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This Side of Paradise | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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In what ways is This Side of Paradise like the "quest books" Amory Blaine describes in Book 1, Chapter 4?

Amory Blaine describes what he calls "quest books" in Book 1, Chapter 4. These "quest books" inspire Burne Holiday and other students to resign from their social clubs at Princeton. They are a "type of biographic novel" in which "the hero set[s] off in life armed with the best weapons ... intending to push [himself forward] as selfishly and blindly as possible." However, the hero discovers that "there might be a more magnificent use for them [weapons]." What begins as a drive for success becomes a more noble and selfless path. F. Scott Fitzgerald himself described This Side of Paradise as a "quest novel," though Amory's quest is one of self-realization rather than action. From the moment the reader first meets Amory, it is clear that he is a young man who is fascinated by himself and by figuring out his identity and place in the world, but he suffers from egotism. He is especially concerned with achieving popularity and success, although he wants to avoid seeming conventional. His quest, or evolution as a character, comes through his bouts of self-discovery, both good and bad. This leads to the epiphany that he can only know himself, nothing else.

In This Side of Paradise, what role does Princeton University play for Amory Blaine?

Princeton University plays a hugely formative role in Amory Blaine's life, so much so that it is a place he returns to at the end of the novel to review his past. Princeton is where Amory begins his quest for self-discovery in earnest, trying on different attitudes and beliefs until he finds one that feels like the "fundamental" Amory. He discovers poetry at Princeton as well, which becomes an outlet for him to express himself. Princeton University also represents wealth and influence. The competitive and snobbish social scene at Princeton sometimes feeds Amory's egotism by reinforcing and rewarding his desire to fit in, to become popular and successful. But at Princeton he also meets two people who influence him deeply and make him consider a different way to live: Burne Holiday and Thomas Parke D'Invilliers. Burne is one of the first people Amory meets who inspires him to be a better person and thinker, for Amory is struck by Burne's radical beliefs and solid sense of self. Thomas provides Amory with a sense of stability and deep, understanding friendship. Princeton is the beginning and end of Amory's hero's journey.

How does Amory Blaine's experience at Princeton University differ from his experience at St. Regis prep school in This Side of Paradise?

Amory Blaine's experience at Princeton differs from his experience at St. Regis in a few ways. At St. Regis, Amory had to acclimate to his new peers whom he didn't quite understand, given his isolated upbringing with his mother, Beatrice Blaine. Amory, who is very observant at reading the social landscape around him, finds himself subscribing more and more to the "conventions" espoused at St. Regis in order to fit in. At Princeton, he continues this obsession with being well liked and respected, but he also learns at a certain point that he can reject notions of conventionality in favor of being his "fundamental self." He is inspired by the individuality and sincerity of eccentric figures such as Burne Holiday, and also learns how to develop genuine friendships rather than simply collect people who mirror and admire him. Princeton represent nonconformity, while St. Regis represents conformity.

In This Side of Paradise, what effect does Dick Humbird's death have on Amory Blaine over the course of the novel, and why?

At first, Amory Blaine pushes college friend Dick Humbird's death from a drunk-driving accident out of his mind after he witnesses it in Book 1, Chapter 2—initially, he is only struck by the physical horror of the event. Instead, he goes on as if nothing has happened and takes Isabelle Borge to the prom. But the effects of Humbird's death are lingering and long term for him, infiltrating his subconscious in surprising ways. For Amory, Humbird had been an ideal, "the eternal example of what the upper class tries to be." In other words, he lacked the usual vices the upper classes demonstrate in the novel: carelessness about others, snobbery, and social climbing. Amory is guilty of all of these, but he sees Humbird as a model of decency, with "infinite courage," as well as admirably high social status. Amory later suffers in Book 1, Chapter 3 from what seems to be a hallucinatory or psychotic episode one night a few months after Humbird's death, in which he imagines he sees the devil who has Humbird's face. Amory is haunted and terrified by what he sees, indicating that he seems to feel rebuked by this hallucination in some way, perhaps because he tried to avoid dealing with Humbird's death. Years later in Book 2, Chapter 4, in a hotel with Alec Connage, he notes that three of their friends are dead: Humbird, along with Kerry Holiday and Jesse Ferrenby, who both died in the war. Along with the others, Humbird now represents the loss of hope and possibility that Amory, and possibly his generation, are experiencing.

How does being abandoned by others affect Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise?

Being abandoned by others plays a larger role in Amory Blaine's life than he ever seems to admit. He is abandoned first by his mother, Beatrice Blaine, who sends him away to live with relatives in Minnesota after she suffers illness and a nervous breakdown. Given their close relationship, this must have seemed a profound abandonment to Amory. But in return, he abandons Beatrice's influence over him as he adapts to living in Minnesota, and particularly when he attends St. Regis. Amory is also abandoned by Rosalind Connage when she breaks up with him, repeating a pattern in which he makes himself vulnerable only to be rejected by someone he loves. His response is to drink heavily, get into fights, and abandon his job. Through their deaths, Amory is also abandoned by his father, Stephen Blaine, his mother, Monsignor Darcy, and his friend Dick Humbird. At the end of the novel, he is utterly alone and lost, although more mature, realizing that he can only know and rely on himself, not others. This series of abandonment throughout his young life affects the way Amory views both the world and other people. He is hesitant to rely on other people except as they mirror his beliefs about himself, and his rejection by Rosalind only seems to affirm his idea that to open himself up is to risk the pain of abandonment. The reader can sense this shift in Amory after he meets Eleanor Savage, when he realizes that he will never open himself up to her in the same way he did with Rosalind. Amory's sense of abandonment from those he is closest to means that he is torn between yearning for connection and holding people at arm's length so he won't become invested or hurt.

In Book 2, Chapter 3 of This Side of Paradise, what role does his relationship with Eleanor Savage play in Amory Blaine's story?

In Book 2, Chapter 3, Eleanor Savage and Amory Blaine almost seem like twins—impulsive, romantic, and clever. As her name suggests, she is wild and fearless, and she resembles some of Amory's previous lovers in her freewheeling behavior and sophistication. What is unique in her romance with Amory is how they bond over their love of poetry. Their romance often sounds as if it had sprung from a poem: "When she faded out like a gray ghost down the road, a deep singing came out of the fields and filled his way homeward." Amory adopts the poet Rupert Brooke's "literary moods" during their affair, and he and Eleanor read poetry to each other, feeding their sense of illusion, romance, and theatricality. Inevitably, reality intrudes when Amory and Eleanor argue. She threatens to ride her horse over a cliff, then proceeds to do so. Eleanor leaps off her horse at the last minute, but the animal falls over the cliff and dies, and so does the magical illusion that was Amory and Eleanor's summer romance. There is nothing poetic about Eleanor's instability, and Amory leaves the last romance he will experience in the novel in a state of disillusionment.

How does Amory Blaine's relationship to money and wealth evolve over the course of This Side of Paradise?

Amory Blaine is raised with wealth and privilege as a young child, with the best education and travel that money can buy. This sense of privilege helps him develop a sense of superiority, while his notions of how to achieve his own success are vague and abstract. He rejects success through conventional means such as hard work, and becomes openly disdainful of poor people and poverty. Yet after his mother, Beatrice Blaine, passes away, Amory learns that his family's finances have dwindled, and he gets a job for the first time, which he finds disillusioning. He quits abruptly, even though he has no apparent backup plan and his money is running out. The end of the novel finds him espousing socialism and equality to the strangers who offer him a ride to Princeton, and F. Scott Fitzgerald leaves the reader with a sense that Amory's beliefs have been forced to change due to his new financial circumstances.

What is the evolution of Amory Blaine's understanding of social status and popularity over the course of This Side of Paradise?

In Book 1, Chapter 1, once Amory Blaine is outside of his mother's influence, he becomes painfully aware at St. Regis that popularity is essential to his sense of fitting in. This marks the beginning of his quest to be respected and well liked. As a result, he tries on different attitudes in an attempt to impress other people and gain social influence. However, Amory doesn't seem to seek out deep friendships, preferring to collect people who mirror and admire him. Yet by Book 1, Chapter 4, Amory seems to sense on some level that this quest leaves him feeling hollow and like he has succumbed to convention. It's significant that one of his biggest fascinations is with Burne Holiday, a schoolmate who isn't afraid to express unconventional beliefs and stand up for them. Although Amory struggles with caring about others' perceptions of him, he begins to grapple more with who he wants to be versus how he wants other people to see him. By the time the novel ends, he is willing to rely on his knowledge of himself alone rather than winning the approval of others.

In This Side of Paradise, how does Thomas Parke D'Invilliers's friendship influence Amory Blaine?

Amory Blaine's friendship with Thomas Parke D'Invilliers is one of the most organic and natural relationships he develops in the novel. Unlike friends like Alec Connage, Amory never tries to be someone he isn't around Thomas—Thomas even asks Amory to take breaks from acting like an "eccentric" during one particular phase, and Amory feels comfortable enough to relinquish the act around Thomas. Thomas quietly supports Amory and yet also challenges him to be a better person, and in that balance Amory finds a stabilizing and reassuring influence in Thomas. He doesn't have anyone else that close in his life to worry about him when he disappears for days after his breakup with Rosalind Connage, yet Thomas comes to his rescue and helps him return to himself.

What role does alcohol play in This Side of Paradise?

From the way that the women of this era were beginning to feel emboldened with newfound power to drink, to the impact of Prohibition on the invention of underground clubs and scandals, alcohol plays a large role in the novel as the being the fuel that drives the Jazz Age. For many of the characters, alcohol provides a sense of escape, despite its criminalization. Yet alcohol symbolizes more than the newfound freedom of the 1920s. At Princeton, Amory Blaine and his friends often go out on the weekends carousing and drinking, and one escapade in particular leads to a car accident and the death of his friend Dick Humbird, who was driving while intoxicated. This incident stays with Amory for the rest of the novel. The role of alcohol is also portrayed as a detrimental influence in the aftermath of Amory and Rosalind Connage's breakup, when Amory goes on a drinking bender for days that leads him to get in fights and quit his job in Book 2, Chapter 2. He only stops when the laws of Prohibition go into effect, banning the sale and consumption of alcohol. Alcohol, therefore, plays a complex role in the novel, serving as an instigator of mayhem as well as an avenue of escape.

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