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When Fitzgerald's novel, his first, was published in 1920, it caused a national sensation. Some of its content that would seem very tame today was quite shocking to readers at the time. Historically, This Side of Paradise announced the arrival of the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald's own term for the 1920s that became part of the national vocabulary, and through Amory Blaine, Fitzgerald became the literary voice of the members of the post-World War I young generation. Twenty-three when his book was published, Fitzgerald was one of them.
The main themes of the novel express the rejection of traditional American life and the embracing of new values. Amory rejects that which has come before and embraces "the self." He celebrates his own egotism, seeing it as all that he can count on in the new post-war world. (Fitzgerald's original title for the novel was The Romantic Egotist.) The novel is primarily one of personal disillusionment and the search to find something substantial in an uncertain world. It is a novel based on conflict between the generations in American society, and it appeared at the time in American history when this conflict was felt by many of Fitzgerald's generation.
World War I marked a dividing line in American history that was reflected in American society. Never before had Americans experienced the horrors of modern warfare, and World War I was conducted on a huge landscape. Thus World War I, rather than the calendar, marked the beginning of the new century, and many in Fitzgerald's generation reacted strongly against the traditions of the past that had led America into the war. This Side of Paradise expressed their disillusionment, as well as their restlessness. Fitzgerald's novel has been recognized by many critics as a significant turning point in American literature, ushering in the modern American novel.
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