Themes

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Last Updated on September 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 420

The Emptiness of Wealth

Fitzgerald explores the ways in which wealth seems to rob Anson of any real meaning in his life. As a society, we generally assume that the rich have it better than everyone else. While people look up to Anson as a leader, especially towards the end of "The Rich Boy" when he takes this role more seriously, it is clear that despite those that fawn over him, there is no real substance to Anson's life. This is especially apparent when Anson realizes there is no one interested in spending an evening with him.

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He is not driven by his career, hobbies, or political or religious convictions. He does not have people in his life that he cares about deeply or others who care about him. Beyond chasing pleasures of the moment and wanting to be wanted, there is nothing of real value in Anson's life.

Refusing Responsibility

It is clear that Anson is incredibly controlling; he's used to getting what he wants with no strings attached. This has left him unable to accept responsibility for his actions or to recognize their effect on others. This is especially obvious when he forces his aunt and her lover to end their affair, which devastates his aunt and ends in the death of her lover. Despite the sorrow he's had a hand in, Anson does not recognize or feel remorse for the pain he has caused, even when it has lost him a relationship with his family member. The extremity of Anson's manipulation, coupled with the reality that his interference doesn't actually benefit him in any way, exemplifies the recklessness and carelessness with which Fitzgerald characterizes the very worst of the rich.

The Desire to Control Women

While Anson craves control over his entire life, this tendency is especially pronounced in how he relates to the opposite sex. It is clear in both his relationships with Paula and Dolly that he doesn't love either woman and that, though they may be infatuated, they don't love him either. Nevertheless, Anson becomes distraught when Paula or Dolly suggests that they aren't completely dedicated to him. We can perhaps understand Anson's desperate desire to be wanted as springing from the lack of any independent meaning in his life. A lover fawning over him allows Anson to pretend that his life is not void of substance, even if he does not truly love these women in return. When he learns that Paula was no more interested in him than he was in her, he is devastated.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 747

Fitzgerald depicted the lifestyle of the Lost Generation of the 1920’s, those rich young people who blamed the evils of the world on the previous generation and rejected their parents’ value system of duty to society and family but also failed to establish a new system. Instead they adopted an irresponsible, cynical, extravagant way of life, which Fitzgerald recognized as essentially devoid of meaning or fulfillment. Certainly Anson is depicted as a superficial character who has no concern for anyone other than himself and who consistently fails to learn from his experiences. Fitzgerald’s belief that the rich pay a price for their self-imposed isolation is demonstrated in “The Rich Boy.” Anson is rich and different, and the penalty that he pays for his sense of superiority is that he never achieves a meaningful relationship with anyone. Fitzgerald explored the basic psychological drives and how they are satisfied by the very rich. He learned that the possession of wealth was bought at the price of individualism and of increased responsibility to others. His character Anson never learns this lesson. He refuses to take responsibility for his own actions, never considering his effect on the lives of others. Anson is a user of people; he views them as merely objects on which to exert his influence, thus reinforcing his sense of superiority, as exemplified particularly by his treatment of women: Paula, Dolly, and Aunt Edna.

As a child, Anson recognizes the unchallenged superiority of the rich, and “he accepted this as the natural state of things, and a sort of impatience with all groups of which he was not the center—in money, in position, in authority—remained with him for the rest of his life.” However, this superiority has its price; closeness to other people becomes unavailable to him. His relationship with Paula illustrates this. Anson admits “that on his side much was insincere, and on hers much was merely simple,” thus indicating his lack of true involvement as well as his feeling of superiority toward her. However, Paula is drawn to Anson:[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 that her gentle mind was unable to resolve—Paula grew to think of him as two alternating personalities. When she saw him alone, or at a formal party, or with his casual inferiors, she felt a tremendous pride in his strong, attractive presence, the paternal, understanding stature of his mind. In other company she became uneasy when what had been a fine imperviousness to mere gentility showed its other face. The other face was gross, humorous, reckless of everything but pleasure.

Anson believes that Paula will wait for him forever, but he is mistaken. He claims that it is Paula’s action in ending their relationship, rather than his own that necessitated it, which has made him a cynic, thus refusing to take responsibility for the demise of their relationship.

This arrogance surfaces again in his affair with Dolly and his cruel treatment of her: “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. If she wanted to know to whom she belonged she would see.”

There is no compassion in Anson. He firmly believes that he knows best for everyone, or that whatever is best for him is what must be, despite the effects on others. He does not merely offer advice to friends and family; he forces it on them. Understandably people begin to resent this and withdraw from the area of his control. After he totally humiliates Aunt Edna and her lover and destroys any hope of happiness for them, he calmly returns home, believing that he has done the right thing, even feeling self-satisfied with his actions.

Despite his experiences, Anson never changes. On a superficial level he adopts the responsibilities of head of his family, of church member, and of civic leader, but morally he remains unconcerned with the welfare of anyone other than himself. This arrogance and selfishness lead him into an empty, cynical, and callous way of life. This is aptly illustrated when, on the trip abroad after Paula’s death, he bounces back to his irresponsible, charming, witty self as he makes the acquaintance of yet another beautiful young woman.

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