Amory Blaine: A Quintessential American Rebel Literature Review

Type of paper: Literature Review

Topic: America, United States, Literature, Education, Novel, Religion, Students, Sociology

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/22

Mark Twin famously advised aspiring novelists to “write what you know,” and F. Scott Fitzgerald based much of This Side of Paradise on his own personal life. He grew up in the Midwest, studied at Princeton, served in the Army, and partied in New York City. Fitzgerald used these experiences to write his first novel, featuring Amory Blaine, a quintessential privileged and self-entitled snob. The narrative traces his experiences and philosophical development from a spoiled teenager to a hapless adult; lost and incapable of any real action. However, the novel is a traditional American coming of age story, and Amory is a sympathetic character. He represents a classic American existential and intellectual rebel who asks timeless questions about important problems about the human condition.
The story, told in three parts, is disjointed; but Fitzgerald is definitely flexing his writing muscles, using his unique descriptive imagery and other literary devices to create a convincing Jazz Age landscape. The narrative is primarily first person, and intensely personal. Amory is a thinking man, a “romantic egotist” who is more than a tad bit self-absorbed. At one point he “sat in the train, and thought about himself for thirty-six hours” (Fitzgerald 55). Moreover, Fitzgerald uses some experimental styles of writing, including poems, letters, and free verse interspersed throughout the narrative. There are transitions from first person to second person, giving the novel and autobiographical vibe. This is a world that Fitzgerald knew intimately. The novel explores a theme of a uniquely American form of delusional optimism that slowly transitions to bitter cynicism and disillusionment. Amory quickly disowns the backward and unsophisticated world of the Midwest, to move East. This is the reverse of the “Go West Young Man” manifest destiny philosophy that saw young people move to the West to find their fortune. Amory is precocious, convinced that he is intellectually exceptional. He attends boarding school and then Princeton University.
Education is part of the American Dream, and Fitzgerald explores the idea of academic elitism and college life. Amory leaves St. Paul for St. Regis, a prestigious New England prep school. Amory is smart, but unwilling to work very hard academically. Nevertheless, he gets into Princeton. It is no very American to try very hard academically, because romantic and brilliant geniuses are just born that way. Trying too hard is uncool, and Amory is concerned with being a social success on campus, and spends most of his time reading, acting in theatrical plays and having intellectual discussion criticizing society. He would stay up all night rehearsing for a play, “sustained by dark and powerful coffee, and sleeping in lectures through the interim” (Fitzgerald 53). At the time, college education was still “a luxury enjoyed largely by the sons (and occasionally the daughters) of wealthy American families” (Drowne and Huber 32).
Fitzgerald does not disappoint using potent symbolic imagery focusing on the spires of the ivy covered mythical institutions. At first Amory is impressed with “the silent stretches of green, the quiet halls with an occasional late-burning scholastic light held his imagination in a strong grasp, and the chastity of the spire became a symbol of this perception” (Fitzgerald 53). However, he is quickly disillusioned. The school has a religious temperament that ultimately does not suit Amory’s quasi anarchist personality:

The tower that in view of his window sprang upward, grew into a

spire, yearning higher until its uppermost tip was half invisible against
the morning skies, him gave the first sense of transiency and unimportance
of the campus figures except as holders of the apostolic succession
(Fitzgerald 54).
The campus infrastructure represents the succession of like-minded monkish scholars, who do not have the original and creative intellectual spirit of someone like Amory. He has a strong relationship with his mentor Monsignor Darcy, however he believes that “religion doesn't seem to have the slightest bearing on life at my age" (Fitzgerald 200).
This is a uniquely American version of religious belief, that largely rejects the tenants of religion, but maintains a social relationship or connection with the church itself. Amory becomes disillusioned and rejects education and religion. He is, above all, a narcissist who is too occupied with how own thoughts to spend much time studying the ideas of others. He drops out of school to join the Army. Fitzgerald was also a mediocre though talented student who abandoned Princeton to join the military (Krauss). Traditional education is portrayed as old fashioned and antiquated.
Along with education, the church, and the military, which are all closely intertwined American institutions, This Side of Paradise is also a careful study in class consciousness. Amory’s father is rich, however, he inherited his money from his dead brothers. He is “an ineffectual, inarticulate man” (Fitzgerald 4). This is an indictment of wealth and they ways Americans usually become rich. Instead of the American Dream of a self-made man, Amory’s father inherited his wealth and lives off the labors of others. Amory’s mother Beatrice is a hysterical and erratic alcoholic who “had a nervous breakdown that bore a suspicious resemblance to delirium tremens, and Amory was left in Minneapolis, destined to spend the ensuing two years with his aunt and uncle” (Fitzgerald 8), Amory grew up wealthy, but in a dysfunctional household, with little parental support or supervision. When Amory is left penniless, he loses his identity, is unable to marry, and becomes despondent. The novel portrays materialism and wealth as a corrupting force that destroys peoples personalities and lives. Fitzgerald continues to explore this theme of a declining American Dream in The Great Gatsby.
Fitzgerald is famous for his characterizations of the rich. There are many ways to express and analyze social class, but language and dialect is Fitzgerald’s forte. Beatrice analyzes the accent of “Ex-Westerners” and how they adopt accents to impress her. Amory is a product of his environment, largely influenced by his snobbish mother. His Minneapolis classmates mock his accent, his snobbishness, and his attempts at showing off in history class. This friction between social classes is also uniquely American, snobbishness is looked down upon, however, great wealth and status is respected, so there is a schizophrenic dichotomy that seem to effect the upper middle class the most. Amory is not from the east, yet he aspires to be part of the blue-blood establishment. In a country like the United States, where social mobility is possible, there is a problem of authenticity associated with social climbing and class consciousness. Amory wants desperately to fit in, and not appear Nouveau riche, or like a Midwestern hick. He is trying hard throughout the book to become an artistic archetype of the 1920’s that would eventually become American Expatriates of the “Lost Generation” that settled in Paris. Like many intellectuals on the 1920’s, Amory is tired of the U.S, and is “dreaming awake of secret cafes in Mont Martre, where ivory women delved in romantic mysteries with diplomats and soldiers of fortune, while orchestras played Hungarian waltzes and the air was thick and exotic with intrigue and moonlight and adventure” (Fitzgerald 31). This is a uniquely American post WW1 zeitgeist with a restless generation:

Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old

creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to go
out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; 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, all wars fought, all faiths in man
shaken. . .(Fitzgerald 265).
Instead of infantilized and immature, Amory fancies that he is a tragic and romantic character, part of a disillusioned post war generation. The word generation is used seventeen times in the novel, and is a major theme of the novel. Amory was part of a restless and existential wave of malcontents, who saw little of promise in societal structures (Drowne and Huber 89). Like the hippies of the 1960’s, the younger generation thought old people were out of touch and did not understand, religion was dead, and education was a fraud. This youth “coming of age” counterculture rejection of social institutions is also a common American literary theme.
As a young writer, Fitzgerald put a lot of idealism and enthusiasm into This Side of Paradise. Amory is a young man too. At the beginning of the novel, he is ready to conquer the whole world. At the end, he only knows himself. He loses his girlfriend, ends up broke, goes on a drinking binge in New York City, gets beaten up, and becomes a socialist. He is clearly not prepared for the challenges of reality or adulthood. He is a clear antecedent of Holden Caulfield, another overly cerebral malcontent that is generally dissatisfied with the way the world is set up. They are both unique American examples of first person narratives that offer a self-conscious psychoanalysis of sensitive and affluent young men. As coming of age stories, they both portray young men on the cusp of adulthood and the challenges they have fitting into an imperfect society. Amory, however, is a much more dynamic character than Holden Caulfield. He seems to be learning something, growing, and learning about himself. Amory is a vulnerable character, which makes him sympathetic.
Fitzgerald was obsessed with the rich, and his novels and short stories focused largely on the plight of the rich and excessive. Most are morality tales, and This Side of Paradise is no exception. Snobbishness, egotism and materialism are not the path to enlightenment. With all the excesses of American capitalism, particularly during the 1920’s, Fitzgerald used his unique imagery and descriptive writing style to both celebrate and condemn the world of college boys, flappers and the idle rich. Amory only comes to understand himself when he loses his money, and his egotism, fabricated identity and sense of superiority evaporate. At the end, he rejects the church, capitalism, and espouses some socialist leanings. He questions beauty, materialism, and wants to be an individual and independent critical thinker. This discomfort and rejection of dogma is part of the American experience, and a central theme in the novel. Amory grows and knows his true self when he rebels and rejects the superficial world he was trying so hard to be a part of. The conclusion is perfect for the “lost generation” readers; a rebellious and nihilistic ending, with no real resolution. There are no answers, just perpetual existential questions, and a reliance on individual self-discovery.

Works Cited

Drowne, Kathleen Morgan, and Patrick Huber. The 1920's. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. This Side of Paradise. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1948. Print.
Krauss, Sarah. "F. Scott Fitzgerald: American Expatriate of the Lost Generation." Americans in Paris Fall 2010. N.p., 09 Nov. 2010. Web. 21 Feb. 2015. < american-expatriate-of-the-lost-generation/>.

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