World War I
With tensions running very high between the major European powers, the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife in Belgrade sparked the beginning of World War I. Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire formed the Central Alliance against Great Britain, France, Russia, and later many other countries, waging a devastating war on a number of fronts. The United States remained neutral for much of the war, but anti-German sentiment increased when passenger and commercial ships with American interests began to be attacked and sunk, and when Great Britain produced a decoded telegram from the German foreign minister promising Mexico control of areas of the United States if it entered the war on the side of the Central Powers.
President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany in April of 1917, and the American assistance on the Western front helped to overwhelm the Central Powers despite the Russian withdrawal from the war in the spring of 1918. By November of the same year, the Central Powers had been defeated, and in January Wilson delivered his idealistic “Fourteen Points” statement about international conflict resolution. Instead of adhering to Wilson’s ideas, however, the embittered Allied Powers signed punitive treaties with Germany, Austro- Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire by 1919 that left these countries divided and in severe debt. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles also set up...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Many readers have found in this youthful performance by Fitzgerald a sense of the author's testing his talent, trying to determine which narrative strategies "work" and which fail. Discussion could focus on the ways in which the author seems to be attempting various approaches to the task of creating a worthy text: for example, a quote from "Casey Jones," the use of subheads (as with "The Philosophy of the Slicker"), and the inclusion of "poetic" passages at the close of chapters (in italics).
Since the book is clearly "experimental," some thought could be given to the question of its length. Given the tightness of a The Gatsby (1925), readers, when considering This Side of Paradise, might consider whether the novel is too long (more than twice the length of Gatsby) and, if so, what parts could be excised, without damage to the thematic effects.
When thinking of characterization, readers often try to judge whether a given personage in a novel is truly "round" or simply "flat," in E. M. Forster's terms. For instance, are the female characters truly "developed" or simply convenient devices in the creation of Amory's personality and experience?
1. Is Amory's attempt to achieve "personage" comparable to the efforts, sometimes seen today, of many people to attain "self-actualization," or a similar advanced state of personality development?
2. Is the book a genuine bildungsroman? Is the "quest"...
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Dramatic, Poetic, and Epistolary Forms
This Side of Paradise is largely told by an omniscient or all-knowing, third person narrator, but many sections employ a variety of different and unique forms, from poems and songs, to lists, to letters and short notes, to the dramatic form or play that is used to portray the beginning and the end of Amory’s relationship with Rosalind. These unconventional methods use a distinct style of text and layout, and they vary according to the situation that Fitzgerald is attempting to express. They are important for two reasons. First, they highlight the unsuitability of a more typical, straightforward narrative in a novel for the new generation of modernist authors; the dramatic form in particular is an innovative approach. And, second, they provide a reading experience that is slightly jarring and that inspires the reader to imagine the events and characters in a fuller, more evocative way.
A predominant feature of Fitzgerald’s style is the narrative voice’s own insistent self-consciousness. One of the clearest examples of Fitzgerald’s tendency to call attention to his own methods takes place in the “Young Irony” chapter of Book Two, after the narrator begins his story of Amory and Eleanor by describing how they remembered the affair afterwards. When he breaks off this description and states, “I see I am starting wrong. Let me begin again,” the narrator...
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Compare and Contrast
1920: Many young soldiers have come home to the United States from a devastating war abroad to a mood of increasing isolationism and a desire to enjoy a prosperous economy.
Today: American soldiers remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the United States military remains engaged in international initiatives, although they are nowhere near the scale of World War I.
1920: The younger generation in the United States shocks parents with kissing and flirting that was very liberal for the time, as displayed in Fitzgerald’s novel.
Today: Although the United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the western industrialized world and teenagers in the early 2000s might not find the romance in This Side of Paradise very shocking, younger generations are probably not any more sexually liberal than their parents were at their age.
1920: Private Ivy League universities such as Princeton are elitist institutions dominated by and populated with the upper class.
Today: Financial aid and diversity initiatives have made Ivy League colleges somewhat more accessible to high-achieving lower and middle class students.
1920: Women make up one-fourth of the workforce (a dramatic increase from before World War I) and begin to vote for the first time.
Today: Women make up nearly half of the workforce and show an increasing presence in...
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Topics for Further Study
This Side of Paradise includes a number of poems by Amory and other characters, such as Eleanor. Reread these poems and discuss their style and themes. What role do they play in the novel, and what is their relationship to Amory’s intellectual development? What do you think of the poems? Why do you think Fitzgerald includes them? How do they go about expressing themes such as traditionalism, radicalism, paganism, or other themes that you can see in them? Is their style similar to that of the novel itself? Are they modernist poems? Explain why or why not.
Fitzgerald’s personal life has long fascinated critics. Read Arthur Mizener’s biographical work The Far Side of Paradise (1951) or another biography of Fitzgerald paying particular attention to his life before 1920, and discuss how what you have read affects your understanding of This Side of Paradise. How are the personalities and experiences in Fitzgerald’s life directly or indirectly included in his first novel? Discuss why you think Fitzgerald used certain events from his life in the novel, and how you think critics should treat knowledge of an author’s life when they are discussing his or her writings.
Amory is characterized as a self-absorbed egotist in the novel. Do you think this is an undesirable trait? What are its positive aspects? By the end of the novel, does Amory think it is undesirable? Does Fitzgerald? Do you think Amory’s personality will change? Why...
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What Do I Read Next?
Fitzgerald’s most famous novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), is the story of the rise and fall of Jay Gatsby together with the boredom, seduction, and moral irresponsibility of the American aristocracy.
Algernon Charles Swinburne’s Selected Poems (1987), edited by L. M. Findlay, is an excellent introduction to the nineteenth-century visionary poet who refused to be categorized into his time.
Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (1964) is a compelling autobiographical account of the expatriate modernist writing community living in Paris in the 1920s, and it includes stories of Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda during their time in Europe.
The Time Machine (1895), by H. G. Wells, is a science fiction novel about an inventor who claims to have traveled to the distant future to learn in what direction nineteenth-century ideas are taking humankind, and its political and social commentary influenced Fitzgerald.
Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927) is a brilliant modernist novel that, like This Side of Paradise, is divided into two parts in order to dramatize the political, social, and artistic break from the past that followed World War I.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Broun, Heywood, “Paradise and Princeton,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Critical Reception, edited by Jackson R.
Bryer, Burt Franklin & Co., 1978, p. 9, originally published in the New York Tribune, April 11, 1920, Sec. 7, pp. 9–11.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, This Side of Paradise, edited by James L. W. West III, Cambridge University Press, 1995, originally published by Scribner’s, 1920.
Wilson, Edmund, “F. Scott Fitzgerald,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Arthur Mizener, Prentice-Hall, 1963, pp. 80–85.
“With College Men,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Critical Reception, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, Burt Franklin & Co., 1978, p. 21, originally published in the New York Times Book Review, May 9, 1920, p. 240.
Bryer, Jackson, Ruth Prigozy, and Milton R. Stern, eds., F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Twenty-First Century, University of Alabama Press, 2003. This collection of critical essays, presented at the F. Scott Fitzgerald conference at Princeton University in 1996, offers a variety of new approaches to Fitzgerald’s work.
Eble, Kenneth E., ed., F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Collection of Criticism, McGraw-Hill, 1973. Eble presents a useful collection of criticism on Fitzgerald, including the key essays from the 1960s and early 1970s.
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bloom, Harold, ed. F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. A short but important collection of critical essays, this book provides an introductory overview of Fitzgerald scholarship, plus readings from a variety of perspectives on his fiction.
Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. New Essays on “The Great Gatsby.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985. This short but important collection includes an introductory overview of scholarship, plus interpretive essays on Fitzgerald’s best-known novel.
Bruccoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981. In this outstanding biography, a major Fitzgerald scholar argues that Fitzgerald’s divided spirit, not his lifestyle, distracted him from writing. Claims that Fitzgerald both loved and hated the privileged class that was the subject of his fiction.
Eble, Kenneth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Twayne, 1963. A clearly written critical biography, this book traces Fitzgerald’s development from youth through a “Final Assessment,” which surveys scholarship on his texts.
Hook, Andrew. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002. Part of the Literary Lives series. Concise rather than thorough, but with some interesting details....
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