Anthony Patch was intended by Fitzgerald to be a tragic character, but Anthony does not have enough substance for his fate to be tragic. At times, Fitzgerald treats Anthony satirically, as if Anthony is not to be taken seriously. Yet the moments of poignancy—especially in the love affair of Anthony and Gloria—undermine any satirical intent. At the end, the reader has confused feelings about Anthony, pitying him but believing that, after all, he brought about his own destruction.
Gloria Gilbert Patch is, in some ways, more sympathetic than Anthony. Gloria believes above all in the rights and privileges of her beauty. She believes in this with a passion that is lacking in Anthony’s supposed belief in his own undemonstrated intellectual and moral superiority. When she is forced, brutally, to recognize that her beauty is fading, she accepts it with a dignity of sorts. She is not crushed, as Anthony finally is.
Richard Caramel, who enjoys the kind of early literary success that Fitzgerald himself experienced, is too heedless to realize that he is compromising his talent as he churns out one popular book after another. He is incapable of recognizing that the success which he has achieved through compromise is not worth having. The character is, in some ways, a warning from Fitzgerald to himself, of what he feared he might become.
Maury Noble, supposedly based on the contemporary wit George Jean Nathan, is cynical enough to compromise with full awareness of what he is doing, although he knows the worthlessness of what he thereby achieves. His wit and philosophy are shallow, and Fitzgerald devotes all too much space to his orations. Yet his success, along with that of Caramel, forms a counterpoint to Anthony’s decline and fall.
Dorothy Raycroft, the nineteen-year-old South Carolina girl whom Anthony makes his mistress while he is stationed at the army camp, is sharply distinct from the other characters. Warmhearted, realistic, and sensible, she accepts her life with the ingrained stoicism of those who have no illusions. It is easy to see how Anthony becomes involved with her, although she possesses none of Gloria’s beauty or glamour.