What passage in "The Rich Boy" by F. Scott Fitzgerald gives reader the best insight into Anson's character?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Choosing only one passage to describe Anson in "The Rich Boy" by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a rather difficult task without some explanation. What is most striking to me about Anson's character is that he is a divided man. Throughout most of this story, the narrator gives us two distinct sides of his friend's character. Consider the following examples:

  • We see that, time after time, Anson is a friend who does "unusual kindness[es]" but also embarrasses his friends with his "bursts of rough conversation or his habit of getting drunk whenever and however he liked."
  • In addition to his rather proper Wall Street life and world, Anson and Dolly create a second world so they can be together, a "world just beneath" the other one, so he can drink freely and Dolly can keep whatever hours she chooses without engendering criticism or gossip.
  • Anson sees himself both as an "average and honest" guy as well as one who regularly covers up his own sins (referred to as "misprision" in the story).
  • Anson takes a sincere though vicarious pleasure in seeing happy marriages while at the same time feeling "an almost equally pleasant melancholy" when those so-called happy marriages do not last. 
  • On Saturday night Anson spends his time in all manner of wild revelry; however, he arrives home just in time to clean up before going to teach a Sunday School class the next morning. 
  • At first Anson finds Dolly's marriage amusing enough to drive him to actual laughter; but soon the thought of her marriage depresses him. 
  • Though he claims that he will never marry because he has seen too many of them go bad and understands that a truly happy and successful marriage is a rarity, in actuality he does believe in marriage. 
  • Anson is the best man or an usher at every one of his many friends' marriages; before long, however, he is someone all his friends try to avoid, even leaving on holidays without telling him (presumably in an effort to escape Anson's presence).

It is clear, then, that Anson is not clinically schizophrenic, but he is someone who has two distinct and nearly equal sides to his character. It is difficult to pain him as purely as a self-absorbed rich wastrel because he is also a fairly responsible businessman and someone that at least two good women were willing to love for the rest of their lives. 

The two people closest to Anson will make the same case. Dolly is the second woman Anson loves (as much as he is capable of loving), and this is how she describes him:

[Dolly] saw in Anson the two extremes which the emotionally shiftless woman seeks, an abandon to indulgence alternating with a protective strength. In his character she felt both the sybarite and the solid rock, and these two satisfied every need of her nature.

Here we see Anson as both a hedonist (pleasure-seeker) and a steady presence in her life. 

Paula is probably the only woman Anson has ever loved more than himself, and she notes the same kind of dichotomy in him:

He dominated and attracted her, and at the same time filled her with anxiety. Confused by his mixture of solidity and self-indulgence, of sentiment and cynicism--incongruities which her gentle mind was unable to resolve--Paula grew to think of him as two alternating personalities. 

If I had to pick just one quote to summarize Anson's character, it would be Paula's accurate assessment of him. She understands the duality of his character and loves him despite his shortcomings and failings for as long as she can--precisely because he also has another side.

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The Rich Boy

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