This Side of Paradise | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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This Side of Paradise | Themes

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Emptiness of Money

Amory has a complicated relationship with money: he goes from a wealthy man to a penniless advocate for socialism over the course of the novel. He is born into wealth, and his mother, Beatrice, gives him the best education that money can buy through extensive travel, expensive boarding schools, and an Ivy League university degree. As a result, Amory has a difficult time equating money with hard work. He quits his first job rashly, even though he knows his inheritance is dwindling.

Amory claims to despise poverty and poor people at one point, but by the end of the novel he is too penniless to buy a ticket to go from New York City back to Princeton University. Inspired by the rhetoric of his socialist friend Burne Holiday, Amory chooses to defy living a "conventional" life focused on financial success and material wealth in favor of remaining true to his ideals. He realizes that money will never buy him true love or satisfaction.

Love

Amory's fascination with love can be traced back to his formative relationship with his mother, Beatrice. Beatrice is beautiful, unpredictable, and fickle, keeping Amory close one moment and sending him away to live with relatives the next. Through their relationship, Amory learns that love is fleeting and intense, and this pattern holds through all of his romantic relationships.

Amory relies on his charisma and looks to attract women. Amory yearns for someone to truly see him for who is he is, yet he has a difficult time letting this happen due to his egotism. He tends to fall in love with women who mirror him in some way, though his sense of self is rattled by women like Clara Page, who calls him on the transparency of his egotism. Amory can't seem to learn from his mistakes in love, and he finds himself increasingly heartbroken as he is drawn to women who can't sustain their feelings for him, or he for them.

Egotism

Amory Blaine, who F. Scott Fitzgerald labels a "romantic egoist," is an excellent example, obsessed with his self-image and the impression he makes on others. He is raised by his brilliant but troubled mother, Beatrice, to feel superior and unique, which leads him to feel he will succeed in life with little effort. However, Amory's egotism masks real vulnerability. He lacks confidence and worries about his place in the world, about whether he can be popular, successful, and loved. He can't be his authentic self with others because he is too concerned about appearing to have the advantage over them. Amory often seems to be playing a part, like an actor onstage trying to delight an audience.

This self-involvement leads to tragedy in his personal and professional life. His egotism causes him to repress his emotions and embrace pretense instead of discovering who he really is. He also lacks empathy for others. His love affairs repeatedly fail in part because he can't see his lovers as real people. But Amory is also genuinely intelligent and inquiring, smart enough to recognize that his egotism may be a liability, and that there may be other, better paths through life. This Side of Paradise is, in many ways, a tale of how Amory must confront his own egotism and understand that his job in life is to transcend it.

Self-Discovery

A quest for self-knowledge leads Amory to try to comprehend both himself and the world around him, although he often tries to avoid uncomfortable truths. Much of the novel follows the influence of external factors on Amory's internal world and how heartbreaks and formative friendships shape the person he becomes. Amory is painfully self-aware of his flaws, yet he pushes away this knowledge in order to maintain a certain facade that projects confidence and assurance.

Amory often puts on a pose of worldliness and sophistication, but after a series of women call this out as a lack of self-confidence, he begins to question his own motives. His friendships, especially with Burne Holiday and Monsignor Darcy, help him ultimately realize that he is more empathetic and less selfish than he once thought himself to be. After the deaths of several friends and the failure of several romances, Amory reconsiders the course of his life. At the end of the novel, Amory claims that the only thing he can know is his own self.

Disillusion

World War I (1914–18) resulted in deaths and injuries of soldiers in the millions. Many of Amory's generation had fought in the war or lost loved ones to it, causing them to feel disillusioned by a loss of hope and a sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness. Traditional morals and forms of authority seemed less reliable or worthwhile, breeding a "lost generation." The liberated lifestyle of the 1920s with its hedonism and spirit of rebellion was, in many ways, a response to this sense of disillusionment.

In This Side of Paradise, Amory Blaine, the novel's protagonist, is a self-involved and calculating social climber who believes he has an amazing future due to his charm, brains, and ability to win over women. But he is also a romantic dreamer, a lover of beauty, and a reader and writer of poetry. He is a little too fond of seeing the world through his illusions. As the novel continues, he goes to war, then comes home and has his heart broken by the love of his life, Rosalind Connage, whose name suggests both beauty and carnage. Although he is raised in relative wealth, when his parents die he realizes they wasted the family fortune. Penniless, loveless, and without any success in the world, he is thoroughly disillusioned.

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