This Side of Paradise

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

In addition to my self-imposed goal of reading all the literary classics, I am also taking a Literature class. My teacher assigned about a week ago for us to read "This Side of Paradise" by October 4th. I finished the book this morning and I am stunned.

What an amazing book!

Now, if you would have asked me how I liked it about half way through the book, I would have told you lousy! I had such a hard time getting started; I found it boring, slow, and pointless. Most books that I read I feel have a purpose from the beginning...there is an adventure, an adversary that needs eliminated, or a "Holy Grail" that needs to be found. This is probably because I mostly immerse myself in the science fiction genre.
This book was the exact opposite, from the beginning I had no idea why I was reading it or what the ultimate goal was. Once I finished the book I realized, that was the point.

Amory Blaine, the main character, is a privileged white boy who decides to go away to college because that is where all the upstanding, come-from-money, kids are going. The early half of the book revolves around Amory at Princeton, his friends, his women, his writing, and his ego. Amory Blaine believes he knows everything about everyone else and every subject but truly knows nothing of himself. He views people through his own egotistical lenses. He passes judgment and believes himself to be superior in almost every way. He works his way up in college society (and eventually down) and gains and loses friends along the way. He has numerous affairs of the heart, not caring for many of them, finally falling in love with a woman who ends up leaving him for a man of more wealth.

That brings up an interesting theme, wealth and money. The more money Amory has, the most disappointing and depressing his life becomes. The best times of his life, the most positive things that happen to him happen to him when he has little or no money. I think that speaks volumes!

Amory meets so many people during the course of this book it is hard to keep it all straight. When reading the book it is very difficult to understand why each of these characters are important and why they are even in the book in the first place. Some have small but pivotal roles while others have lengthy roles that appear to be pointless. The interactions that most influence Amory and the reader are his relationships with the women in his life.

His mother was an educated, Victorian, sickly worrier, who Amory viewed as weak and sad.

Isabelle was his first love affair, but a fake one at that. She was the promiscuous girl of the neighborhood who he simply spoke sweet platitudes to in order to kiss her. She used him in much the same way. In many ways they were very much the same which is why it did not work out. Each was too egotistical, shallow, and in love with themselves to care for the other.

Than there was Clara, one step away from being the Virgin Mary. She was polite, kind, happy despite all the reasons she shouldn't be, and deeply in love with her two children. Amory, after spending many weekends with her, decides he is in love with her and wants to marry her. Clara, however, is much to smart to be fooled by his idealistic ways. In almost every way, Clara sees right through him and tells him so. She recognizes in Amory that which he hasn't recognized or refused to acknowledge in himself...he is in love with the idea of being in love. He created in his imagination a different reality with different circumstances, and it is that vision that he falls in love with, not the real thing.

Than of course was Rosalind, the self-described love of Amory Blaine's life. She is debutante much like Isabelle was, but less realistic in her obligations to herself and family. Amory and Rosalind quickly fall for one another and deeply. In all reality however, this union could never be as Amory's fortune is slowly dwindling and Rosalind is being pressured to marry rich. She eventually gives into reality and not idealism and breaks it off with Amory so that she may someday marry a rich man. This devastates Amory, who was never the same.

Lastly, there was Eleanor, who Amory would have had the best chance of being happy with but because of his past relationship miseries lets her slip away. They spend one summer together and during that time Eleanor proves to be his intellectual equal. In addition to that, she likes him for who he is, as she is so similar and like-minded. This proves to be fatal for their relationship, however, as they bicker and fight often. Eventually they split ways and the only correspondence afterwards are two beautifully written poems of which the caliber is far above anything Amory had written before.

The end of the story concludes with Amory acknowledging and understanding his weaknesses and embracing himself. The final sentence states “I know myself, but that is all”. It takes the final sentence to finally understand what the point of the entire book had been. Amory had gone from an egotistical youth with no concept of who he was to an adult man who finally knows who he is but has no idea about life. Unlike other books which set out the purpose and/or plot of the story within the first chapter, Fitzgerald held out and forced the reader to not be a bystander sitting on the sidelines observing the action but an active participant in the story. As Amory experienced life, so did I the reader and Amory’s discovery at the end was just as shocking to him as it was to me.

The purpose of this book was not to catch the villain or achieve an unrealistic goal; it was to follow one man on his journey in finding himself. What a breath of fresh air from a book written in 1920!!

Hey Gram, if this has piqued your curiosity, I bought the book and I would be more than willing to let you borrow it. I think you would like this story but for all I know, you already read it!! Let me know!! Love ya!!

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