Anthony and Gloria live out their incredibly charmed lives among the beautiful people, the social elite who pass their lives in a seemingly endless whirl of parties, burning the candle at both ends and indulging in every conceivable pleasure and vice to excess. But the world that they inhabit is completely shallow; beneath the glittering veneer there is a dark, fathomless void.
Gloria's extraordinary physical beauty is purely skin deep; inside, she is completely hollow. Like all the beautiful people, neither Gloria nor Anthony have any real structure to their lives, no purpose or discipline. And so, they find themselves engaged in an almost constant effort to fill their empty lives with meaning, desperately seeking any available diversion to ward off the ever-present threat of boredom.
But no matter how hard they try to escape from their lives of unrelenting vacuity, the beautiful people find themselves being dragged back into a world of rarefied ennui. They are so spiritually bereft that they have nowhere else to go. So they turn in on themselves, seeking solace at the bottom of a glass. But alcohol can never begin to fill the deep well of nothingness that abides in the very depths of their being. Both Anthony and Gloria remain utterly rootless, utterly bored, hurtling towards the kind of self-destruction that only a prolonged addiction to alcohol can bring. In other words, they are damned. And, because they lack the spiritual and emotional depth to deal with their malaise, they are unable to change their lives, completely paralyzed as they are by the very superficiality of their existence among the beautiful.
The work that signaled Fitzgerald's maturity as a storyteller and novelist, The Beautiful and Damned is a devastating portrait of the excesses of the Jazz Age. The Beautiful and the Damned is a scathing chronicle of a dying marriage and a hedonistic society where beauty is all too fleeting. The title refers to the protagonists and ultimately to Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, who, in living the “good life” of too many parties and too much alcohol, they doom themselves to suffering and failure. The “beautiful” and the “damned” are one and the same people, for it is their beauty and zest for life that damns them to fall from grace and suffer.