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This Side of Paradise: Summary, Themes & Analysis

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, ''This Side of Paradise,'' focuses on several themes and illustrates some social and moral changes in America during the early 20th century. This lesson includes a short synopsis as well as an analysis of its major themes and characters.

Synopsis

Published in 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel focuses on the early life of Amory Blaine. The novel is organized into sections represented by various learning experiences that have an impact on Amory. Ultimately, illustrating the trial-and-error path to adulthood that is meant to be representative of many of the young American men ''coming of age'' in Amory's generation in the years leading up to and following World War I.

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald
Author F. Scott Fitzgerald

Amory is mostly raised by his flamboyant, independent mother, who is also somewhat of a hypochondriac. At the age of twelve, she sends him to live in Minneapolis with an uncle. As a young boy, Amory is charismatic and likes to ''pose,'' or tell white lies and exaggerations to impress the people around him. For high school, he enrolled at the St. Regis boarding school, where he has trouble making friends at first because of his egotistical personality.

From St. Regis Amory enters Princeton, a university he chose based on the aristocratic and lazy atmosphere he feels it has. Amory's Princeton years are where he undergoes the most change: he develops ideas about politics, social class, religion, and is challenged by his friends who are intelligent and well-read. He joins the high-ranking Cottage Club, which is a boarding house similar to a modern-day fraternity.

Cottage Club, Princeton
Cottage Club Princeton

One friend in particular, Burne Holiday, inspires Amory with his radical views on socialism and pacifism at the onset of World War I. Amory is also highly influenced by an old friend of his mother's, Monsignor Darcy, a clergyman who serves as a mentor and father figure throughout the novel. Throughout this period of Amory's life, he feels that he is exceptionally intelligent and superior to the people around him, yet he has no real direction in what he wants to study or do with his life.

There is a brief ''interlude'' between Book One and Book Two in which Amory and most of his friends serve in World War I, some never to return home. This chapter represents a turning point in not just Amory's life, but in all of the young men of his generation. Upon returning from the war, there is a sense of disillusionment and new attitudes about social class and morality.

After Princeton and the war, Amory moves to New York with two friends from college. He gets a job at an advertising agency, but soon quits, feeling that it is somewhat beneath him.

Amory's ambivalent attitude towards women and love play a large role in the novel. Several times he insists that he is a ''romantic,'' not ''sentimental,'' which means he expects all love affairs to end rather than last forever. He seems to fall out of love as quickly as he falls in it; he often treats the women he has relationships with as mirrors: his attraction to them is based on whether he likes his own reflection with them. He has a series of relationships that all end badly.

Amory's first relationship is with Isabelle Borge--it is short-lived due to his ego. After Princeton, while living in New York, he falls in love with Rosalind Connage, the sister of one of his college friends. This is Amory's most serious relationship and the ending is most devastating to him. She breaks up with him to marry a richer man. Towards the end of the novel, Amory has a short relationship with Eleanor Savage, an energetic and intelligent woman whose bobbed hair and ambivalence, or mixed feelings, about marriage represent the more modern ideas about women's place in society that are taking root in the 1920s.

At the end of the novel, Amory returns to Princeton and walks around the campus. He is a young man in his 20s, alone, and has a cynical view of the world. He has lost all the women he loved, Monsignor Darcy has died, and the money he inherited from his mother's death is dwindling. He feels the stirrings of change among his generation and is unsure of his place in it. In the last sentence of the novel he cries to himself, I know myself, but that is all.

Themes

A major theme in the novel is the disillusionment, or disappointment one feels as one grows older. Amory realizes that the heroes, great people, and ideas that one idealizes during one's youth are just human too. As he gets older, he is better able to discern truth from ''posing,'' and he is more often disappointed with the people he meets and the experiences he has as they do not live up to his imagination.

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