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This Side of Paradise | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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In This Side of Paradise, in what ways are Amory Blaine and Isabelle Borge similar in Book 1, Chapter 2?

Amory Blaine and Isabelle Borge are similar in that they are acutely aware of how they present themselves to the world. The narrator describes Isabelle in Book 1, Chapter 2 as "capable of very strong, if very transient emotions," and he may as well be describing Amory. Both are prone to strong yet fickle bouts of emotional intensity, and both delight in the fact that the other seems to be a mirror in which they can see themselves reflected. Both Amory and Isabelle seem to be searching for a person who will make them feel a certain way rather than getting to know the person themselves. It's as though they are interested in romance for romance's sake, and anyone who fits their criteria will do. Each is also petty and fickle, as evidenced by their fight and the abrupt end of their romance. Their similarities explain their attraction to, and yet also their ultimate repulsion from, each other.

In Book 1, Chapter 2 of This Side of Paradise, what does Thomas Parke D'Invilliers mean when he accuses Amory Blaine of being his "bad angel"?

Thomas Parke D'Invilliers emerges in the novel as Amory Blaine's closest and steadiest friend, and in a way it is Thomas's stabilizing influence that helps steady and guide Amory through his time at Princeton and beyond. They often debate literature and politics. In these exchanges, Thomas complains that going to Princeton is "conventionaliz[ing him] completely." He is tired of "adapting himself" to the snobbish social conventions of college life. Amory, on the other hand, is constantly aware of his social status and is always adapting his behavior to strengthen it. He attempts to tell Thomas that Thomas feels disillusioned because he "just had [his] eyes opened to the snobbishness of the world in a rather abrupt manner. Princeton invariably gives the thoughtful man a social sense." Thomas seems to have a more idyllic vision of the world, and when he accuses Amory of being his "bad angel," it is because he believes that Amory's cynicism has shown him this different, less idealistic side of things. In this way, the two friends seem to balance each other and may be why they are drawn to each other despite their differences.

Why does Amory Blaine believe he'll never be a poet in Book 1, Chapter 2 of This Side of Paradise?

Amory Blaine tells Thomas Parke D'Invilliers that he'll never be a poet—something he seems to wish for—because he's "not enough of a sensualist." By this, he means that he only pays attention to a few things that he finds beautiful: "women, spring evenings, music at night, the sea." These are all fairly typical examples of poetic subjects, well-worn poetic conventions. Amory laments that he doesn't catch the smaller and more unusual, nuanced things in life. He believes that while he may be intellectual, it's not enough to make him a good poet. This observation reveals something interesting about Amory—his own insights into his flaws. Though Amory seems egotistical in many ways (hardly able to see beyond his own concerns), this self-consciousness also means that his poorer qualities don't elude his own observations of himself. Amory is acutely aware of his own flaws despite his inability to change them, and can be surprisingly candid about them at times.

In Book 1, Chapter 2 of This Side of Paradise, what effect does Dick Humbird's death have on Amory Blaine?

Amory Blaine's immediate response to Dick Humbird's death in Book 1, Chapter 2 is fascinating and revealing. True to character, Amory is quick to reject and push away the negative feelings he has about it, something he has become very good at. It's as though anything that doesn't line up with his view of how the world works—such as a good person being killed senselessly, as in Dick's case—must be violently rejected rather than understood. Amory initially seems emotionless but yet curious about Dick's death, particularly the physicality of it. After it begins to truly hit him, he begins to think of the way animals die, and he is repulsed by it on a spiritual level rather than an emotional one. His reaction seems almost clinical, and once more he is able to reject his emotions in order to prepare for what seems pressing to him—his prom with Isabelle Borge the next day.

In This Side of Paradise, what does Amory Blaine realize about himself during his fight with Isabelle Borge in Book 1, Chapter 3?

Amory Blaine's fight with Isabelle Borge in Book 1, Chapter 3 causes him to drop the posture of smitten romance. He examines Isabelle for who she really is and how he really feels about her, when all the ideals and abstractions fall away. As it turns out, he finds that "he had not an ounce of real affection" for Isabelle, a revelation that initially surprises him. The question remains: Why, then, did he pursue her and claim to love her? Amory's fight with Isabelle makes him realize that he doesn't want the romance to threaten his idea of who he thinks he should be—"a conqueror." He wants to kiss her and consummate their romance not because he loves her but "because then he knew he could leave in the morning and not care." Amory sees that for him, this relationship was about "conquering" Isabelle in some way, about winning her and being able to perform the role of her lover. This pattern of yearning for the illusion rather than the reality is one that crops up in Amory's relationships again and again.

What does Amory Blaine mean when he refers to himself as "the fundamental Amory" in Book 1, Chapter 3 of This Side of Paradise?

The concept of "the fundamental Amory" is one that he returns to again and again in his life, constantly measuring his current self against who he truly feels himself to be (or at least who he believes himself to be). Amory Blaine usually arrives at his assessment through a kind of equation in which he adds and subtracts his influences over the years and how they have changed him, shaped him, or moved him away from his fundamental self, which is "idle, imaginative, rebellious." This self-assessment reveals how much Amory fears becoming "conventional" in his attraction to traditional notions of popularity and success. In Book 1, Chapter 3, Amory realizes that the social scenes at St. Regis and Princeton University have influenced him to move far away from "the fundamental Amory" by trying to make him conform, and his fundamental self has "been nearly snowed under," or lost, as a result. Amory's obsession with self-knowledge is a recurring theme throughout the novel, and the concept of "the fundamental Amory" is the standard against which he measures it.

In Book 1, Chapter 3 of This Side of Paradise, what is the significance of the distinction Monsignor Darcy makes between personality and personage?

In Book 1, Chapter 3, their discussion is part of a pep talk that Monsignor Darcy gives Amory Blaine, encouraging him not to drop out of Princeton. Amory has lost his position on the college newspaper due to his laziness and carelessness. In addition, his father has died, and Amory discovers that the family fortune has been diminishing rapidly. Amory has experienced "the destruction of his egotistic highways" and feels he has "lost half [his] personality in a year." Monsignor Darcy assures Amory that they are both "personages" rather than personalities, and explains that the latter is "what you thought you were," but a personage is "never thought of apart from what he's done." The distinction he brings up goes back to Amory's constant struggle to maintain "the fundamental Amory." Although Amory strives to be a personage in the way that Monsignor Darcy defines it, he more often falls into the role of a personality, trying on different postures and attitudes to see what kind of attention and acclaim they can bring him socially. Despite this, Monsignor Darcy has faith that Amory has "lost a great amount of vanity" and that he "[is] developing" beyond "personality" to become a "personage."

In This Side of Paradise, what is the effect of the narrator describing Amory Blaine's mind as going "back and forth like a shrieking saw" in Book 1, Chapter 3?

The narrator's description of Amory Blaine's mind as going "back and forth like a shrieking saw" in Book 1, Chapter 3 comes on the heels of his intense and strange hallucinatory experience. Amory thinks he sees the devil, who has his dead college friend Dick Humbird's face. Amory's mind is blurred by alcohol, and he seems to have lost touch with reality. The next day, he is still frightened by the terrifying vision. The imagery of the "shrieking saw" to describe his state of mind indicates that Amory is fixated on what he has experienced in an unsettling way that can't be ignored. It's overtaken his very being. Amory has already been portrayed as someone who is constantly studying himself and observing his own reactions and yet is usually able to push unpleasant memories out of his mind at will, as he could Dick Humbird's death or his relationship with Isabelle Borge. Yet in this case, Amory experiences for the first time something that his mind can't stop thinking about and how thoroughly it shakes him to his core.

In Book 1, Chapter 4 of This Side of Paradise, what does Amory Blaine make of Burne Holiday's evolution as a student?

Burne Holiday is one of the few people in Amory Blaine's life whom he seems to have immense respect for—and even looks up to. Amory has gone through his life believing himself to be smarter than everyone he knows, but watching Burne's evolution as a pacifist and rebel surprises him. He recognizes "the intense power" in Burne and is struck by his "intense earnestness," the opposite of Amory's own manipulative posturing. After a lengthy discussion on literature with Burne, Amory is struck with "a sense of shock that some one else had discovered the path he might have followed." Rarely is Amory so affected by another person that he questions his own motives, but Burne inspires him to question his own belief system and purpose in a surprising way. He had always considered Burne just another shy, serious student, and to see Burne's passion blossom in this way makes Amory consider what he should have been doing with his time at Princeton—and wonder if he has made a mistake and become "stale and futile," as opposed to Burne who "was so evidently developing."

What is the significance of the comparison Amory Blaine makes between Clara Page and Monsignor Darcy in Book 1, Chapter 4 of This Side of Paradise?

The narrator mentions that "Clara Page's was the only advice he ever asked without dictating the answer himself—except, perhaps, in his talks with Monsignor Darcy." This is a significant because, perhaps for the first time, Amory Blaine sees a love interest as equal or even superior to him. Monsignor Darcy is someone whose intelligence and opinions Amory admires and respects rather than viewing with arrogance and contempt. He feels the same way about Clara. It's an interesting coincidence that Clara is the one woman who rejects Amory outright, so there is a possibility that she remains on an elusive pedestal of superiority—she can't disappoint him by becoming too real or flawed. It also reveals that this equality is possibly what Amory is truly yearning for in a romantic partner, given that he has been so fickle toward every girl who he doesn't respect in the same way.

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