Last Updated on September 9, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 678
F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Rich Boy" is a short story about Anson Hunter, a very affluent young man. Anson was born rich and has always enjoyed a life of privilege, including being tutored by a British nanny in the hopes that her accent and manner of speaking might rub off on him.
At its core, the story is really about Anson's quest to discover and nurture true love. Although he has no difficulty finding female companionship, Anson somewhat cynically wonders if he will ever have any luck finding a woman who loves him for something other than his money and prestige. At the same time, however, Anson is conflicted, because he isn't sure he can find a woman who fits that bill and is his equal in social standing. This is of great importance to Anson, because—as Fitzgerald writes—the ultra rich are quite different from most people:
They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are. . . . Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are.
Surrounded by the wealthy and elite, Anson is convinced that one can tell whether someone is well-off—and thus, in his mind, superior—just by looking at them. While in the Navy, Anson meets Paula, a beautiful woman who is both wealthy and seems sincere in her feelings for Anson, though his feelings toward her appear more uncertain. They are engaged soon after, but Anson develops a terrible alcohol problem, leaving his relationship with Paula fraught and difficult. On one occasion, he becomes so drunk at a party with Paula's family that she decides to put the engagement on the back burner for a while.
While Paula grows frustrated by Anson's instability and increasing dependence on alcohol, Anson remains convinced that he and Paula have a future and that she will wait for him indefinitely. He is therefore devastated when Paula sends him a telegram informing him of her engagement and upcoming wedding to another man. Anson realizes he has lost the only woman who ever truly understood and loved him. In his reckless despair, he begins a superficial tryst with a woman named Dolly, who is not known for her discretion. Anson treats Dolly cruelly and they both attempt to make each other jealous, though Anson always gets the upper hand in the end. In the end, Anson, consumed by his memories of Paula, is unable to consumate his relationship with Dolly and rejects her, telling her that he doesn't love her. Soon after, Dolly marries someone else.
Anson, believing he has given up his one chance at true love, takes up a new hobby: counseling married couples about their relationships. He claims to live vicariously through these "happy marriages." To no great surprise, Anson's predilection for providing his unsolicited insight into other people's problems does not endear him to his friends and relatives. This is especially true when he learns of his Aunt Edna's affair with a young man named Cary Sloane. Anson confronts Edna and Cary together and warns them that he will tell both his uncle and Cary's father about the affair. Sadly, Cary is found dead in the morning, likely of suicide. After Cary's death, Anson demonstrates no remorse, and neither his uncle nor aunt want anything to do with him.
Anson feels very alone and falls into a depression. He later meets Paula by chance and discovers that she has married and is pregnant. Paula confesses that she was never really in love with him—only infatuated. She insists that Anson will never settle down, but he refuses to accept any personal responsibility for his inability to sustain a meaningful relationship. Soon after, Paula dies in childbirth, and Anson is clearly affected by this news. However, by the end of the novel, Anson is on board a ship, where he notices a beautiful woman. He introduces himself and they are soon having champagne together. Anson seems to be yet again headed down the road of eventual romantic disappointment.
Last Updated on September 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 984
Anson Hunter, the rich boy for whom the story is named, aptly portrays F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fascination with an analysis of the rich as different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, . . . [which] makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.
As a child, Anson is cared for by a governess and is secluded from contact with his social peers. His fraternizing with the local town children helps instill his feeling of superiority. His education is completed at Yale, where he makes connections in the business and social worlds. He establishes himself in a New York brokerage firm, joins the appropriate clubs, and commences to maintain an extravagant lifestyle, arrogantly frowning on excessive behavior in others that he finds acceptable for himself.
Anson serves in the Navy but is not changed by the experience. While in Florida at a training base, he meets Paula Legendre, a woman of his class and social standing. As he himself admits, their relationship is superficial, based on common upbringing and expectations. Paula and her mother accompany him north, and while there he arrives at their hotel one evening, inebriated. Paula and her mother react negatively to this improper behavior, but Anson never apologizes. Later, when he becomes drunk and fails to keep a date with Paula, she breaks the engagement. Anson, however, continues to believe that he has control over Paula, that she will, in fact, wait for him forever. When he and Paula meet again, his arrogance prevents him from recognizing Paula’s weakening attraction and patience toward him: “He need say no more, commit their destinies to no practical enigma. Why should he, when he might hold her so, biding his own time, for another year—forever?” Because of this attitude, Anson loses her. He receives word that she will marry someone else.
His loss of Paula shocks him, but he continues his wild life and becomes involved with Dolly Karger. His relationship with Dolly is gamelike; when she tries to make him jealous, he purposely wins her back, only to show her who is in control, and then promptly rejects her. When she accompanies him to the country for the weekend, he goes to her in her bedroom, but at the last minute, the image of Paula intervening between them, he, close to tears and projecting his anger on Dolly, breaks away from her: “I don’t love you a bit, can’t you understand?”
Anson prides himself on his ability to control the lives of other people, and when he learns that his Aunt Edna is having an affair, he informs her and her lover that it must end. He states that failure to do so will cause him to inform his uncle and the young man’s father. This threat gains the result he desires. He gives his motivations as the prevention of a scandal, which would reflect on him as well as on the rest of the family, and the protection of his uncle. Primarily, however, it is simply a way for him to assert his superiority. The lover dies, either by accident or by suicide, but Anson feels no remorse. He is banned from his uncle’s house, an act that Anson believes is unjustified.
As Anson approaches thirty, he becomes more conscious of his position in society; he teaches Sunday school, sponsors young men for various clubs, and, with the deaths of his mother and father, becomes head of the family, assuming responsibility for his brothers and sisters, particularly financially and socially. He continues to give advice to his friends, especially to those recently married. Despite his continued drinking and partying, the older generation considers him reliable and safe because of the air of self-assurance that he exhibits. Finally though, his friends establish their own lives and interests and find him less necessary.
His loneliness becomes evident to him one evening at the beginning of summer when he tries to find someone in New York with whom to spend the evening, and everyone he knows, including people he has not seen since college, is either busy or out of town. The thought of being alone frightens him, and he glimpses the emptiness of his life. On this evening he accidentally meets Paula, recently remarried and pregnant. They travel up to the country for the weekend, and, after a pleasant meal, the husband leaves them alone to catch up on old times. When Anson learns from Paula that she never loved him, that she is now happy with her husband, Anson is devastated. He returns to the city but breaks into tears easily and seems unable to go on with his life. Although Anson is certainly upset about Paula, it is typical of him that he is not upset that Paula is married or pregnant or happy; his pride is wounded because she had not loved him as he assumed she had.
His work suffers, and his colleagues become worried about him. They urge him to take a voyage and, accompanied by a male friend, the narrator, he plans to depart. Several days prior to their departure, Anson learns that Paula has died during childbirth; nevertheless, he departs for Europe as planned. On the voyage, Anson takes up with another young woman, reverting to his old ways, without benefiting from his experiences. The narrator-friend concludes, “I don’t think he was ever happy unless someone was in love with him, responding to him like filings to a magnet, helping him to explain himself, promising him something. . . . Perhaps they promised that there would always be women in the world who would spend their brightest, freshest, rarest hours to nurse and protect that superiority he cherished in his heart.”