One of the reasons why Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise is being commonly referred to as such that represents a high literary value is that despite having been written in 1920, it contains a number of themes and motifs that relate to the discursive realities of a contemporary living in America.
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This paper will explore the validity of the above-suggestion at length, in regards to the novel’s main character Amory Blaine, which can be well deemed as the epitome of the process of American males becoming increasingly feminine (decadent) in their existential attitudes – something that is being hardly beneficial to America’s well-being, as a nation. It will also be argued is that the very manner, in which American society operates, creates the objective preconditions for the mentioned trend to continue gaining momentum.
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What immediately strikes those who begin to read This Side of Paradise, is that while describing Amory, the author made a deliberate point in specifying the particulars of this character’s physical appearance: “He (Amory) was an auburn-haired boy, with great, handsome eyes which he would grow up to in time, a facile imaginative mind and a taste for fancy dress” (Fitzgerald 5). This, of course, is being rather inconsistent with the evolutionary predetermined assumption that a man’s worth has very little to do with his looks, and that it is namely the manner in which he acts, which is being reflective of this value more than anything else.
Moreover, the above-quoted description also implies that ever since his early years, Amory (the name that resonates with the French word ‘amour’) continued to exhibit the psychological traits of a woman – hence, his imaginative mindedness (as opposed to analytical mindedness) and his obsession with wearing fancy dresses.
One may wonder how this can be seen as the indication of Amory having been affiliated with the uniquely American way of life? Coming up with the answer to this question will not prove as difficult, as it may initially appear, once it is being mentioned that the very process of industrialization (associated with the realities of American living through the 20th century’s twenties and thirties) creates the objective preconditions for the generation of the so-called ‘surplus product’ to attain an exponential momentum.
However, given the Capitalist essence of the American economy’s functioning, this contributes to the proliferation of the specifically exploitative social classes in America, to which Amory clearly belonged. While being preoccupied with the bellyful idling, the representatives of these social classes cannot help growing ever more decadently effeminate. The lifestyles of the country’s countless male ‘white collar’ office-workers in today’s America, prove the validity of this suggestion perfectly well.
The validity of the idea that the character of Amory is indeed uniquely American can also be explored, in relation to the fact that as the novel’s plot unravels; his sense of self-identity never ceases to undergo a qualitative transformation. For example, at the novel’s beginning, Amory prefers to define himself as an ‘aristocratic egotist’: “He (Amory) had formulated his first philosophy, a code to live by, which, as near as it can be named, was a sort of aristocratic egotism” (Fitzgerald 18).
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Closer to the novel’s end, however, Amory ended up positioning himself as being nothing short of a Socialist: “I’m a product of a versatile mind in a restless generation – with every reason to throw my mind and pen in with the radicals” (Fitzgerald 262). Nevertheless, as the novel implies, this did not come as a result of Amory’s strive to subject the emanations of the surrounding social reality to an analytical inquiry. Rather, the mentioned transformation was caused by the character’s unfortunate liaisons with women. What it means is that, while interacting with women, Amory could not help having the workings of his psyche being deeply affected by the process in question – something that would never be the case, had Amory been a ‘real man’, in the conventional sense of this word.
The discursive implication of this is quite clear – psychologically speaking, Amory did not differ that much from the representatives of the ‘weaker sex’. In its turn, this directly relates to the fact that the divorce rate in the U.S. has traditionally been one of the world-highest. The reason for this is that, as time goes on, men and women in America become increasingly ‘unisexual’, within the context of how they go about facing the challenges of life – this tendency that became especially apparent in the aftermath of the country’s adoption of the ideology of ‘political correctness’ (Fagan and Rector 59). Yet, as psychologists are being well aware of, the less acute is the factor of ‘gender differentiation’ between a husband and wife, the more likely it is for them to end up filing for a divorce.
In this respect, one can well mention Amory’s lack of ‘romantic commitment’, as such that illustrates the legitimacy of this suggestion. After all, as the novel’s context implies, there was nothing incidental about the sheer short-lastingness of many of Amory’s romantic affairs – this was nothing but the consequence of the main character’s emotional discomfort with the idea of marrying a ‘mind-like’.
As Vincent pointed out: “He (Amory) feels the intense lack of desire for consummation… Amory feels threatened by commitment, since commitment equates to accepting the effeminacy that he already embodies” (par. 27). Therefore, it is indeed thoroughly appropriate to refer to the character of Amory, as someone who exemplifies a number of in-depth reasons for the qualitative dynamics within American society to be distinctly different, as compared to what is being the case with them elsewhere in the world.
There is another indication that the character of Amory is uniquely American – the fact that there is a lack of ‘wholesomeness’ to his sense of self-identity, which in turn can be explained by the qualitative aspects of how the ‘nation of immigrants’ came into being. For example, throughout the novel’s entirety, Amory never ceases to remain preoccupied with the thought of what differentiates the notion of ‘personality’ from the notion of ‘personage’.
According to Amory, one’s endowment with real ‘personality’ means that the individual in question is able to subjectify itself within the surrounding social environment, which in turn enables him to leave a mark in history and to ensure that his life does count. Those, merely endowed with ‘personage’, on the other hand, do not have what it takes to be considered masters of their own, in the full sense of this word. Instead of living their lives, they preoccupy themselves with adopting the culturally/discursively stereotyped life-stances of others: “Now a personage… He (Amory) is never thought of apart from what he’s done. He’s a bar on which a thousand things have been hung – glittering things sometimes” (Fitzgerald 96).
In the novel, there are indeed many instances of Amory deciding in favor of a particular course of action, despite remaining emotionally alienated from the would-be-adopted behavioral stance, on his part. The scene, in which Amory takes Alec’s blame for having seduced an unmarried woman, is being perfectly illustrative, in this respect. The reason for this is that, contrary to the assumption that sacrificial acts must be emotionally-charged, Amory’s motivation to adopt a sacrificial posture appears to have been thoroughly rational: “Sacrifice by its very nature was arrogant and impersonal; sacrifice should be eternally supercilious. Weep not for me but for thy children” (Fitzgerald 233).
Thus, Amory’s life can be thought of in terms of a never-ending quest to attain the substantiality of an individual with a strongly defined sense of personality. The reason why, up until the novel’s end, he kept on failing, in this respect, can be explained by the fact that in American society, composed of immigrants and of their descendants, one’s existential ‘rootlessness’ is considered an asset. Had it been otherwise, the famous notion of the ‘American dream’ would not be affiliated with the assumption that in America, it does not really matter what happened to be one’s identity – all that matters is whether the concerned person happened to be rich or not.
Thus, there is indeed a rather prominent ‘American’ overtone to the significance of Amory, as a ‘tragic hero’ – his strive to attain the state of self-actualization, as a somewhat unconventional young man, was deeply inconsistent with the fundamental values of the American way of life. This, of course, illustrates the validity of the paper’s initial thesis even further, because one’s lack of a strongly defined personality has been traditionally deemed the proof of this person’s weakness. In its turn, the notion of weakness is being commonly considered synonymous with the notion of effeminacy.
Partially, this explains why, even though throughout the novel’s entirety Amory continues to position himself as an individual who is being naturally inclined to pay disproportionate attention to money-related issues, he does not do it out of his love of money, but rather out of his irrational fear of poverty: “’I detest poor people’, thought Amory suddenly. ‘I hate them for being poor. Poverty may have been beautiful once, but it’s rotten now. It’s the ugliest thing in the world’.” (Fitzgerald 241).
Having been endowed with the ‘imaginative mind’, Amory could not help projecting his deep-seated fear of poverty onto the poor themselves, which in turn made it quite impossible for the concerned character to be able to act as the society’s productive member. There, of course, can be only a few doubts that the mentioned mental trait, on the part of Amory, directly relates to what is being traditionally considered one of the main indications that one indeed happened to be an American – the person’s inability to understand what accounts for the actual interrelationship between causes and effects.
The earlier provided line of argumentation, as to what makes the character of Amory uniquely American, appears to be fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Therefore, it will be appropriate to reinstate once again that Amory’s affiliation with ‘Americana’ can be best discussed, in relation to the concerned character’s decadent attitudes.
Fagan, Patrick and Robert Rector. “The Effects of Divorce on America.” The World & I 15.10 (2000): 56-61. Print.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott 1920. This Side of Paradise. Web.
Vincent, Emily 2010. Fitzgerald’s Women: Motherhood and Masculinity in the Flapper Era. Web.
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