The impetus of F. Scott Fitzgerald's collegiate literary career was spent by the time he was discharged from the Army early in 1919, and he had failed to make from it any larger success. The novel he had completed on weekends at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, had been returned in August 1918 by Charles Scribner's Sons, the publishing firm to which Fitzgerald's friend Shane Leslie had submitted it. Maxwell Perkins at Scribner's had given Fitzgerald detailed suggestions for revision, but Fitzgerald lacked the time and the concentration to do more than a quick patch-up job. Within a few weeks he had sent in a partially revised version, and in October 1918 the novel was again refused. At Fitzgerald's request Perkins passed the manuscript on to another, less conservative publishing house, but there it evoked even less interest. Fitzgerald settled in New York, tried without success to catch on as a reporter on one of the New York papers, and finally went to work as an advertising copy writer.
In the evenings he wrote. He had still not settled his literary aspirations on a particular form, and though he concentrated mainly on short stories he also wrote movie scripts, song lyrics, poems, sketches, and jokes—whatever had a chance of being placed somewhere. He thought up advertising promotions; he even considered trying to break in as a song writer. Over four months he had built up an inventory totaling, in short stories alone, nineteen. The longest time he spent on one was three days. No wonder his rejections came back so promptly. He was disappointed when he made his first sale, in June 1919 to The Smart Set, and it turned out the story they took was “Babes in the Woods” from the Nassau Lit. But Fitzgerald had carefully gone over “Babes in the Woods” and extensively revised it for the novel, so it was a much more finished story than could have been any of the new ones he was turning out so rapidly. The headlong haste with which he must have written his free-lance pieces in those four months is even more strikingly apparent in the fact that in that period he traveled three times to Montgomery, Alabama, and lost several weeks to a drunken spree. Under other circumstances a sale to so important a literary periodical as The Smart Set might have been a happy conclusion to so brief an apprenticeship, and the successful start to a writing career. But Fitzgerald was deeply involved in his courtship of Zelda Sayre, and a check for thirty dollars from The Smart Set symbolized neither the wealth nor the success he felt he must attain to win her as his wife. Early in July he went home to St. Paul to give “The Romantic Egotist” the thorough revision he had been unable to accomplish before. Whether he was motivated by long-range literary strategy or by a long-shot hope for sudden fame and money enough to impress Zelda Sayre, his decision was a sound one. Fitzgerald may have possessed the talent to be a writer, but up to that point he had demonstrated neither the patience nor the care to be a good one. Two months later the revision was completed; ten weeks after he left New York Scribner's accepted This Side of Paradise for publication in the spring.
By the time This Side of Paradise came out in March 1920, Fitzgerald had thrown himself so fully into the literary life of the early post-war period—had become so suddenly aware of Mencken and Dreiser and literary realism and of writers like James Branch Cabell—it was quite forgotten that his novel was not a product, at least in conscious intention, of that literary atmosphere. From the moment he left Princeton in the fall of 1917 to the time of his departure from New York in the summer of 1919 Fitzgerald had given over his non-working hours so completely to his own writing that he must have had little time to read. On the train back to St. Paul he read Hugh Walpole's Fortitude, and the writers on whom he could draw when he sat down to rewrite “The Romantic Egotist” were still H. G. Wells, Compton Mackenzie, Booth Tarkington, Robert Hugh Benson, and more distantly, Walpole, Shaw, Wilde, Brooke—the same writers who were in his mind when he began it. Amory Blaine, Fitzgerald's new hero, was “rather surprised by his discovery through a critic named Mencken of several excellent American novels: 'Vandover and the Brute,' 'The Damnation of Theron Ware,' and 'Jennie Gerhardt.' “ Fitzgerald explained this reference when he inscribed a copy of This Side of Paradise for Mencken. “As a matter of fact, Mr. Mencken, I stuck your name in on page 224 in the last proof,” Fitzgerald wrote, “… partly, I suppose, as a vague bootlick and partly because I have since adopted a great many of your views. But the other literary opinions, especially the disparagement of Cobb, were written when you were little more than a name to me—” Fitzgerald had not been aware of Mencken's pre-eminent position as a critic of American literature when that spring he submitted the short stories to the editors of The Smart Set, of whom Mencken was one.
Near the end of his revision Fitzgerald wrote a preface to This Side of Paradise. It was a personal rather than a literary document, and Fitzgerald offered it more to Scribner's editors than to any future novel-reading public. “The preface I leave to your discretion,” he told Perkins in the cover letter with the completed manuscript, “—perhaps it's a little too clever-clever.” And Perkins discreetly dropped it out. But the preface is a unique record of Fitzgerald's literary consciousness while he was writing This Side of Paradise, and as it has not heretofore been discussed by students of Fitzgerald, it will be useful to restore it momentarily to its place as an introduction to the novel.
Fitzgerald's preface was not, like a Hawthorne preface, an occasion for questioning the strictures of literary convention or proposing a new way of looking at literary forms. Rather it was a ritual act of rejection: a public sloughing off of his immediate past, displaying what Edmund Wilson noticed in his early essay on Fitzgerald for The Bookman, Fitzgerald's early capacity to throw off his unsuccessful work with a swift self-irony and self-depreciation. The first sentence establishes his superior tone of condescension toward his literary past: “Two years ago when I was a very young man indeed, I had an unmistakable urge to write a book.” This book, the first version of “The Romantic Egotist,” written at Ft. Leavenworth, he puts down as “a tedious casserole of a dozen by Mackenzie, Wells, and Robert Hugh Benson, largely flavored by the great undigested butter-ball of Dorian Gray.” One is left with the impression that the writing of “The Romantic Egotist” was in the nature of a bodily function, in which his mind was not involved. It was returned by the publisher “with the complaint that the hero failed in the end to find himself, and that this defection would so certainly disappoint the reader as to predestine the book to failure.” One may take it that Fitzgerald means “defect,” but the word “defection” in reference to “The Romantic Egotist” has its own symbolic appropriateness.
“I pondered the difficulty for several weeks,” Fitzgerald continues, “—how could I intrigue the hero into a 'philosophy of life' when my own ideas were in much the state of Alice's after the hatter's tea-party.” Into this intellectual vacuum, he intimates, only fools may tread:
At length I took a tip from Schopenhauer, Hugh Walpole and even the early Wells—begged the question by plunging boldly into obscurity; astounded myself with an impenetrable chapter where I left the hero alone with rhapsodic winds and hyper-sensitive stars … and finding that I had merely dragged the hero from a logical muddle into an illogical one, I dispatched him to the war and callously slew him several thousand feet in the air, whence he fell “not like a dead bird, but as a splendid life-bound swallow**** down**** down****”
Fitzgerald's epitaph on this version is pithy: “The book finished with four dots—there was a fifth dot but I erased it.”
Eventually, in a fanfare of capitalized words, the root of the trouble came clear to him.
All I had written of things I was interested in: THE INFLUENCE OF NIGHT, RATHER BAD WOMEN, PERSONALITY, FANATICISM, THE SUPERNATURAL, and VERY GOOD WOMEN, was quite above the average. All I had written of subjects with which I was thoroughly cognizant: THE “PREP” SCHOOL, COLLEGE, THE MIDDLE WEST, NATURE, QUAINT STUPID PEOPLE, and MYSELF, was, because I was quite bored with all of them, well below the average. My course was obvious, my inspiration was immediate.Virtuously resisting the modern writer's tendency to dramatize himself, I began another novel; whether its hero really “gets anywhere” is for the reader to decide.
Neither the course nor the inspiration is made quite visible to the reader of the preface, but the message of this document is clear enough. It is addressed directly to Maxwell Perkins, and its practical purpose was to warn him to expect, not simply a further revision, but a novel new in conception, quite different in tone from the old. In his letter of acceptance Perkins responded, “Viewing it as the same book that was here before, which in a sense it is, though … extended further, I think that you have improved it enormously.” From the point of view of Fitzgerald's collegiate fiction and the unpublished versions of the novel, This Side of Paradise represented for Fitzgerald's development a remarkable advance.
Fitzgerald considered three titles for his novel. The two he rejected—“The Romantic Egotist,” left over from the earlier manuscript, and “The Education of a Personage”—suggest the unique character and personal destiny of the novel's young hero. The one he chose directs the reader to widen his attention to a place, on the map and in history. This Side of Paradise portrays one young man's education, but it is the story of two developments, the young man's and his society's together. Self and society are held in focus together, even in the moments when the novel plunges most deeply into the minds and hearts of the young. This generation had “grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken …” No line from This Side of Paradise is better known and more often quoted; but it is often fragmented, and this is what is left out: “a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead …” (282). If it is a novel of revolt against society—“a gesture of indefinite revolt,” Edmund Wilson called it in his 1922 sketch of the early Fitzgerald—its hero in fact embraces the conventions of the society he grew up in, only to find them without value for the post-World War One society in which he must live. And his withdrawal from society is not so much a rejection as a strategic act, a temporary retreat to find a new andfirmer foundation within himself from which to build out into his society again.
“Virtuously resisting the modern writer's tendency to dramatize himself,” so Fitzgerald in his unpublished preface described his strength to resist temptation, “I began another novel; whether its hero really 'gets anywhere' is for the reader to decide.” These words may be taken merely as a tactical denial that the novel is what it so obviously has seemed to readers then and later, a scarcely veiled autobiography in fiction; and the second clause may be read as an extended and slightly ironic metaphor, meaning, whether F. Scott Fitzgerald really “gets anywhere” is for the editors of Scribner's to decide. But it is more useful to understand this sentence as Fitzgerald most probably intended it, as a claim for credit, as an indication that he had attained in tone and in content the detachment and the coherence the publishers had required of him. If the inspiration for incidents in the novel had come out of Fitzgerald's personal experience, to readers of Fitzgerald's collegiate stories it would have been obvious that they were being altered by a second, in many cases a third, transformation into art. The young men to whom Fitzgerald had boasted “I really believe that no one else could have written so searchingly the story of the youth of our generation” might have seen that he had brought together in the novel the fragmented and contradictory insights into genteel values and had tried to make them cohere in the portrait of Amory Blaine. This Side of Paradise may be read as social history, as a humorous, vain, and naïve attempt to portray a humorous, vain, and naïve generation. But it is also something more—if not a novel of ideas, then a novel of feelings, of intuited and empirical responses to cultural traditions and conventions that existed only in intuitions and social practices, but which once had their origin in theology and social thought. This Side of Paradise is Fitzgerald's full-scale attempt to test the validity of the genteel conceptions of heroism he and his generation had inherited. It is not a novel of ideas, in part because it was written at a time when other persons, older and more experienced than Amory Blaine, were discovering that their ideas also were “still in riot.” This Side of Paradise has been looked at as a beginning, as the first flare of 1920 that illuminated the road of the decade ahead. But the events of the novel take place almost exactly within the years 1910 to 1920, and it would be as useful to regard it as an ending, as an attempt to evaluate the experiences of the decade past, when many American values and institutions came under scrutiny. To alter a phrase from Walter Lippmann, who had also been trying to break through false assumptions and conventions in the decade before 1920, This Side of Paradise is a preface to a novel of ideas.
This half-intellectual, half-emotional thrust, the slowly rising tension of the desire to break through the shell of old conventions and discover the true self underneath, plays the determining role in shaping the form and content of the novel. Fitzgerald had barely begun to direct his attention to the problems of the craft of the novel. Students of his technique assume he was aware at least of the “saturation” side of the H. G. Wells-Henry James debates between “saturation” and “selection” in the form of the novel, but he was hardly mature enough either as an artist or as an intellectual selfconsciously to take sides, as he was later to do. The “saturation” form of the novel suited his needs because he had not yet acquired a point of view firm enough to take advantage of the “selection” form; he did not possess the intellectual foundation, that is, to know what to include and what to exclude. In This Side of Paradise Fitzgerald seeks to discover that foundation. Had he come upon it before writing the novel, he might have achieved a more perfect work of art, and a more precisely articulated gesture of revolt. But the value of the novel lies in its capacity to demonstrate, not a completion, but a process. “It was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being,” Fitzgerald says of his hero, Amory Blaine (17-18). Amory's quickening realization that he must struggle against constricting forms of social and intellectual commitment to keep alive this process gives this otherwise diffuse novel its particular movement and urgency.
Fitzgerald began This Side of Paradise with the same collection of short stories, poems, and plays that provided the interludes of action between the hero's monologues of self-analysis in “The Romantic Egotist.” His chief concern with form was to attain the detachment demanded of him by the Scribner's editors. To accomplish this he turned from a first to a third person form of narrative, but the point of view, except for a few lapses, remains that of the young hero. The first and most pervasive difficulty in getting at the meaning of thenovel is presented by the inconsistencies in this point of view. It assumes the perspective at times of personal, internally developed values, and at other times of generalized social values. The narrative voice alternates without apparent reason between the form of a soliloquy and the form of a dramatic monologue. The difference between the two forms has been precisely defined by Robert Langbaum in The Poetry of Experience. The soliloquist seeks a point of view while the speaker of the dramatic monologue starts with one. The meaning of the soliloquy depends upon how much the soliloquist has been able to see in terms of a general perspective. But the meaning of the dramatic monologue is understood indirectly, by judging the limitations and distortions of what the speaker sees. We understand something other than what the speaker understands, and our understanding comes through what he conceals and distorts, as well as by what he reveals.
Amory Blaine speaks in both types of voices. The confusion in This Side of Paradise between the soliloquy and the dramatic monologue as forms of narrative recalls a similar confusion in Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance, one of the first American novels to display an awareness of the possibilities in point of view, and an important influence on the first novelist to expound the “doctrine of point of view,” Henry James. Coverdale, the narrator of The Blithedale Romance, also engages in soliloquies of self-analysis, yet the reader must judge the meaning of the novel from a perspective, as with the dramatic monologue, that judges Coverdale's point of view as well. The difficulty in the case of both Hawthorne and Fitzgerald extends beyond a failure of literary form into the very definition of character which the society provides. The confusion between forms in The Blithedale Romance and This Side of Paradise reflects the tension in the genteel American tradition between an ideological commitment to the independent individual will and a practical desire for individuals to submit to social conventions and control. The solution of genteel American society was to make generalized social values appear as if they were formed internally by personal choice. This is the solution that Hawthorne succumbed to; that Henry James satirized in The Europeans and used as the material for tragic drama in The Portrait of a Lady; that F. Scott Fitzgerald had to overcome intellectually and artistically in This Side of Paradise.
Fitzgerald achieved his tone of detachment through the invention of Amory's mother, Beatrice O'Hara Blaine. Beatrice as a character may be quite unbelievable; in a way Fitzgerald accounts for this, with his peculiar blend of nostalgia, irony, and sense of social history, by placing her culturally in an already by-gone era, the gilded age. “All in all Beatrice O'Hara absorbed the sort of education that will be quite impossible ever again; a tutelage measured by the number of things and people one could be contemptuous of and charming about; a culture rich in all arts and traditions, barren of all ideas, in the last of those days when the great gardener clipped the inferior roses to produce one perfect bud” (4). But for his purposes she is indispensable. With her aristocratic elegance and her egotistic disdain for convention she provides him with a vantage point otherwise, in an American context, almost unobtainable, a social stature apparently superior to and beyond the conventional judgment by upper-middle-class genteel values. We are nevertheless not supposed to take Beatrice Blaine too seriously. In the first five pages of the novel Fitzgerald speaks in a voice of light social satire, mingling high irony with low comedy; lines such as “the history of her constitution and its many amendments” (6), “next to doctors, priests were her favorite sport” (7), “You will admit that if it was not life it was magnificent” (8), set the tone. Fitzgerald makes clear that Amory regards his mother from the same point of view; “he had no illusions about her” (5). But Fitzgerald's young hero is his mother's son. “Amory Blaine inherited from his mother”—this is the first sentence of the novel—“every trait, except the stray inexpressible few, that made him worthwhile” (3). Later when he begins to try on the various masks of social convention, the term “the fundamental Amory” is introduced to refer us back to the core of his character formed by his mother. If we are not to take Beatrice Blaine quite seriously, we are not permitted entirely to dismiss her values either. And if Beatrice can be both “contemptuous of and charming about” Midwestern American society, her son, who must make a place for himself in it, can treat his position with amusement and candor, too.
The first episode of the novel, “A Kiss for Amory,” immediately following on the introduction of the Blaines, brings out clearly theelements of Fitzgerald's new style and themes. Fitzgerald discovered his first conscious voice in writing This Side of Paradise. In his collegiate stories there had been glimpses of it, but even the phrases and sentences he carried over unaltered from his early work took on a different color in the context of a controlling voice. The lyrics Fitzgerald wrote for Princeton's Triangle Club shows may give clearer signs of his developed style. The superior, ironic voice of “A Kiss for Amory,” the comic metaphors, the active verbs and adverbs that directly appeal to visual and aural senses, all suggest the tone of musical comedy. For the first time in Fitzgerald's fiction the language comes alive, broadening themes, implying meanings on its own.
The themes of this short episode derive in part from the conventions of genteel boys' stories and in part from distinctive aspects of Amory Blaine's character. Amory “had been two months in Minneapolis, and his chief struggle had been the concealing from 'the other guys at school' how particularly superior he felt himself to be, yet this conviction was built upon shifting sands” (8). He had discovered, that is, that the road to power and popularity lay through athletics, his weakest point, and he was gamely trying to conform to the norm. Meanwhile, he had received from Myra St. Claire an invitation to a bobbing party. “His lips curled when he read it” (8). He put the invitation in his pocket, “where it had an intense physical affair with a dusty piece of peanut brittle”(9). The day comes for the party, and Amory's first encounter with Minneapolis society is a series of comic reversals. Amory arrives fashionably late, with his mother's cadenced excuses on his tongue. “A butler (one of the three in Minneapolis) swung open the door” (10). But the party had already moved off to the local country club, and Myra waits for him alone. The butler says “ain't,” “yeah,” and “what” as a personal pronoun (10). After an initial shock of social horror and despair, Amory swiftly assumes the role of the imaginative genteel hero. ” 'Well—I'll tell you. I guess you don't know about the auto accident,' he romanced” (10). This is a desperate play. The butler sees through it. Myra's social ruffle is not smoothed. Nevertheless, Amory's will is strong, his imagination fertile. “As they stepped into the machine he hurriedly slapped the paint of diplomacy over a rather box-like plan he had conceived” (11). He assumes a debonair Continental air. Andsuddenly to Myra he represents “the quintessence of romance” (11). His thirteen-year-old imagination conjures up for her thirteen-year-old imagination a world of sin unknown to the Penrods and Willie Baxters of Booth Tarkington's fictional genteel world; he smokes, he goes to burlesque shows. Myra is enthralled. Amory is stirred. His imagination leaps to puppy love, his will strains against the conventions. Myra directs her chauffeur to by-pass the bobbing party and take them, alone together, to the country club.
Here Fitzgerald's control falters. He slips for the first time into unabashedly sentimental romanticism. “Overhead the sky was half crystalline, half misty, and the night was chill and vibrant with rich tension. From the country club steps the roads stretched away, dark creases on the white blanket; huge heaps of snow lining the sides like the tracks of giant moles” (13). Trying to recover distance, the author's voice first obtrudes into Amory's point of view, then swings momentarily to Myra's. “Then their lips brushed like young wild flowers in the wind” (14). Suddenly Amory becomes disgusted with himself. “He wanted to creep out of his body and hide somewhere safe out of sight, up in the corner of his mind” (14). Myra's will asserts itself: ” 'Kiss me again.' Her voice came out of a great void” (14). Their playful touch suggests a somehow ominous mystery. The scene dissolves in a comedy of childish pique and a surprise reversal, as Myra swiftly assumes a previously unrecognized social poise. Amory joins the party and recovers his mood of generalized romanticism. In the genteel world that Amory still inhabits imagination gives more pleasure than the act.
Gradually Amory evolves his adolescent code of egotism. In form and in substance it is exactly the aristocratic code proclaimed by Stephen Palms in “The Romantic Egotist.” But Fitzgerald marches Amory up to his philosophy of life in a costume—“his first long trousers, set off by a purple accordion tie and a 'Belmont' collar with the edges unassailably meeting, purple socks, and handkerchief with a purple border peeping from his breast pocket” (18)—that enables us to take Amory, from his age and social standing, with the proper grain of salt. The change in tone from the earlier manuscript to the published novel is most strikingly illustrated here:
“The Romantic Egotist”: “I considered that I was a fortunate youth capable of expansion to any extent for good or evil. I based this, not on latent strength, but upon facility and superior mentality.”
This Side of Paradise: “Amory marked himself a fortunate youth, capable of infinite expansion for good or evil. He did not consider himself a 'strong char'c'ter,' but relied on his facility (learn things sorta quick) and his superior mentality (read a lotta deep books)” (18).
Amory Blaine's egotism is in no way diminished from his predecessor's; rather by the specifying details and the limiting irony of the adolescent speech it is made more plausible and more likable. Otherwise it follows point-by-point the earlier code. Amory is handsome, an athlete of possibilities, a supple dancer; socially he is personable, magnetic, poised, blessed with “the power of dominating all contemporary males, the gift of fascinating all women” (18); mentally, he is completely, without question, superior. Amory has faults, too, the same ones that made Stephen Palms so sensitive. But where Stephen's pros and cons were displayed with the cold numerical balance of an accounting ledger, Fitzgerald lists Amory's faults one after another connected by three dots: “unscrupulousness … the desire to influence people in almost every way, even for evil… a certain coldness and lack of affection, amounting sometimes to cruelty … a shifting sense of honor … an unholy selfishness… a puzzled, furtive interest in everything concerning sex” (18-19). The haste and abruptness of the words convey Amory's own emotional self-doubt.
But once again breaking off from Amory's point of view, Fitzgerald makes clear that the faults are at least in part figments of Amory's “Puritan conscience,” which later in life he was to slay (18). The ambition, vanity, and “sense of people as automatons to his will” with which Amory concludes his egotistic code are thus as provisional as the faults which create them or spring from them (19). Fitzgerald makes one more significant change from the earlier manuscript in the code of the young egotist. Stephen Palms chose the term “egotist” to describe himself rather than an “out-and-out stiff lump of conceit” because he believed himself to be a combination of vanity and self-knowledge. Amory Blaine's vanity is unmixed, “tempered with self-suspicion if not with self-knowledge” (19). Here the difference between the themes of the two manuscripts is made precise. Stephen Palms knew himself and made his progress through a tale of social rise and placement. Amory Blaine is capable from the start of placing himself in society and is saved by the grace of his own self-doubt. The hero of This Side of Paradise proceeds, not from self into society, but away from society into his own first form of self-possession.
Yet in his adolescence the aristocratic egotist has only begun to pass through the shaping hands of society. Already he possessed a disconcerting self-awareness of the process by which he might be molded to the norm. Beatrice asks Amory if his years in Minneapolis were horrible—her italics—and he answers, ” 'No, Beatrice. I enjoyed them. I adapted myself to the bourgeoisie. I became conventional.' He surprised himself by saying that, and he pictured how Froggy would have gaped” (21). Amory's heightened sense of his own early desire and necessity to adopt established values lays the foundation for the significance of the novel's social observation. Amory is a soliloquist; he is gradually discovering the facts and values of his social environment, and the reader comes to expect from him direct perception rather than judgment. Fitzgerald's failure to sustain this voice—rather his effort to find a voice which could project values instead of simply reporting them—leads to the confusion about Amory's point of view. The difficulty is symbolized by the fact that the first book of the novel completes Amory's formal schooling, but the second book comprises his “education.”
“But for the next four years,” Fitzgerald writes, “the best of Amory's intellect was concentrated on matters of popularity, the intricacies of a university social system and American Society as represented by Biltmore teas and Hot Springs golf links” (26). The best of Amory's intellect was also, by his own definition, distinctly philosophical. He demonstrated, to his own satisfaction, an abstract, theoretical, and generalizing mind. Few others have derived the same satisfaction from Amory Blaine's speculations. “Your hero as an intellectual,” Edmund Wilson told Fitzgerald, “is a fake of the first water and I read his views on art, politics, religion and society with more riotous mirth than I should care to have you know.” It would be difficult to sustain an interest in Amory's philosophical progress through the first book of This Side of Paradise, it is true, had Fitzgerald not repeatedly shifted the focus away from his hero and into the general social setting. The distinctively social scenes in the firstbook also contain most of the dramatic action, and in these—the Triangle Club and “Petting” episodes, the stages of the romance with Isabelle, the Asbury Park excursion and the climactic events of Princeton social life—Amory figures, as one might expect from a soliloquist, more as a representative type than as a character autonomously conceived. But in the abstract posturing of Amory's intellectual self-analysis there is a tension that provides the underlying movement and the vitality of the book. For, however much Amory rests contented in the certainties of social place and social convention, still he resists conceding himself wholly to society's mold.
Amory's intellectual resistance took form first as the philosophy of the slicker. The “slicker” was created by Amory and a friend at their preparatory school, St. Regis', to set apart their form of self-proclaimed superiority from the conventions of prep school popularity. “This was a first real break from the hypocrisy of school tradition. The slicker was a definite element of success, differing intrinsically from the prep school 'big man' ” (35). But the slicker was also the genteel romantic hero in one of his many masquerades. His principal talent was a “clever sense of social values” and his primary goal in life was worldly success (36). Amory, it is true, committed himself at the same time to a more exalted ideal than that of the slicker. “Amory's secret ideal had all the slicker qualifications, but, in addition, courage and tremendous brains and talent—also Amory conceded him a bizarre streak that was quite irreconcilable to the slicker proper” (35). It would be a mistake to read too much into this vague idealism; Amory seems merely to have added to his slicker philosophy a dash of romantic Catholic mysticism.
The philosophy of the slicker was to stay with Amory until his junior year at Princeton. “Spires and Gargoyles,” the second chapter, carries Amory through his first two Princeton years much more in his social than in his intellectual guise. As a social recorder Fitzgerald brought to Amory's social life, particularly to his romance with Isabelle Borgé, all his developed irony and detachment. Their courtship is shaped by images of sports and warfare. The quality of their emotional responses is conveyed by incidents such as this one: “He fancied, buthe was not sure, that her foot had just touched his under the table. But it might possibly have been only the table leg. It was so hard to tell. Still it thrilled him” (65-66). Amory himself is at this point so committed to the conventions of the social order that he is able to look at himself as distantly as if he were another person. “As he put in his studs he realized that he was enjoying life as he would probably never enjoy it again” (88). Yet the fundamental Amory remains intact behind the beautiful tapestries of Princeton and Cottage Club and his romance. The fundamental Amory appears in the “Petting” section; it is the social Amory who can find it “rather fascinating to feel that any popular girl he met before eight he might possibly kiss before twelve,” the fundamental Amory who considered that this possibility “stood for a real moral letdown” (59). Fitzgerald's hesitation between two forms of narrative voice is mirrored, and in a way explained, by his capacity to keep in focus two perspectives on the same event. This is an early and in part undeliberated instance of the “ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind” which Fitzgerald later considered a principal source of his intelligence and artistry.
One of the most perplexing episodes of the novel arises from Fitzgerald's double perspective, and more particularly from the incapacity of his devices, or his perception, to deal with issues more profound than egotism and social convention. The episode which has repelled or confused readers of the novel, “The Devil,” from a later chapter, is in part derived from the romantic supernaturalism of Roman Catholic writers like Msgr. Benson. But it also has its roots in two earlier scenes from “Spires and Gargoyles”: “Carnival,” the account of a trip to Asbury Park, and “Under the Arc-Lights,” the fatal auto crash. In the “Carnival” section Amory drives down to Asbury Park with five classmates to return a stolen car. Once there, the boys turn their errand into two days of pranks and irresponsible fun, tricking waiters, sneaking into movies, sleeping out of doors. Amory's omnipresent observer's eye watches over them: “He wondered how much each one contributed to the party, for there was somewhat of a spiritual tax levied. Alec and Kerry were the life of it, but not quite the centre. Somehow the quiet Humbird, and Sloane, with his impatient superciliousness, were the centre” (77). It was Humbird who personified Amory's philosophical ideals.
Dick Humbird had, ever since freshman year, seemed to Amory a perfect type of aristocrat. He was slender but well-built—black curly hair, straight features, and rather a dark skin. Everything he said sounded intangibly appropriate. He possessed infinite courage, an averagely good mind, and a sense of honor with a clear charm and noblesse oblige that varied it from righteousness. He could dissipate without going to pieces, and even his most bohemian adventures never seemed “running it out.” People dressed like him, tried to talk as he did… Amory decided that he probably held the world back, but he wouldn't have changed him…
He differed from the healthy type that was essentially middle class-he never seemed to perspire. Some people couldn't be familiar with a chauffeur without having it returned; Humbird could have lunched at Sherry's with a colored man, yet people would have somehow known that it was all right. He was not a snob, though he knew only half his class. His friends ranged from the highest to the lowest, but it was impossible to “cultivate” him. Servants worshipped him, and treated him like a God. He seemed the eternal example of what the upper class tries to be. (77-8)
Once when he looked at Humbird, Amory was reminded of the photographs of English officers killed in the war. But a friend told him “the shocking truth” (78). Humbird's father was a classic American nouveau riche, a grocery clerk who grew rich in real estate speculation out in the West and moved his new fortune to New York. “Amory had felt a curious sinking sensation” (78).
Two months later Humbird lies dead in a shabby New Jersey parlor. They had been on a drinking party in New York. Amory returned in one car, Humbird at the wheel of the other. “Dick was driving,” one boy sobbed, “and he wouldn't give up the wheel; we told him he'd been drinking too much—then there was this damn curve—oh, my God!…”(86). Hardening himself, Amory touches Humbird's lifeless hand. “All that remained of the charm and personality of the Dick Humbird he had known—oh, it was all so horrible and unaristocratic and close to the earth. All tragedy has that strain of the grotesque and squalid—so useless, futile … the way animals die.… Amory was reminded of a cat that had lain horribly mangled in some alley of his childhood.” (86-7)
A year later Amory encounters the devil, whose shadowy presence forewarns him from sleeping with a chorus girl. He runs out, and the devilish footsteps pursue him—and lead him on. He stops, and calls out: “I want someone stupid. Oh, send someone stupid!” (115).
“When he called thus it was not an act of will at all—will had turned him away from the moving figure in the street; it was almost instinct that called, just the pile on pile of inherent tradition or some wild prayer from way over the night. Then something clanged like a low gong struck at a distance, and before his eyes a face flashed over the two feet, a face pale and distorted with a sort of infinite evil that twisted it like flame in the wind; but he knew, for the half instant that the gong tanged and hummed, that it was the face of Dick Humbird” (116). And then he was safe.
“The Devil” episode has sometimes been regarded as a wildly extreme moral response—what response could be more extreme?—to a fictional situation which projects unreal fantasies of sexual possibilities along with immature sexual squeamishness. For all the truth in this, the vision of Dick Humbird as the climax of the encounter with the Devil suggests that the episode belongs in a wider perspective. Dick Humbird is seen, through Amory's double vision, in two ways. First he is the perfect upper-class young gentleman, whose catalogue of impeccable virtues concludes with the final stamp of true aristocracy—servants worshipped him and treated him like a god. Of course he is not truly aristocratic in any precise sense, as Amory learned to his chagrin. But there are several curious aspects of Amory's admiration for Humbird, as well as of his chagrin. Amory himself was the child of what passes for American aristocracy, despite his more recent overlay of middle-class convention; presumably his experience and judgment would keep him from being fooled by such a parvenu upstart. Yet even when he learns the truth about Humbird's social background, the exceptionally fine quality of Hum-bird's character remains unquestioned. Perhaps Humbird's unusual and attractive personality should lead to different judgments about the qualities of social classes in America.
The next time Humbird is mentioned, he is dead. The explanation of the accident suggests that, through stubbornness and pride and reckless irresponsibility, Humbird has killed himself. One might place Humbird beside the slain English officers with whom Amory has compared him, as an aristocratic member of a dying order, an anachronism too fine to survive in the swift violence of a changingworld. But Fitzgerald explicitly describes Humbird's death as unaristocratic and squalid; Amory is reminded of a dead alley cat. The nature of Humbird's death helps Fitzgerald avoid the problems raised by Humbird's character in life.
The second part of Fitzgerald's double judgment on Dick Hum-bird is made uncomfortably explicit in “The Devil” episode. The images of decay and fire, death and Hell—the calcium pallor of the street where the showgirls live, temptation like a warm wind, the divan “alive like heat waves over asphalt, like wriggling worms” (114)—build up to the climactic moment when Amory sees the face of Dick Humbird, “pale and distorted with a sort of infinite evil” (116). Humbird had been condemned to Hell; and seeing Humbird's face contorted with evil saves Amory from a similar end. It is a harsh fate for a young man who had been presented in such glowing terms, terms central to Amory's philosophy of the aristocratic egotist. This obvious but artistically crude judgment on Dick Humbird suggests how tenuous was Fitzgerald's hold on his own abstract ideas of superiority, how closely tied he was still to the moral and economic stereotypes of the genteel culture. For all its warnings against the sexual enticements of showgirls like Axia Marlowe, “The Devil” episode is primarily important for its effort to exorcise the appeal, and the threat, of Dick Humbird's wealth, personality, and charm.
The rise and fall of Dick Humbird give greater meaning to the next phase of Amory's intellectual development than the specific events which call it forth. At the start of chapter three, “The Egotist Considers,” Amory suffers two sudden failures. His romance with Isabelle Borgé collapses. An academic failure deprives him of his extra-curricular honors at Princeton. The break with Isabelle begins with her fit of pique, and Amory comes out of it partly amused and partly unscathed, “aware that he had not an ounce of real affection” for her (91). The academic failure is judged by conventional group values—“They're rather off you at the club, you know; every man that doesn't come through makes our crowd just so much weaker”— to which Amory can rise superior : “I hate that point of view” (98). Thus the double failure is presented as an act of discarding useless objects, as a snake wriggles out of an old skin. “That had been his nearest approach to success through conformity. The fundamental Amory, idle, imaginative, rebellious, had been nearly snowed under. He had conformed, he had succeeded, but as his imagination was neither satisfied nor grasped by his own success, he had listlessly, half-accidently chucked the whole thing and become again: . .. the fundamental Amory” (99).
But “the fundamental Amory” quickly moves into new intellectual paths that directly respond to Dick Humbird's challenge. From Monsignor Darcy, Amory discovers an antidote to the charm of Hum-bird's personality, the “personage”—in language that echoes and expands upon a concept already explored in Fitzgerald's early stories and letters. “A personality,” Msgr. Darcy said, “is what you thought you were, what this Kerry and Sloane you tell me of evidently are. Personality is a physical matter almost entirely; it lowers the people it acts on—I've seen it vanish in a long sickness. But while a personality is active, it overrides 'the next thing.' Now a personage, on the other hand, gathers. He is never thought of apart from what he's done. He's a bar on which a thousand things have been hung—glittering things sometimes, as ours are, but he uses those things with a cold mentality back of them” (104). The young college leader to whom Amory next gives allegiance is the class revolutionary, Burne Holiday, who had begun a campaign to abolish the Princeton eating clubs.
Broad-browed and strong-chinned, with a fineness in the honest gray eyes that were like Kerry's, Burne was a man who gave an immediate impression of bigness and security—stubborn, that was evident, but his stubbornness wore no stolidity, and when he talked for five minutes Amory knew that this keen enthusiasm had in it no quality of dilettantism.
The intense power Amory felt later in Burne Holiday differed from the admiration he had had for Humbird. This time it began as purely a mental interest. With other men whom he had thought as primarily first-class, he had been attracted first by their personalities, and in Burne he missed that immediate magnetism to which he usually swore allegiance. (122-3)
Burne's reform movement gives a concrete focus to Amory's sense that Princeton is going through a period of social change. At the same time he provides Amory with a new perspective on the sudden wealth that had thrust the Humbirds so swiftly into the upper class. Burne was interested in economics, and he was on the way to becoming a socialist and a pacifist. When Amory split with Burne it was over the question of will. Burne equates a strong will with good, a weak will with evil. Amory believes that a strong will can lead a man to evil—his example is the superman. “It seemed to him that life and history were rife with the strong criminal, keen, but often self-deluding; in politics and business one found him and among the old statesmen and kings and generals; but Burne never agreed and their courses began to split on that point” (131). In a sense it is Amory's belief in the superman that leads him to differ further with Burne on the issue of the war. Amory sees a Nietzschean dynamism in the German war effort, materialism and “tremendous licentious force” (150)—terms familiar from Shane Leslie's discussion of the war in The Celt and the World. “This,” Amory said of the Allied effort in the war, “is the great protest against the superman” (152).
But Fitzgerald knew also, from Shane Leslie's Celtic point of view, that the war had brought all the Anglo-Saxon certainties, all the Victorian values and social arrangements, into question. Amory Blaine goes off to war, not to help preserve the old, but to clear away all obstacles to the new. Amory's parting shot to the Victorian era is a poem suggested by a lecturer's remarks on Swinburne's A Song in Time of Order. Amory's generation went off to war and learned there the songs for a time of disorder.
Fitzgerald sent Amory Blaine off to the battlefields of France though he himself had never gotten to them. But the war in This Side of Paradise is no more than a hyphen between prewar and postwar, an episode in Amory's development that serves to make authentic Amory's experience rather than to shape it. Fitzgerald's interest is not in how the war affects his hero, but in how the home front changed while the war was going on “over there.” American society had been transformed in the months between May 1917 and February 1919, Amory's “interlude” abroad. War had not altered him at all.
Not the war itself, but events connected with it, had deprived Amory of his precarious ties to the American aristocracy. During the war his mother died, and from “speculation, extravagance, the democratic administration, and the income tax” the family fortune had melted away (162). Amory is now a poor relation of the genteel world, who must work for his living, with no prospects of sudden wealth ahead. The mother of Amory's first postwar romance, Rosalind Connage, describes Amory as “a dreamer, a nice, well-born boy, but a dreamer—merely clever” (190-91). Fitzgerald's “stage-notes” add, “(She implies that this quality in itself is rather vicious)” (191). This intrusion warns us not to expect the genteel hero to devise some imaginative reversal of his fortunes. For even should he win the girl there would be no prize of prestige or position to go along with her. The Connage family is in hardly less precarious a financial position than Amory himself. In rewriting “The Debutante,” from the Nassau Lit story to the first chapter of Book Two of the novel, Fitzgerald added a new dimension of social observation to his portrait of the genteel romantic heroine. As Mrs. Connage says, “Rosalind, you've been a very expensive proposition” (177). The young girl of will and imagination needs wealth to create a sphere in which she can use them. Wealth can no longer be taken for granted. The Connages may have to move to a smaller house. Their younger daughter is in danger of losing her “advantages” (178). No wonder the generation grown up to find all Gods dead and all faiths shaken also feared poverty and worshipped success all the more. If the debutante is to have the wealth she requires, she must marry it. No longer will the genteel hero's cleverness win the girl.
And there is now no question, as there was in Fitzgerald's last collegiate stories, whether the young man is enough of a genteel hero truly to deserve the girl. Amory Blaine rises obviously superior to the heroines whose love he conquers, only to lose. The role of the strong-willed girl in the first version of “The Debutante,” Helen Halycon, is shifted to Rosalind in the novel, but the role of the whining self-pitying suitor goes to a dull, weak-willed suitor, Howard Gillespie. It is to Gillespie that Rosalind brags of her power—“Given a decent start any girl can beat a man nowadays” (181)—and Gillespie whom she rebukes for being a coward. Amory, curiously, is made superior to Rosalind by an exchange of roles from another early story, “Sentiment—and the Use of Rouge.” In that story Clay Syneforth is the sentimental one, Eleanor Marbrooke is willfully strong. In the novel Amory speaks Eleanor's most important line. Rosalind becomes the sentimental partner, Amory the one who loathes sentiment. “I'm romantic,” he tells her, as Eleanor told Clay in only slightly different words, “—a sentimental person thinks things will last—a romantic person hopes against hope that they won't” (177). Amory says the same thing to his next romance, Eleanor Savage. After the second time Fitzgerald parenthetically remarks, “(This was an ancient distinction of Amory's) ” (229). “Ancient” must ironically refer to the Rosalind affair. The distinction had earlier not been necessary. Before the First World War, the sentimentalists and the romantics alike thought things would last.
Amory of course had always been a romantic. But his “ancient distinction” explicitly redefines and rejects the role he had played before the war; the genteel romantic hero is now defined as a sentimentalist, one who founded his judgments upon social values and social arrangements he falsely assumed to be permanent. Amory's newly devised version of the romantic hero provides no ready-made judgments. Rather, as in the original meaning of the romantic impulse, it requires Amory to redefine himself on the basis of his own experience.
Book Two of This Side of Paradise, “The Education of a Personage,” marks the shift in Fitzgerald's narrative voice from soliloquy to dramatic monologue, from the general social perspective to the individual perspective. If the narrative voice alternates between the two modes in a confusing way during the first half of the novel, by the second book confusion has given way to chaos: “life had changed from an even progress along a road stretching ever in sight, with the scenery merging and blending, into a succession of quick, unrelated scenes” (233). The general social perspective had been rejected. As yet there was no coherent individual perspective to take its place. Amory Blaine's experiences in the second book, moreover, are negative experiences. Amory learns the points of view he must avoid. “The Education of a Personage” is an education in how to put on and throw off useless masks. What was once progress seems not so much “a succession of quick, unrelated scenes” as a definite process of decline. Fitzgerald's wit and irony cannot provide a detached perspective toward material over which he lacks a controlling form. The clever dialogues on contemporary books and writers, part of which were written into the galley proofs of the novel apparently in an effort to enliven the final chapters, only diffuse their tone all the more.
Yet the dead husks one by one are stripped away, and the new seed laid bare at last. Society has changed around Amory. A new emphasis on wealth has made the imaginative romantic qualities of the genteel hero appear as if they were something “vicious.” Amory's old role in the social system is no longer valid, and so, during his “experiments in convalescence,” he breaks away from conventional ideas and literary values as well. “Well,” Amory considered, “I'm not sure that the war itself had any great effect on either you or me—but it certainly ruined the old backgrounds, sort of killed individualism out of our generation” (213).
In his brief romance with Eleanor Savage, Amory explores the opposite pole from social conformity—the absolute, unfettered romantic will—and rejects it too. The Eleanor chapter, “Young Irony,” is the only chapter of the novel set in “nature,” in the country, away from schools and cities. “Eleanor was, say, the last time that evil crept close to Amory under the mask of beauty” (222). This introduction to the last romance prefigures Amory's later rejection of the romantic vision of beauty, exemplified for Fitzgerald by Keats's lines in the “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” With Eleanor “his imagination ran riot and that is why they rode to the highest hill and watched an evil moon ride high, for they knew then that they could see the devil in each other” (222). Wherever Amory was eventually to find his truth, thereafter it would forever be severed from beauty.
Eleanor knows Amory as the boy who walks the hedgerows reciting Poe. He meets her in a sublimely romantic thunderstorm, while she recites Verlaine. He is Byron's Don Juan, she is “a graceful, facile Manfred” (235)—a feminine counterpart of Byron's hero who became the symbol for nineteenth-century readers of absolute romantic will. But the romantic will turns its back on too much that Amory values. To him, its lonely despair rejected sentiment and faith too completely. “I'm hipped on Freud and all that,” Eleanor says one night on a ride, “but it's rotten that every bit of real love in the world is ninety-nine percent passion and one little soupçon of jealousy” (238). Fitzgerald's 1920 readers may have thrilled to that line; but Fitzgerald did not intend to let it stand unchallenged for more than a moment. For it is only the first step in Eleanor's more and morevehement defiance. “I'll tell you there is no God…' She let go her reins and shook her little fists at the stars” (239). Amory finds he must object. At once Eleanor's will erupts into self-destructive violence. She tries to hurl herself over a cliff. At the last moment she saves herself, but her horse goes over and is killed. Suddenly Eleanor confesses: “I've got a crazy streak. .. twice before I've done things like that. When I was eleven Mother went—went mad—stark, raving crazy. We were in Vienna—” (240). The absolute romantic will turns on itself like a self-devouring reptile. It leads to its negation, belief in nothing, prostration before crude material power; and one more step beyond lies madness.
When Eleanor told Amory her Freudian perspective on sex, he responded, “You see every one's got to have some cloak to throw around it. The mediocre intellects, Plato's second class, use the remnants of romantic chivalry diluted with Victorian sentiment…” (238). On his return to the urban world Amory finds himself confronted with a sexual situation to which only this conventional genteel response seems appropriate. In Atlantic City he meets his old Princeton friend, Alec Connage, Rosalind's brother. Alec offers Amory half of a suite in a hotel. Amory wakes up in the middle of the night to find Alec sleeping with a girl in the other room. Hotel detectives are about to arrest Alec for violation of the Mann Act. Once again Amory feels the shadowy presence of evil around him. For a span of seconds he reflects.
The first fact that flashed radiantly on his comprehension was the great impersonality of sacrifice—he perceived that what we call love and hate, reward and punishment, had no more to do with it than the date of the month… Now he realized the truth: that sacrifice was no purchase of freedom. It was like a great elective office, it was like an inheritance of power—to certain people at certain times an essential luxury, carrying with it not a guarantee but a responsibility, not a security but an infinite risk. Its very momentum might drag him down to ruin—the passing of the emotional wave that made it possible might leave the one who made it high and dry forever on an island of despair. (247-8)
Amory seizes on the act of self-sacrifice, the cornerstone of genteel morality. But he turns it on its head. “Sacrifice by its very nature was arrogant and impersonal; sacrifice should be eternally supercilious”(248). Amory sacrifices himself for Alec Connage not in a gesture of genteel acceptance, but in disdainful defiance of the genteel code. For whatever significance it has, in the act he gains release at last from the mystic evil that has dogged him.
Now the egotist must complete his metamorphosis into a personage. What little that remains of Amory's genteel heroism has evaporated into air. He is floating free of all encumbrances at last. Perhaps he shall fall; this is the warning message of the impressionistic realism of the New York street scenes. Perhaps he shall rise. But if he rises it will be from some new principle of motion, as yet unknown. He “had grown up to a thousand books, a thousand lies; he had listened eagerly to people who pretended to know, who knew nothing” (262). Hereafter all inquiries will start with himself. The death of Monsignor Darcy suddenly makes clear to him how he may act. “He found something that he wanted, had always wanted and always would want—not to be admired, as he had feared; not to be loved, as he had made himself believe; but to be necessary to people, to be indispensable; he remembered the sense of security he had found in Burne…. Amory felt an immense desire to give people a sense of security” (266). The monsignor had first planted in Amory's mind the concept of the “personage.” Now Amory revises the definition. To Monsignor Darcy the personage was one who gathered his accomplishments around him as if they were possessions. He represented order and stability. Thus he was even more of a genteel figure than the “personality.” The term “personage” meant almost precisely the same thing to Monsignor Darcy as it did to H. G. Wells; and for Wells “personage” was a term of opprobrium.
Amory retains the title but gives it an opposite meaning. For Amory the personage is one who gives away, one who creates, one who constructs. He is the figure who dreamed, as Fitzgerald said of Amory when the novel began, always of the becoming, never the being. Thus Fitzgerald reversed Wells's definition. He took the title “personage” away from the genteel hero and applied it to a new form of heroism, fitting Wells's description of the extraordinary man. “He is an experiment toward an impersonal synthesis, the well-being of the species”; so Van Wyck Brooks phrased Wells's view. Fitzgerald's personage fulfills himself not in a static sense of achievement, but through a continual process of action.
In the auto ride toward Princeton near the end of the novel, Amory describes his new version of the personage: “… the man who, being spiritually unmarried, continually seeks for new systems that will control or counteract human nature. His problem is harder. It is not life that's complicated, it's the struggle to guide and control life. That is his struggle. He is a part of progress—the spiritually married man is not” (272). Amory's gesture of revolt thus shifts without hesitation into a gesture of commitment. He has broken, not with society, but with an accommodation to a social perspective which denies his own distinctive human values. He has given up a passive but secure place in the social order for an active and problematic role in creating constructive social change. He has turned his back on a system of values which exalts the individual will in theory but in practice constricts it. Now he must make a direct confrontation with the capacity of his will to create values for himself. If he has not yet become a “personage,” he has at least attained the ground from which he may begin to work. In the auto-ride episode Amory's point of view, for the first time in the novel, is distinctly his own; for the first time also, he speaks in the voice of the dramatic monologue.
Amory talks to the two men as if he were a socialist. It has disconcerted some readers that Amory should discover a new panacea so quickly in place of the old. But it is necessary to understand Amory's point of view now, as Langbaum wrote of the dramatic monologue in The Poetry of Experience, “not through his description of it but indirectly, through seeing what he sees while judging the limitations and distortions of what he sees.” From this perspective it is possible to see that Amory is arguing in favor of socialism primarily because it is unconventional. He is shocking himself, as well as the little man in the car, by his bravado. Socialism happens to be the arguing point most readily at hand with which Amory can test his new freedom. He has no need just yet to find a harness. The old and outworn systems are behind him. His will is freed both from genteel social conventions and the extremes of romantic despair. Nothing matters but the pleasure of the chase. “Even if, deep in my heart, I thought we were all blind atoms in a world as limited as a stroke of a pendulum, I and my sort would struggle against tradition; try, at least, to displace old cants with new ones. I've thought I was right about life at various times, but faith is difficult. One thing I know. If living isn't a seeking for the grail it may be a damned amusing game” (278). He remains as willful and imaginative as the genteel hero, but his will is not clouded by sentiment, nor his imagination by a dangerous reliance on a sense of beauty. No false visions remain to constrain him. The world is open to his will. “He stretched out his arms to the crystalline, radiant sky. 'I know myself,' he cried, 'but that is all' ” (282).
This Side of Paradise ends thus with a thrust into the future. The process of the novel does not itself end; rather it is to be renewed on a different plane. Fitzgerald succeeded in creating a new definition of individualism in contrast to the individualism of the genteel tradition; and it led, neither to despair nor to rebellion, but to an even more responsible commitment to a social order. Perhaps this success explains part of the novel's surprising popularity; This Side of Paradise appealed in 1920 to radicals and conservatives together. But Fitzgerald's new idea of the fundamental self is more an act of faith than of demonstrated proof. Amory Blaine does not “know himself” in any classic sense. He has arrived at his new form of individualism through a reversal of the Cartesian reasoning, “I think, therefore I am.” He had knocked away all his props of social place and social convention and found himself still standing. Therefore he could say, “I am.” But what he was to think had not yet come to him.
Published in F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoon by Robert Sklar (New York: Oxford Up, 1967).