The time after World War I is usually seen as a prosperous one, full of extreme economic growth and opportunity. The most prominent image is over flappers and speakeasies, people that challenged any traditional thoughts, and boldly moved forward into the future. F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for being a writer from this time period, and is labelled as one of the “Lost Generation. ” Interestingly, his perception of the time period is something much more bleak. The author recognized the social unrest that had been stirred up by the conflict between traditions and innovation.
Many were scared of the future, while others pushed ahead without looking back. The angst of this time period is often recognized in the novels of the Lost Generation in the form of extreme decadence and a frivolous lifestyle (Zeitz, web). In order to understand the themes of This Side of Paradise and how it relates to F. Scott Fitzgerald, one must look at the elements of style used, and what the critics have to say. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published in 1919. The process of getting published had been a grueling one.
Right before he entered the army in 1917, Fitzgerald wrote a piece of literature he called The Romantic Egoist. Publishers praised the work, but still rejected it a numerous amount of times. During his time in the army, he met a woman named Zelda Sayre, and although he wanted her hand in marriage, she refused to marry the young author unless he could provide for her financially. Ever determined, F. Scott Fitzgerald finished his piece in an attempt to win back Zelda, this time calling it This Side of Paradise.
The paperback was an immense success, and critics praised it for documenting the Jazz Age, the time period after World War I that was known for jazz music, alcohol, and rejection of tradition. Consequently, Zelda agreed to marriage. Fitzgerald is widely recognized for doing an excellent job of accurately and masterfully capturing the time period in which he lived, and representing it in his work. (Anderson, web). This Side of Paradise is often described as a character study. The main focus of the work is documenting how Amory Blaine finds and accepts his place in the world.
At times, he reflects on the things that have changed him. The first important influence on his life was his mother. Rather than using her thorough education in a productive way, Beatrice focuses much more on impressing people. She believes that she is entitled because of her education and money, and refuses to conform to the regular standards of society. As a way to rebel, Amory attends a boarding school, St. Regis’, and spends his time attempting to reach the highest social status possible. In order to continue that status, Blaine decides to attend Princeton University.
Part of the way through his experience at Princeton, however, Amory realizes how empty his life is, even with the success, and abandons conformity. Another formative part of Amory’s life is women. From an early age, he found himself easily able to attract girls. Several times he attempts to have romantic relationships, but eventually each one fails. Finally, he comes to meet Rosalind and falls deeply in love. She left him because he is not wealthy, and Amory is crushed. After Rosalind he attempts to engage in another relationship, but soon realizes that he has lost himself in Rosalind, and will never be capable of loving another woman again.
Consequently, women no longer make up any part of Amory’s personality. Another way Amory transforms throughout the novel is his level of wealth. He begins the novel extremely well-off financially. He attends Princeton, and is surrounded by an extravagant life. By the end, however, he has lost his money. When his mother died she left half of her money to the church, which seems to be all Amory cares about when he speaks of her death. Once he no longer has money, Amory is forced to take a hard look at himself. Losing money was partially what forced him to truly discover who he was. Without money, Amory struggles to find any meaning in his life.
The very end of the novel is where Amory truly comes to deep conclusions about his life. The rest of the book was merely a path of discovery for the protagonist, and once money, women, and convention were stripped away from the facade he had built, Amory was only left with his true self, the fundamental Amory. The final line of the novel, “I know myself, and that is all” sums up the entirety of Amory’s quest. In This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald uses two epigraphs to introduce his book. Epigraphs are short quotations found at the beginning of a novel, or a chapter that are meant to highlight a theme (Citation needed).
The first Fitzgerald used is from where he derives his title. “… Well this side of Paradise!… There’s little comfort in the wise. ” The quote comes from Robert Brooke. Brooke wrote a poem called “Tiare Tahiti. ” In this line Brooke discusses how heaven is supposed to be a relief to a select few; a paradise at the end of life. But the next part of the quote shows that he truly does not find comfort in this, since life on Earth is just too dreadful sometimes. This theme is present in the novel when Amory grapples with similar predicaments.
While corresponding with Monsignor Darcy, Blaine reveals that he finds no comfort in the thought of heaven, and that he does not even believe in a god (James, web). The second epigraph comes from Oscar Wilde. It reads, “Experience is the name so many people give their mistakes. ” This quote is rich with irony, and serves as a way to mock the way many coming-of-age novels are written. He means to prove that life can be a series of mistakes, and it depends on the person whether they learn from them or do not. Amory himself suffers from not recognizing the mistakes he has made throughout his life.
He lacks any sense of direction at times, and spends his whole life attempting to find some sort of an objective. Both epigraphs are a way to introduce the theme of the novel quickly, before anything has even been written (James, web). This Side of Paradise is often called a character study, rather than a novel with a straightforward plot (Cowley, 60). The characterization of Amory is seen as central to the novel, since it allows many of the themes to develop, including the portrayal of the Jazz Age. Amory is a semi-autobiographical account of Fitzgerald himself.
The protagonist’s life is spent searching for direction, and during this time, a lot is learned about him as a person. From the very first line, “Amory Blaine inherited from his mother every trait, except the stray inexpressible few, that made him worthwhile” (Fitzgerald 3), the reader learns about Amory in both direct and indirect ways. Throughout the novel, Amory grapples with tough ideas, including finding a purpose in life. By shedding his personality periodically Amory attempts to come to terms with these dilemmas, but even by the conclusion of the piece, it is not clear what direction the young man’s life will take.
When critics analyzed this piece, they recognized that the school of Princeton itself may be a symbol that Fitzgerald used to interpret the world in a spiritual way. Although Fitzgerald himself was believed to be an atheist, each aspect of Princeton can take on a Biblical role. Princeton becomes the paradise similar to heaven or the garden of Eden. Like Adam and Eve, Amory spends his life after leaving Princeton wanting so desperately to return. The tall towers on the campus become a beacon pointing to a higher spirituality, showing the status that attending Princeton allows its students.
Fitzgerald intensely romanticizes Princeton, and when all hope is lost for Amory as the novel closes, he returns to the school as a way to try and find himself. The character of Amory Blaine is inseparable from his setting, so understanding the impact of Princeton allows for a deeper grasp of Amory himself (Van Arsdale, 166) According to another critic, Malcolm Cowley, Fitzgerald’s literature is set apart from all others because of the way in which he writes, made up of an easy narrative style, imagery, and comedy.
In addition, Fitzgerald sampled different types of his own work including: short stories, sketches, dialogues, essays, and poems. The most important thing, Cowley believed, was that Fitzgerald spoke for his contemporaries. “Here was a new generation , shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined to finally go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success…” (Fitzgerald 174).
With his novel, Fitzgerald was able to introduce and capture an entire era of confused people in a way that had never been done before. By using his own life experiences in This Side of Paradise, he expressed emotions that related to not only his contemporaries, but to young people in general. By expressing these strong emotions with honesty and creativity he pulled his readers incredibly close. The author’s own self was poured into his work, and by doing so he made others believe in “the unique value of the world in which they lived” (Cowley, 52).
This Side of Paradise was an incredibly unique way to capture the Jazz Age. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characterization of Amory Blaine painted a dim, but accurate, depiction of his time period. His own life experiences only added to the raw emotion and intimacy of the novel. In a time of confusion and turmoil, This Side of Paradise relates the feelings of the youth at the time to the reader. The elements of style and critics give a deeper understanding of the themes present in This Side of Paradise, and connect the novel to Fitzgerald himself.