This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald Book Review
Young Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s expressive semi-autobiographical account of America before and mainly after World War I, written at just 23, grasped the attention of the everchanging generation of the ‘20s and of readers still today. This Side of Paradise, first published in 1920 in New York, follows romantic Amory Blaine as he goes from prep school into Princeton during a period of extreme change in thinking and lifestyle. Amory struggles to put aside his egotistical attitude while searching for love, success, and fame through his writing. Amory faces many heartbreaks, family troubles, and changing perspectives on life as he continues through college and moves to New York in hopes of making it big.
Amory and his endeavors are a reflection of F. Scott Fitzgerald himself, since he was also trying to navigate through the hard times that came with growing up with war and shifts in society. Amory’s education takes after Fitzgerald’s background of Catholic Prep School, from which he then transferred to Princeton to pursue writing. Amory claims at one point to his friend Tom, “‘You’ve just had your eyes opened up to the snobbishness of the world in a rather abrupt manner. Princeton invariably gives the thoughtful man a social sense”’ (78). Fitzgerald manifests himself and his juvenile thinking through Amory to show the need he once had to be at the very top of the social totem. Halfway through the novel, one begins to notice a switch in Amory’s frame of mind. This is when Amory’s grades plummet and he enlists in the first World War, and then comes home to the Roaring Twenties. When Fitzgerald could no longer attend Princeton due to grade issues, he joined the military and began writing This Side of Paradise. The war was one of the biggest adversities faced for both the character and the author since it was such a drastic change from the high-end life they experienced at Princeton.
- Scott Fitzgerald pictured above
In part one of This Side of Paradise, the text is very complex, utilizing poetic language, drawn out thoughts, and is said in third person with a focus only on Amory’s view of the world. I would recommend this book only to mature audiences, for the reason that Fitzgerald hides tough, hidden themes and imagery that take time to dissect. Fitzgerald has a set group of beliefs shown throughout the novel, which he describes in detail, and doesn’t waver from those views until the end of the novel. You have to be able to understand what was going on outside of the book during that time period to truly understand Fitzgerald’s thinking and reasoning, which he conveys through Amory.
In This Side of Paradise, a character named Monsignor Darcy is introduced into the novel to act as a fatherly figure to Amory, which he had been lacking, as well as give Amory a different insight on life. Monsignor humbles Amory and reminds him often of his arrogance.
For example, Monsignor once told Amory, “‘A personality is what you thought you were… Personality is a physical matter almost entirely; it lowers the people it acts on – I’ve seen it vanish in a long sickness’” (96).
The theme of family dysfunction plays a key role at the beginning of the novel and in shaping Amory’s character. His mom completely spoiled him, but was never there for him emotionally. This resulted in Amory becoming very self-absorbed and eventually, loathing his own personality. Monsignor is the only person that truly kept Amory grounded and somewhat open-minded.
Another clear theme throughout Amory’s entire lifetime is the search for love. In the majority of Amory’s relationships, his arrogance and lack of commitment got in the way of many relationships he had strived for. The reason he strived so badly for love was to fill the many voids he had in his life, but often times these relationships would leave him feeling worse about himself. After getting rejected over lacking money in his older years, which never would have been a problem before when his mom was spoiling him, he turns to alcohol. This is a key turning point because, during the Roaring Twenties, prohibition went into effect. That left Amory alone with his thoughts and no way to cope except to take a new look on life. During this era, many people grew more rebellious to traditional values, including marriage, and one can see Amory begin to evolve with these changes. Towards the end of the novel, after Amory had lived through the riches, the war, and the ever-changing society, he makes a bold statement saying, “I’m restless. My whole generation is restless. I’m sick of the system where the richest man gets the most beautiful girl if he wants her, where the artist without income has to sell his talents to a button manufacturer” (256). This kind of thought process contradicts everything that had been said at the beginning of the novel and conveys Fitzgerald’s struggle to make a living as he lives through the Roaring Twenties, which soon turned into the Great Depression.
Fitzgerald’s tale of Amory in This Side of Paradise appealed to readers’ pathos and accurately depicted what life was like during this time period. When the book first came out, it was what shot Fitzgerald into fame because it gave readers an escape from their own troubles and allowed them to relate to someone. In present day, I feel as if this novel can come off as anticlimactic, but overall was well written and I liked the small pieces of poetry throughout it that gave some life to it. If I were to change something, the only note I would have is to add more depth to Amory’s character as the novel comes closer to the end. Otherwise, This Side of Paradise was a good read for a high schooler and I would personally love to read another classic by Fitzgerald himself.