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This Side of Paradise | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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In This Side of Paradise, how do the epigraphs at the beginning of the novel connect to its themes?

F. Scott Fitzgerald frames the novel with two epigraphs, one by the World War I poet Rupert Brooke and one by the Irish author Oscar Wilde. The novel gets its title from the Rupert Brooke epigraph, which claims that "there's little comfort in the wise" on this side of paradise. Brooke writes about life in Tahiti, a nursemaid, and a near-death experience; paradise or heaven provides little comfort to the living on this side of it. This sentiment connects to the theme of self-discovery in the novel. Amory Blaine aims to become wiser throughout the novel, but his final sentiment is that he can only know himself—an idea that is not necessarily reassuring to either him or the reader. Oscar Wilde's epigraph also connects to the theme of self-discovery, as he proclaims that "experience is the name so many people give to their mistakes." This is a notion that Amory ponders as he reflects back on his choices regarding love and success, and wonders whether to frame them as mistakes or as experiences. Both epigraphs present a skeptical view of Amory's quest for self-discovery.

In Book 1, Chapter 1 of This Side of Paradise, how is Beatrice Blaine characterized?

Beatrice Blaine is introduced as a forceful figure in Amory Blaine's life, as she plays a large role in developing the man he becomes. She is well educated, "measured by the number of things and people one could be contemptuous of and charming about." Her son, Amory, shares this trait with his mother as he grows up and assumes the same posture of contempt of and charm about the world around him. Even though Beatrice is portrayed as beautiful, charismatic, and larger than life, the reader is told that "even at this [young] age, [Amory] had no illusions about her." He seems to understand his mother and, at times, acts as her caretaker and closest friend. Yet this also means that he is at the mercy of her whims and mysterious illnesses. Their relationship combines a deep attachment with a fickleness or instability that will haunt Amory's relationships with women later in life.

What does the narrator imply with the statement that "even at this age, [Amory] had no illusions about [Beatrice]" in Book 1, Chapter 1 of This Side of Paradise?

Amory and Beatrice Blaine are closely linked, both in their relationship as mother and son as well as by their personality traits. Amory Blaine is a precocious and observant child, and here F. Scott Fitzgerald demonstrates how formative childhood relationships can impact future adult relationships. Beatrice is complicated—at once both the person closest to Amory and yet also mentally troubled and prone to mysterious illnesses. It's significant that he realizes this about her at a young age, when most people put their parents on a pedestal. It seems to inform the way in which he later feels intense emotions for the women he cares about, only to reject them before they can reject him. It's as though he tries to catch himself before developing any potential illusions about them as well.

In This Side of Paradise, what does Amory Blaine's interaction with Myra St. Claire reveal about his character in Book 1, Chapter 1?

Amory Blaine is instantly smitten with Myra St. Claire and is acutely aware of how he presents himself to her. From planning his late arrival to lying to her about his delay, these actions reveal that from a young age Amory is incredibly conscious about his self-presentation and how he wants to come across to others. What he doesn't seem able to see at this point is how this conceals his "fundamental" self, nor does he seem to worry about whether or not he is being genuine. Amory's immediate and sudden depth of emotion for Myra also shows how prone he is to being swept up in his feelings rather than genuinely caring about the object of those feelings. When he suddenly changes his mind about Myra, he is able to turn off his emotions about her abruptly, like a faucet. This shows his ability to control them and calls how deep they might actually be into question. He is abruptly mean to Myra after they kiss, showing that he seems to lose interest the moment the object of his affections becomes a real, flawed person.

What does the narrator imply by stating that "it was always the becoming [Amory] dreamed of, never the being" in Book 1, Chapter 1 of This Side of Paradise?

Amory Blaine spends a great deal of his mental and emotional energy conjuring up the person that he wants to become. Thanks to Beatrice Blaine's influence, he thinks highly of himself from a young age, wondering "how people could fail to notice that he was a boy marked for glory." Amory is constantly dreaming of his future, and even as he falls asleep he dreams about "becoming" a football star or a young war general. The narrator implies that there is something about Amory that yearns for the climactic moment of acclaim and fame, because to "be" the thing indicates that one has already risen and conquered that goal. This is indicative of Amory's restlessness, as he hops from ideal to ideal throughout the novel. This restlessness might also represent his attempt to avoid admitting to or dealing with his own potentially disappointing flaws or the flaws of others at the expense of his illusions.

In This Side of Paradise, how is Monsignor Darcy first characterized in Book 1, Chapter 1 , and for what purpose?

Monsignor Darcy proves to be a huge influence on Amory Blaine's life and ideals, so the narrator devotes significant time to characterizing him when he first appears in the novel. At the time that Amory meets him, Monsignor is 44 years old and has a "brilliant, enveloping personality." He is portrayed as highly intelligent and charismatic, two qualities that he sees reflected in Amory as well. The narrator also observes that "children adored [Monsignor Darcy] because he was like a child; youth revelled in his company because he was still a youth, and couldn't be shocked." There is something refreshing and inspiring about Monsignor Darcy, and it is this uniqueness and self-presentation that Amory immediately admires.

In Book 1, Chapter 1 of This Side of Paradise, what does the narrator imply by noting "[Amory Blaine] was changed as completely as Amory Blaine could ever be changed"?

Amory Blaine often sees his life and the formation of his personality as an equation—he notes that "Amory plus Beatrice plus two years in Minneapolis—these had been his ingredients when he entered St. Regis." But St. Regis "drilled Beatrice out of him," and he has become more conventional, which means that he has changed fundamentally from his formative, unconventional years with his mother. This leads him to his formula of what he determines is a new layer, or "planking," over "the fundamental Amory." Amory has learned how to take his perceived weaknesses and turn them into acceptable eccentricities through his success as a football player at St. Regis, and this self-assessment also reflects his increasing self-awareness.

In This Side of Paradise, what differences in their personalities does Amory Blaine and Kerry Holiday's conversation about girls reveal in Book 1, Chapter 2?

Amory Blaine is still in touch with his female admirers from his days in Minnesota, and when Kerry Holiday asks about them, Amory runs down a list of their attributes. Kerry's response reveals that he is "the nice boy type" and therefore, girls don't tend to find him intriguing. Amory, who is well-versed in not being "the nice boy type" and thereby attracting girls with his air of confidence and sophistication, gives him a litany of suggestions to make him seem more "wild." Amory can't even fathom anyone calling him "good old Amory" in the same way they do Kerry. Their conversation reveals some fundamental differences in Amory's and Kerry's personalities, and in how they view each other and themselves. Kerry reveals himself to be earnest and forthright, while Amory is more cunning and manipulative. Kerry is more inexperienced and innocent, while Amory is more worldly and knowing. These traits carry over into other aspects of their lives as well, shining a spotlight on their true natures.

What does Amory Blaine's reaction to World War I reveal about his character in Book 1, Chapter 2 of This Side of Paradise?

References to World War I begin as a passing footnote in the narrative thread of Amory Blaine's life, a background noise that at first affects him very little. The narrator notes that "the whole affair failed either to thrill or interest him." He is only interested in how gory and dramatic the war seems, as if it is a theatrical production. This observation lines up with the portrayal of Amory as someone who can see little beyond the scope of his own immediate life and interests and, to some degree, also shows how cold and callous he can be when it comes to understanding the emotions and impacts of life on others. It's not until he returns from the war that he seems to develop some understanding of the gravity and long-term effects of the war on himself and his peers.

What role does New York City play in This Side of Paradise?

New York City brings together two sides of Amory Blaine. On the one hand, it is an exciting, glamorous city of wealth and influence, a playground for adults who seek out the endless pleasures its nightlife has to offer. The city also attracts people who are ambitious and seek fame and success. Amory first sees, and is enchanted by, New York when he goes to visit Monsignor Darcy, so it has a sentimental association with his spiritual father figure for him, too. But in the novel, New York City is also a place in which Amory faces a reckoning. New York is where he hallucinates seeing the devil with Dick Humbird's face. Once Amory moves to Manhattan, reality intrudes on him as his hopes and dreams are crushed. In New York City, he loves and loses Rosalind Connage and goes on a terrible drinking spree in which he is beaten to a pulp. It is there that he gets a job in advertising but rashly quits after discovering his family's money is gone. In Book 2, Chapter 5, Amory, now penniless, witnesses the city's truth—and his own—as he observes its poverty-stricken residents. The city might be the home of riches and fame, but it also the home of poverty, desperation, and disillusionment. This aspect of the city sparks Amory to reconsider his position in the world and embrace socialism.

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