coffin, and he realizes that everyone there felt safe when Monsignor Darcy was near. This inspires Amory to move beyond his sense of disillusionment. He suddenly wants to provide others with a similar sense of security—one that he had only been able to find in Monsignor and Burne.

One day, Amory sets off walking for Princeton, and two strangers (whom F. Scott Fitzgerald calls "the big man" and "the little man") offer him a ride. He tells them how he lost his job as a copywriter and is out of money, and shares his theories about modern life and marriage. Amory now believes in socialism and economic equality across classes, while the other two men argue in favor of status and wealth. Amory eventually reveals that he attended Princeton University. So did one of the big man's sons. In fact, the man's son was Jesse Ferrenby, Amory's friend who was killed in the war, and the big man is his father, Mr. Ferrenby.

After the men drop him off, Amory wanders through a graveyard, contemplating death. He makes his way to Princeton, where the sound of its bells comfort him. He thinks about the new generation being educated there and how they are a different generation, navigating a completely different world. Amory realizes that he can rely on only one thing in life: his knowledge of himself.

Analysis

Although the final section of the novel finds Amory Blaine at a financial and emotional rock bottom, he is also heading to the place that gives him the biggest sense of solace—Princeton University. It's unclear what Amory believes walking to Princeton will resolve for him, but the reader gets the sense that it is a pilgrimage of sorts, to ponder the person he's become since he left. Before he leaves, the narrator reveals that "probably more than any concrete vice or failing Amory despised his own personality," an observation that foreshadows the final line of the novel.

It's notable that Amory could solve his financial situation by selling his family's home or getting a job, but he stubbornly clings to his notion of not leading a conventional life and so he remains perhaps his own biggest obstacle. Amory's reluctance to let go of the family home might reveal that he is perhaps more emotionally tied to his mother than he'd like to admit to himself. It's also possible that he is tied to the image of social class that owning the house represents. While Amory's plight centers not on things so much as death and purpose, he will need these assets to avoid becoming one of the despised poor.

Amory's lengthy debate and discussion with the two strangers who offer him a ride shows how Amory's views of life have evolved. F. Scott Fitzgerald asks the reader to consider whether this is "the fundamental Amory" or merely another pose, or identity, he is trying on. It does seem to be a true awakening on Amory's part, as he realizes that he now belongs to another class of people whom he once derided—the poor.

Amory fiercely argues in favor of social equality and against spending life accumulating wealth, status, and property. He now favors a man who "can be educated to think clearly, concisely, and logically, freed of his habit of taking refuge in platitudes and prejudices." While he is making a general statement about humanity, Amory might as well be describing himself at this point in his life, as he attempts to think clearly and avoid his past reliance on "platitudes and prejudices" about status and achievement.

Amory's arrival at Princeton shows him finding some sense of closure and peace about whom he has become and how his life has turned out since he left college. He admits to himself, "I am selfish." He recognizes that he cannot change this at will, and that he lacks "the milk of human kindness." But Amory understands that he can take a more constructive path in life by "transcending" this selfishness rather than "avoiding" or denying it. He also expresses his distrust of romance and sex as evil illusions. "Beauty of great art, beauty of all joy, most of all the beauty of women" no longer appeal to him.

The fact that Amory is offered a ride by Jesse Ferrenby's father brings up a subject Amory has tried his best to avoid: death. Jesse was a friend from Princeton who died as a soldier during the war. Whatever form it takes, death is no illusion; it is a reality no one can escape. In the past, Amory tried to avoid remembering Dick Humbird's death, only to be haunted by it. Along with Jesse, Kerry Holiday died in the war, and Monsignor Darcy is dead, too. As a soldier in the war, Amory could not have avoided experiencing death firsthand, although he does not talk about it. As he visits a tomb near Princeton, Amory has a fleeting flashback of lying in the grass with other soldiers before a battle during the war, the only time a scene of his experience in wartime occurs in the novel. He also visits a vault, or tomb, of a Civil War soldier and imagines his own future grave, revealing that Amory is now able to accept death and, thus, reality more than he has previously.

In the end, Amory trades in his reliance on personality in favor of becoming a "personage," one who relies on his own authenticity, as flawed as it may be. His final remark to himself is cryptic: "I know myself, but that is all." It sums up his quest for knowledge about the world thus far—the mysteries of love and life and the many postures and attitudes he has tried on over the years. Fitzgerald leaves it a mystery as to whether this revelation is comforting or terrifying to Amory, but it certainly signifies an epiphany that will affect his conception of himself in the future.

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