Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Reflecting on his past, Amory refers to “the scrap-book of his life.” This Side of Paradise is a verbal scrapbook of Fitzgerald’s early experiences, yet the episodic nature of the work does not result merely from Fitzgerald’s lack of distance from the events he is relating. True, he did not have the perspective necessary to select what is important, what trivial, in the development of the artist. Yet this loose structure also expresses Fitzgerald’s belief at the time that the novel should be discursive, a theory that he adopted from H. G. Wells.
While Fitzgerald later rejected this view, he continued to espouse many of the other ideas present in his first novel. This work launched his career as spokesman for the Jazz Age. He chronicles the changing mores of the children of Victorian parents, children who indulge in petting parties, flirt shamelessly, and kiss promiscuously. He shows the freeing effects of the automobile and evokes America’s college life on the eve of World War I. He also demonstrates the demoralizing effects of that war and Prohibition. These moral crusades had not made the world better. Before Gertrude Stein made her pronouncement about the “Lost Generation,” Fitzgerald presciently wrote in the most famous passage of the novel, “Here was a new generation, . . . dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success, grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man...
(The entire section is 578 words.)
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Like many first novels, This Side of Paradise is largely autobiographical. Amory Blaine, the protagonist, is drawn from Fitzgerald's adolescence and young manhood. The narrative follows Blaine from his relatively pampered childhood, where he had a very close relationship to his mother, through the difficulties of adjusting to the outside world in prep school and then on through his development as a "romantic egoist" at Princeton. The years at Princeton represent the first genuinely realistic depiction of American college life, and suggest that life on the campus is exciting and intellectually stimulating. For aspiring collegians, the first part of This Side of Paradise was like a guidebook, offering suggestions about how to behave socially, and some sense of the curriculum, mentioning sixty-four titles and ninety-eight writers. Fitzgerald later called the book "A Romance and a Reading List," and the romantic element included Blaine's unsuccessful courtship of Isabelle Borge.
The second part of the book follows Blaine's attempt to realize his destiny through a commitment to a religious vision of morality. Monsignor Darcy, the most sympathetic character in the book, encourages Blaine's search for religious meaning; and, although he is not able to convince Blaine to go to Rome, he is able to give him a firm sense of good and evil. This moral sense is tested by two romantic interludes. Blaine is unnerved when he loses Rosalind Connage because of...
(The entire section is 311 words.)
Although Fitzgerald’s novel may seem less shocking now, it created a sensation when it was published because of its representation of a younger generation that perceived itself as departing entirely from the tradition of the generations before it. Amory’s vanity and egotism, his flirtatious affairs with young women, his startling ideas (such as about socialism), and his vague contempt for nineteenth- century tradition all struck a chord with a generation that blamed their parents, for example, for the horrors of World War I.
This generational conflict was a key motivation for the modernist literary movement in the United States. In This Side of Paradise, the intellectual and aesthetic aspects of the conflict are first revealed by Burne Holiday, who inspires many of Amory’s own convictions against nineteenthcentury tradition. And Amory’s meditations and convictions in “The Egotist Becomes a Personage,” although many critics have noted that they are not necessarily well informed or even coherent, are nevertheless something of an intellectual manifesto for his generation. As Amory says while he is arguing with Mr. Ferrenby about socialism, “I’m a product of a versatile mind in a restless generation.” While his specific intellectual theories are unclear, and, for example, Amory does nothing but dabble without conviction in socialism, this wavering is consistent with Amory’s previous statement:...
(The entire section is 752 words.)