This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Here’s a quote which is synonymous with my main man Scotty Fitz. It’s from Gertrude Stein in conversation with Hemingway, “That is what you are. That’s what you all are … all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.” Fitzgerald is probably the writer most closely associated with the so-called Lost Generation, perhaps because he directly deals with the character of individuals who epitomize this cultural happening. It’s interesting then that he never actually took part in the First World War (however he was drafted and stationed somewhere in southern USA for a period shortly before the war ended). What is detailed throughout This Side of Paradise is a set of characters who are formed not by conflict, but by their environment to be directionless and disengaged.

The novel follows the early life of Amory Blaine (which IMO, is a pretty sick name), as he develops and matures under the influence of categorical individuals, these being his mother, boarding school, a Priest of the Catholic faith and Princeton University. Young Amory is supremely handsome, conceited, ambivalent and agnostic. His mother instills upon him a certain pompous self importance, which continues throughout boarding school where he sees himself as above comparison to his peers. During this time, the reader is treated to a development of Amory’s character in preparation for Princeton and adulthood. It’s important to note that although Amory is an embodiment of negative characteristics in his early years, he is not shown as bad or evil in a Dickensian sense. Rather he is flawed. This is rooted in his upbringing, primarily spent with his mother in a care-free and never ending journey across the United States, and then further instilled by his life of privileged.

When he arrives at University he is at first reaffirmed of this self-belief, as he integrates and works up the ranks of prestigious societies and student organizations. Development occurs when he is cut down to size due to poor grades, at around about the same time he is taught humility from one Monsignor Darcy, the aforementioned member of the Clergy, and a friend of Amory’s mother. Monsignor Darcy is the novels only positive male role-model for Amory. He has this ability to show Amory to be considerate, however he also reaffirms in some sense Amory’s sense of self importance. This leads Amory to be cynical of University life. The influence of a man of religion in Amory’s otherwise heathen lifestyle (which becomes increasingly embroiled in heavy alcohol consumption and skirt-chasing) I think is supposed to be shown as a counterpoint to Princeton, which smothers the flame of self determination amongst a generation of youth, however also stokes criticism of dominant social hierarchy. The conclusion of the novel has Armory arguing for the advantages of Socialism with a successful capitalist of the previous generation and an associated suit-goon. The implication is that Amory’s educated generation have distanced themselves from god and embraced more pragmatic concerns, for the betterment of mankind. Amory is not necessarily a socialist at the conclusion of the novel, his personal convictions seem to be more formed by Nietzsche, Stirner and a little bit of Tolstoy. He describes himself as ‘a versatile mind of a restless generation’, critical of the Victorian’s and hopeful to make a change upon the world as an agent of his own being, for the moment framed as socialist revolution.

Scotty Fitz, in displaying Amory this way is trying to show us that his Generation are good, and that Amory is also good. Ultimately I feel like this is a flaw of the novel. There are few truths which are explored to their gritty core and Amory’s future is given a pardon, where there should be true consequence. A Generation which has thrown away the common conventions of religion and morals has freed itself from ideology in some sense, however has also left itself directionless. There are no existential paths except for those which are self-determined, however it is clear that the young have not the means to engage with and choose their direction. This leaves them without meaning. In some sense this is good, however it can also amplify hedonistic and selfish qualities (as explored in other Fitzgerald novels such as The Beautiful and the Damned). As this was Scott F’s first novel, I’m going to assume that risks there were avoided for publishing reasons, unfortunately it also means that the novel lacks a certain punch.

The other aspect of the novel which is worth noting is its interactions with women. There are many loves in Amory’s life and through them Fitzgerald channels his own infatuations. Amory considers Rosalind Connage to be his true love, however she is ultimately unwilling to dedicate herself to him. Through her we are supposed to see Zelda Fitzgerald, a wildly strong and beautiful women who is the tormentor of countless suitors. Their love is short but strong. Amorys final love, as detailed in the novel, is Eleanor Savage. She also is intelligent, well-read and whimsical, though experiences great depression and general mental illness which turns Amory away from her. Perhaps also a reference to Zelda. Amory is shown to be a true character through these relationships. He worships exceptional women, for their beauty and their intelligence, however he is also disinterested by their independence and emotional realities. For the majority of these romantic interests, once he has kissed them he finds no more attraction. Fitzgerald here shows us that Amory is truly conceited and flawed. He is not depicted as bad, but as lost.

There are so many parallels between Amory, the Lost Generation and contemporary culture, particularly that of male youth. So called ‘Generation Y’ has also been raised with self importance and the embrace of godless hedonism. For all the open discourse that as brought, it has also left a growing number of educated youth directionless and purposeless. The need to fight for educated ideals and embrace (or kill) the concept of ego is something I feel connection with. It is poignant to see these emotions summarised through This Side of Paradise. Even the interactions between men and women (although Amory’s sexual exploits never go beyond kissing, I assume this is an editorial decision more so than fact of the day) are reflective of modern reality. However with that in mind, our generation has no great war, no defining moment to highlight our misdirection. We believe in nothing and everything, because very little is scarce and the importance of self is given prominence over humility, just as it is with Amory Blaine.

 

 

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