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In "The Rich Boy," F. Scott Fitzgerald seeks to explore the psyche of the American upper class in the Roaring Twenties. This short story takes place in the same cultural moment as The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's best-known work, which was published one year prior. Gatsby explores the hollowness and despair behind the hedonistic extravagance of the era; here, Fitzgerald approaches this on a smaller scale and analyzes the ways in which extreme wealth stunts one's social and emotional development.

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Fitzgerald begins by explaining the psyche of the rich:

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.

This class of people is represented by Anson Hughes, a young member of a New York City family worth fifteen million dollars. He grows up ensconced in the old-money aristocracy of the city, but once the family moves to Connecticut, Anson begins to delight in the "half-grudging American deference" that his less-wealthy neighbors give to him. Fitzgerald foreshadows the ways in which this sense of superiority will hinder his development:

A sort of impatience with all groups of which he was not the center . . . remained with him for the rest of his life.

Anson's upbringing begins to present problems for him at college. His egotistical nature and refusal to abide by Yale standards sets him apart from the other students, so upon graduation, he retreats to the comfort of New York City aristocracy. Soon, he falls in love, but his lack of maturity prevents him from maintaining a healthy relationship. After many ups and downs, his girlfriend Paula wants to marry him; Anson, although equally in love with her, cannot admit this to himself. "His despair was helpless before his pride," writes Fitzgerald.

They break up, but reconnect a few years later. Once again, Anson cannot humble himself enough to propose to her. At one point during their passionate reunion, he thinks that it might be the moment, but then decides,

No, let it wait—she is mine . . .

He returns to his life in New York; a few months later, he cries upon learning she has found a husband.

Anson begins a new relationship with a woman named Dolly. She tires of his emotional distance and tells him that she's leaving him for another man. Anson insists that he is unbothered, but tries to dissuade her nonetheless:

He was not jealous—she meant nothing to him—but at her pathetic ruse everything stubborn and self-indulgent in him came to the surface. It was a presumption from a mental inferior and it could not be overlooked.

They reunite for a weekend, but again, Anson refuses to tell her that he loves her, and so he once again is left alone.

At the conclusion of the story, Anson finds himself abandoned by his socialite friends, who have all married and had children. In a moment of desperate loneliness, he accepts an invitation to dinner with Paula and her second husband. Here he finally proclaims that he loves her, only for her to say that she had simply been "infatuated" with him. This causes Anson to fall into a deep depression; he only recovers when he begins a fling with a new woman.

As he watches Anson repeat this sad cycle, the narrator says,

I don't think he was ever happy unless some one was in love with him, responding to him like filings to a magnet, helping him to explain himself, promising him something. What it was I do not know. 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.

Fitzgerald lays bare the psyche of the ultra-rich; they are developmentally stunted and incapable of experiencing true human connection due to their innate sense of superiority. This story contributes detail and depth to Fitzgerald's canonical denunciation of the wealth and excess of the Roaring Twenties.

Style and Technique

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The story is told by a first-person observer-narrator, who identifies himself as a friend of Anson. As Anson’s confidant, the narrator is privy to Anson’s thoughts, yet he is able to relate his perception of events objectively, particularly as one who has not been reared in wealth. Thus, he is the persona of Fitzgerald and is able to interpret the effects of Anson’s actions objectively, though with more compassion toward Anson than Anson exhibits toward others; thus, the narrator also serves as a foil to Anson.

The psychological realism evidenced in “The Rich Boy” is accomplished through Fitzgerald’s close attention to detail and through a consistent, believable portrayal of the characters’ thoughts, actions, and personalities. He divulges to the reader the inner workings of the mind of a wealthy, arrogant young man and the social influences that have formed him.


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