People, the Devil, and Mirrors in Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise”

This Side of Paradise is a half-baked novel written by a half-baked author about a half-baked writer very much like himself, and Fitzgerald knew that. This is the proper frame within which to read the book, rather than to regret that he had not written a masterpiece. Certain themes in this book appear again and again, and a look at their appearances can show you a lot about how Amory’s / Fitzgerald’s mind worked. While it is wrong to an identify an author with a character in his work, Fitzgerald was on a strict deadline, since he needed to publish something in a hurry to make himself worthy of Zelda’s love before she married someone else, and while Ftzgerald was already a far more talented and perceptive author than he has been given credit for being, he did not yet have enough life experience or artistic control to be able to write about anyone other than himself — and in fact, toward end of his life he doubted that he had ever had had that control. (This does not mean that he wrote accurately and unwishfuly about himself — Amory’s mother was not at all like Fitzgerald’s own embarrassing mother, for example).

Amory / Fitzgerald was superstitious and guilt-ridden and believed in the real presence of ghosts and the devil. He was stagey and narcissistic and acutely aware of staginess in others. Imagination was central to him as an escape from Philistines, Pharisees, the bourgeois, “People”, and smelly immigrants, and he was acutely aware of good and bad smells. Amory / Fitzgerald was simultaneously upwardly and downwardly mobile, and like everyone else in the America of that time, he had an obsession with success (though he did not value it entirely positively). He was acutely aware the succession of generations and promoted himself as one of the inventors of youth culture.

Below I cite key passages in This Side of Paradise passages organized in categories. In many cases these categories have been defined by simple word searches, and in these cases the key words are inside quotation marks. The categories are:

1. Impiety, the devil, sex, marriage, and evil;
2. “Ghosts”;
3. Staginess;
4. “Mirrors”, Narcissism, and Vanity;
5. “Imagination”;
6. “Philistines”, “Pharisees”, and “Bourgeois”;
7. “People”;
8. “Aromas”, “scents”, “odors”, “stinks”, “immigrants”;
9. “Success”;
10. “Generations”

Impiety, the devil, sex, marriage, and evil

Zelda’s the only God I have left now.
Fitzgerald, February 26, 1919.

My mind is firmly made up that I will not, shall not, cannot marry” .
Fitzgerald letter, December 1918, in Hook, p. 22.

Amory’s / Fitzgerald’s fear of the dark and of ghosts, his vision of the real presence of the devil, and his final belief that beautiful women are evil do not fit with Fitzgerald’s image as a rebellious young Jazz Age libertine, though do they fit in perfectly with Catholic decadence. What was new about Fitzgerald was not any kind of advocacy, but merely a straightforward, almost naturalistic, depiction of the scandalous ways of his generation. (His unworshipful view of the Ivy League had certainly been influenced by his neighbor and mentor Charles Flandrau’s wrongly-forgotten realistic / satirical book Harvard Episodes). Fitzgerald wrote realistically about the conceited and spoiled Ivy League rich rather than about slum dwellers, and his picture is no more distorted than any other realism is. (The differences between Fitzgerald’s self-portrait as Amory and what is known about him are interesting, but it’s hard to say that it is an idealized picture). Amory’s archaic superstitions and moral doubts did not hurt the book with its hip youthful audience, probably because many of them had started out the same fears and doubts as he did.

For Amory, sex is identified with the devil and with the impiety of putting the beloved in the place of God. Marriage also traps a man and turn him into an object — a “people”. His mentor Monsignor Darcy is grooming him to become a priest, and that may also be what his mother (Darcy’s former fiance) also wants. But in the end he has lost his faith, and after implausibly considering a life as a socialist or a progressive reformer, he finds his new calling: writing, which was always already there. And writing requires him to submit himself to the terrors of sex, love, and marriage, even though being a writer also unfits him for love.

“I don’t care,” he persisted gloomily. “I gotta. I got the habit. I’ve done a lot of things that if my fambly knew”—he hesitated, giving her imagination time to picture dark horrors—“I went to the burlesque show last week.”
A Kiss for Amory”

He desired frantically to be away, never to see Myra again, never to kiss any one; he became conscious of his face and hers, of their clinging hands, and he wanted to creep out of his body and hide somewhere safe out of sight, up in the corner of his mind.
“A Kiss for Amory”

“Why on earth are we here?” he asked the girl with the green combs one night as they sat in some one’s limousine, outside the Country Club in Louisville.
— “I don’t know. I’m just full of the devil.”
–“Let’s be frank—we’ll never see each other again. I wanted to come out here with you because I thought you were the best-looking girl in sight. You really don’t care whether you ever see me again, do you?”
–“No—but is this your line for every girl? What have I done to deserve it?”
–“And you didn’t feel tired dancing or want a cigarette or any of the things you said? You just wanted to be—”
— “Oh, let’s go in,” she interrupted, “if you want to analyze. Let’s not talk about it.”

He wore no shoes, but, instead, a sort of half moccasin, pointed like the shoes they wore in the fourteenth century, and with the little ends curling up. They were a darkish brown and his toes seemed to fill them to the end. … They were unutterably terrible. …
“The Devil”

Simultaneously Amory classed him with the crowd, and he seemed no longer Sloane of the debonair humor and the happy personality, but only one of the evil faces that whirled along the turbid stream.
“At the Window”.

“I’ve got to tell you,” he said. “I’ve had one hell of an experience. I think I’ve—I’ve seen the devil or—something like him.
“At the Window”.

“Oh, Clara!” Amory said; “what a devil you could have been if the Lord had just bent your soul a little the other way!” ….. “I think,” he said and his voice trembled, “that if I lost faith in you I’d lose faith in God.”
She looked at him with such a startled face that he asked her the matter.
“Nothing,” she said slowly, “only this: five men have said that to me before, and it frightens me.”
“St. Cecilia”.

–“This is the great protest against the Superman,” said Amory.
–“I suppose so,” Alec agreed.
–“He’s absolutely irreconcilable with any Utopia. As long as he occurs, there’s trouble and all the latent evil that makes a crowd list and sway when he talks.”
–“And of course all that he is is a gifted man without a moral sense.” …..

–“What brings it about?”
–“Time, damn it, and the historian. If we could only learn to look on evil as evil, whether it’s clothed in filth or monotony or magnificence.”

“The End of Many Things”.

Rosalind: “I’m sure God loves us—”
Amory: “He loves you. You’re his most precious possession”.
Rosalind: I’m not his, I’m yours. Amory, I belong to you”.

”A Little Interlude”.

–“Well—I’m not afraid of the dark, so I put on my slicker and rubber boots and came out. You see I was always afraid, before, to say I didn’t believe in God—because the lightning might strike me—but here I am and it hasn’t, of course, but the main point is that this time I wasn’t any more afraid of it than I had been when I was a Christian Scientist, like I was last year. So now I know I’m a materialist and I was fraternizing with the hay when you came out and stood by the woods, scared to death.”
— “Why, you little wretch—” cried Amory indignantly. “Scared of what?”
–“Yourself!” she shouted, and he jumped. She clapped her hands and laughed. “See—see! Conscience—kill it like me! Eleanor Savage, materiologist—no jumping, no starting, come early—”
–“But I have to have a soul,” he objected. “I can’t be rational—and I won’t be molecular.”
She leaned toward him, her burning eyes never leaving his own and whispered with a sort of romantic finality:
-“I thought so, Juan, I feared so—you’re sentimental. You’re not like me. I’m a romantic little materialist.”
–“I’m not sentimental—I’m as romantic as you are. The idea, you know, is that the sentimental person thinks things will last—the romantic person has a desperate confidence that they won’t.” (This was an ancient distinction of Amory’s.)
— “Epigrams. I’m going home,” she said sadly. “Let’s get off the haystack and walk to the cross-roads.”
“Young Irony”.

With her his imagination ran riot and that is why they rode to the highest hill and watched an evil moon ride high, for they knew then that they could see the devil in each other.
“Young Irony”.

“You little devil,” Amory growled. “You’re going to make me stay up all night and sleep in the train like an immigrant all day tomorrow, going back to New York.”
“The End of Summer”

And Monsignor, upon whom a cardinal rested, had moments of strange and horrible insecurity—inexplicable in a religion that explained even disbelief in terms of its own faith: if you doubted the devil it was the devil that made you doubt him.
“Still Weeding”.

“His wife shoos him on, from ten thousand a year to twenty thousand a year, on and on, in an enclosed treadmill that hasn’t any windows. He’s done! Life’s got him! He’s a spiritually married man”.
“Amory Coins a Phrase”.

“Opposed is the man who, being spiritually unmarried, continually seeks for new systems that will control or counteract human nature. His problem is harder. It is not life that’s complicated, it’s the struggle to guide and control life. That is his struggle. He is a part of progress—the spiritually married man is not.”
— “Amory Coins a Phrase”

Q.—Are you corrupt?
A.—I think so. I’m not sure. I’m not sure about good and evil at all any more.

“The Egotist Becomes a Personage”.

The problem of evil had solidified for Amory into the problem of sex. He was beginning to identify evil with the strong phallic worship in Brooke and the early Wells. Inseparably linked with evil was beauty—beauty, still a constant rising tumult; soft in Eleanor’s voice, in an old song at night, rioting deliriously through life like superimposed waterfalls, half rhythm, half darkness. Amory knew that every time he had reached toward it longingly it had leered out at him with the grotesque face of evil. Beauty of great art, beauty of all joy, most of all the beauty of women.
“Out of the Fire, Out of the Little Room”.


Amory believed in and feared ghosts, though not as much as he feared the devil. His friends Alec and Burne also believe in ghosts, but they had devised efficient, Protestant means of neutralizing them. Fitzgerald also uses ghosts as a metaphor, standing for any kind of sensed presence that could not quite be known or described, and it is not always possible to be sure which sort of ghost is present in any given passage of This Side of Paradise.

The great tapestries of trees had darkened to ghosts back at the last edge of twilight… Amory closed his eyes as the ghostly procession drew near.
Spires and Gargoyles”

Figures that dotted the day like ants now brushed along as shadowy ghosts.
A Damp Symbolic Interlude”

He had the ghost of two stanzas of a poem forming in his mind
“Under the Arc-light”

..and like a sombre background lay that incident of the spring before, that filled half his nights with a dreary terror and made him unable to pray He was not even a Catholic, yet that was the only ghost of a code that he had, the gaudy, ritualistic, paradoxical Catholicism whose prophet was Chesterton, whose claqueurs were such reformed rakes of literature as Huysmans and Bourget, whose American sponsor was Ralph Adams Cram, with his adulation of thirteenth-century cathedrals — a Catholicism which Amory found convenient and ready- made, without priest or sacraments or sacrifice.
Narcissus off-duty”

“Well, I began analyzing it — my imagination persisted in sticking horrors into the dark — so I stuck my imagination into the dark instead, and let it look out at me — I let it play stray dog or escaped convict or ghost, and then saw myself coming along the road. … and like a sombre background lay that incident…the ghost I wouldn’t be a menace to Burne Holiday any more than he was a menace to me”.
“Narcissus off-duty”

“Ghosts are such dumb things,” said Alec, “they’re slow-witted. I can always outguess a ghost.”
“How?” asked Tom.
“Well, it depends where. Take a bedroom, for example. If you use any discretion a ghost can never get you in a bedroom.”
“Go on, s’pose you think there’s maybe a ghost in your bedroom — what measures do you take on getting home at night?” demanded Amory, interested. ….
“Oh, Amory, no!” cried Alec in horror. “That isn’t the way — the bed requires different tactics — let the bed alone, as you value your reason — if there is a ghost in the room and that’s only about a third of the time, it is almost always under the bed……
— You stand in the middle of the floor and before he knows what you’re going to do make a sudden leap for the bed — never walk near the bed; to a ghost your ankle is your most vulnerable part — once in bed, you’re safe; he may lie around under the bed all night, but you’re safe as daylight. If you still have doubts pull the blanket over your head.”
Still Calm”

. The grass is full of ghosts to-night… the ghosts of evening tune again their lyres and wander singing in a plaintive band down the long corridors of trees.
“Amory is Resentful”

A column of dim gray,
And ghosts rose startled at the muffled beat
Along the moonless way

Embarking at Night”

“But listen, Amory you’re making yourself sick. You’re white as a ghost.
“Experiments in Convalescence”

Our thoughts were frosty mist along the eaves; our two ghosts kissed.
“Looking backward”

Afterward their ghosts played, yet both of them hoped from their souls never to meet. Was it the infinite sadness of her eyes that drew him or the mirror of himself that he found in the gorgeous clarity of her mind? She will have no other adventure like Amory, and if she reads this she will say: “And Amory will have no other adventure like me.”
“Young Irony”

Not even silence,
When we’ve met,
Will give old ghosts a waste to roam,
Or stir the surface of the sea…
If gray shapes drift beneath the foam
We shall not see.
“Young Irony”

A passing storm decided to break out, and to his great impatience the sky grew black as pitch and the rain began to splatter down through the trees, become suddenly furtive and ghostly.
Young Irony”

The storm was dying down softly and only the wind kept up its ghostly surge and made the stack lean and gravely settle from side to side.
Young Irony”

His paganism soared that night and when she faded out like a gray ghost down the road, a deep singing came out of the fields and filled his way homeward.
“Young Irony”

“Isn’t it ghostly here? If you can hold your horse’s feet up, let’s cut through the woods and find the hidden pools.”
The End of Summer”

*Pale as a dream and shadowed with pencilled trees —
Ghosts of the stars came by who had sought for glory …
Drawing us back to the home in the changing glade?
What leered out of the dark in the ghostly clover?

“A Poem that Eleanor Sent Amory Several Years Later”

The wet salt breeze filled his hair with moisture, the rim of a moon seared the sky and made the curtains dim and ghostly.
The Supercilious Sacrifice”

*What ghosts were people with which to work! Even the little man insisted on shaking hands.
The Little Man Gets His”

There was a dusky, dreamy smell of flowers and the ghost of a new moon in the sky and shadows everywhere.

“Out of the Fire, Out of the Little Room”


To Amory and several of his lovers, human interactions (especially romantic interactions) are normally stagy, manipulative, and adversarial, and in every relationship one or both parties are calculating the effect on the audience. The narcissist / egotist / solipsist requires an audience and cannot bear to be alone, and the two members of a couple are competitors, each trying to turn the other into a mirror of himself or herself. Nonetheless, Amory’s most intense relationships are with his fellow narcissists and poseurs, because they (unlike “people”) know what the game is that’s being played.

“Don’t worry about that; for you not posing may be the biggest pose of all” (Monsignor Darcy, to Amory).
“First Appearance of the Term ‘Personage”

The idea that the girl was poverty-stricken appealed to his sense of situation.

[Amory] considered his own uniqueness sufficient, and it rather embarrassed him when [Clara] tried to read new interests into him for the benefit of what other adorers were present. He felt as if a polite but insistent stage-manager were attempting to make him give a new interpretation of a part he had conned for years.

She goes up to the mirror and starts to dance in front of it on the soft carpet. She watches not her feet, but her eyes — never casually but always intently, even when she smiles.
“The Debutante”.

ROSALIND: “Now — if I were poor I’d go on the stage.”
CECELIA [her little sister]: “Yes, you might as well get paid for the amount of acting you do.”

“The Debutante”.

ROSALIND (with an air of faint roguishness): Don’t look so consciously suffering.
“Five Weeks Later”.

“Why shouldn’t you be bored?,” yawned Tom.”Isn’t that the conventional frame of mind for the young man of your age and condition”.

“He didn’t feel like a character in a play, the appropriate feeling in an unconventional situation — instead, he had a sense of coming home”.
“Young Irony”.

“To some extent Amory tried to play Rupert Brooke as long as he knew Eleanor”.

“Of course, you’re right,” Amory agreed. “[Love] is a rather unpleasant overpowering force that’s part of the machinery under everything. It’s like an actor that lets you see his mechanics”.
“The End of Summer”.

Mirrors, Narcissism, and Vanity

Amory / Scott was the paramount narcissist, but there were competing narcissists in his life. For all of them, love was the contention of narcissisms. For a time Amory’s narcissism / egotism pretended to be a version of the Nietzschean superman, for whom “people” were merely objects to control, defeat, or ignore. Like his other poses, however, his Nietzschean pose is consistently ruined by his wavering. Amory’s solipsism makes him lonely, and whenever he succeeds in turning someone into his mirror, his loneliness intensifies. Only those who resist (Clara, Rosalind, and Eleanor) gave him a world; but these relationships always fail.

Amory wondered how people could fail to notice that he was a boy marked for glory.
“Snapshots of the Young Egotist”.

With a dread of being alone he attached a few friends, but since they were not among the elite of the school, he used them simply as mirrors of himself.
“Amory, Son of Beatrice”.

Amory became furiously embarrassed, and after that made epigrams only before D’Invilliers or a convenient mirror.
“Spires and Gargoyles”.

Isabelle started toward the dressing-room for a last peek in the mirror, but something decided her to stand there and gaze down the broad stairs of the Minnehaha Club.

–“Am I painfully conceited?”
–Well—no, you have tremendous vanity, but it’ll amuse the people who notice its preponderance.”
(Clara to Amory).
“St. Cecilia”

CECELIA: I’ve got it! ( She sees herself in the mirror of the dressing-table and commences to shimmy enthusiastically.)
“The Debutante”

ROSALIND goes to the glass where she gazes at herself with great satisfaction. She kisses her hand and touches her mirrored mouth with it.
“The Debutante”.

CECELIA. She goes to the chiffonier, looks in the drawers, hesitates—then to the desk whence she takes the cigarette-case and extracts one. She lights it and then, puffing and blowing, walks toward the mirror.)
“The Debutante”.

AMORY: Oh, yes—her name was Isabelle—nothing at all to her except what I read into her.
“Several Hours Later”.

Amory considered the question. He tried to look at himself in the mirror, but even by squinting up one eye could only see as far as the row of bottles behind the bar.
“Experiments in Convalescence.

The first thing that met his glance was a photograph of Rosalind that he had intended to have framed, propped up against a mirror on his dresser.
“A Little Lull”

He had later love-affairs, but of a different sort: in those he went back to that, perhaps, more typical frame of mind, in which the girl became the mirror of a mood in him.
“Temperature Normal”.

Was it the infinite sadness of her eyes that drew him or the mirror of himself that he found in the gorgeous clarity of her mind?
“Young Irony”.

But as Amory had loved himself in Eleanor, so now what he hated was only a mirror. Their poses were strewn about the pale dawn like broken glass. The stars were long gone and there were left only the little sighing gusts of wind and the silences between … but naked souls are poor things ever, and soon he turned homeward and let new lights come in with the sun.
“The End of Summer”.


Imagination is our only weapon in the war against reality.
Theophile Gautier

Imagination is Amory’s difference, and the reason for his wavering. It can make him see things not only for what they are but for what they are not, for what they might be, and for what they might have been. His relationship with Eleanor is pure imagination on both sides, a joint fiction. It is his imagination that makes him fear ghosts and the dark and makes him think he has seen the devil in the flesh.

His schools teach him how to suppress his imagination, and he learns to put on an amusing false front. His sensible friends Burne Holiday and Alec Connage both teach him techniques for suppressing imaginary ghosts, and his chaste cousin Clara seems to have found a way to integrate imagination into normality, or suppress it, but this method is inaccessible to Amory because it would keep him from becoming a writer. In the end a series of disasters and failures liberate Amory and his imagination, and he stands naked to the world.

That had been his nearest approach to success through conformity. The fundamental Amory, idle, imaginative, rebellious, had been nearly snowed under. He had conformed, he had succeeded, but as his imagination was neither satisfied nor grasped by his own success, he had listlessly, half-accidentally chucked the whole thing and become again the fundamental Amory.

There was a minute while temptation crept over him like a warm wind, and his imagination turned to fire, and he took the glass from Phoebe’s hand.
“The Devil”.

“Any person with any imagination is bound to be afraid,” said Burne earnestly. “And this very walking at night is one of the things I was afraid about. I’m going to tell you why I can walk anywhere now and not be afraid.”
“Narcissus off duty”.

“Well, I began analyzing it—my imagination persisted in sticking horrors into the dark—so I stuck my imagination into the dark instead, and let it look out at me—I let it play stray dog or escaped convict or ghost, and then saw myself coming along the road.”
“Narcissus off duty”.

She could do the most prosy things (though she was wise enough never to stultify herself with such “household arts” as knitting and embroidery), yet immediately afterward pick up a book and let her imagination rove as a formless cloud with the wind.

–“You’re a slave, a bound helpless slave to one thing in the world, your imagination.”
–“You certainly interest me. If this isn’t boring you, go on.”
–“I notice that when you want to stay over an extra day from college you go about it in a sure way. You never decide at first while the merits of going or staying are fairly clear in your mind. You let your imagination shinny on the side of your desires for a few hours, and then you decide. Naturally your imagination, after a little freedom, thinks up a million reasons why you should stay, so your decision when it comes isn’t true. It’s biased.”
–“Yes,” objected Amory, “but isn’t it lack of will-power to let my imagination shinny on the wrong side?”
–“My dear boy, there’s your big mistake. This has nothing to do with will-power; that’s a crazy, useless, word anyway. You lack judgment — the judgment to decide at once when you know your imagination will play you false, given half a chance”,
“St. Cecilia”.

With her his imagination ran riot and that is why they rode to the highest hill and watched an evil moon ride high, for they knew then that they could see the devil in each other.
“Young Irony”.

When Eleanor’s arm touched his he felt his hands grow cold with deadly fear lest he should lose the shadow brush with which his imagination was painting wonders of her.
“Young Irony”.

He could, as always, run through the emotions in a half hour, but even while they reveled in their imaginations, he knew that neither of them could care as he had cared once before—I suppose that was why they turned to Brooke, and Swinburne, and Shelley. Their chance was to make everything fine and finished and rich and imaginative; they must bend tiny golden tentacles from his imagination to hers, that would take the place of the great, deep love that was never so near, yet never so much of a dream.

Never again could he find even the sombre luxury of wanting her—not this Rosalind, harder, older—nor any beaten, broken woman that his imagination brought to the door of his forties—Amory had wanted her youth, the fresh radiance of her mind and body, the stuff that she was selling now once and for all. So far as he was concerned, young Rosalind was dead.
“Collapse of Several Pillars”.

“Philistines”, “Pharisees”, and “Bourgeois

“Bourgeois”, in France, means roughly the same as philistine in Germany,
and it means everyone, whatever his position, who is not initiated
in the arts or doesn’t understand them.

Théophile Gautier
Le Moniteur universel, Dec. 31, 1855.

It wasn’t the medieval burghers or the industrial bourgeoisie of Marx that Beatrice and Amory feared and hated, but the tasteless bourgeoisie rejected by the French Romantics and decadents. Bourgeois-hatred had become a thing around 1830, and Amory and his mother were part of a 90-year tradition. Mencken bewailed the “monotonously bourgeois” nature of American vice, and in St Paul Minnesota, Archbishop Ireland , whose church was not far from the Fitzgerald residence, was accused of making Catholicism bourgeois and Protestant, greatly displeasing Amory’s mother.

Often she deplored the bourgeois quality of the American Catholic clergy, and was quite sure that had she lived in the shadow of the great Continental cathedrals her soul would still be a thin flame on the mighty altar of Rome.
“Amory, Son of Beatrice”.

–“Tell me about you, Amory. Did you have two horrible years?”
Amory considered lying, and then decided against it.
–“No, Beatrice. I enjoyed them. I adapted myself to the bourgeoisie.

“Amory, Son of Beatrice”

“Oh, it isn’t that I mind the glittering caste system,” admitted Amory. “I like having a bunch of hot cats on top, but gosh, Kerry, I’ve got to be one of them.”
“But just now, Amory, you’re only a sweaty bourgeois.”
“Spires and Gargoyles”.

D’Invilliers was partially taken in and wholly delighted. In a good-natured way he had almost decided that Princeton was one part deadly Philistines and one part deadly grinds, and to find a person who could mention Keats without stammering, yet evidently washed his hands, was rather a treat.
“Spires and Gargoyles”.

Together with Tom D’Invilliers, he sought among the lights of Princeton for some one who might found the Great American Poetic Tradition. The undergraduate body itself was rather more interesting that year than had been the entirely Philistine Princeton of two years before.
“First Appearance of the Term ‘Personage’”.

“It’s odd,” Amory said to Tom one night when they had grown more amicable on the subject, “that the people who violently disapprove of Burne’s radicalism are distinctly the Pharisee class—I mean they’re the best-educated men in college—the editors of the papers, like yourself and Ferrenby, the younger professors…. The illiterate athletes like Langueduc think he’s getting eccentric, but they just say, ‘Good old Burne has got some queer ideas in his head,’ and pass on. The Pharisee class—Gee! they ridicule him unmercifully.”
“Narcissus Off Duty”.

…and of course there were the ever-present prig and Pharisee—(but Amory never included them as being among the saved.

“The reason you have so little real self-confidence, even though you gravely announce to the occasional philistine that you think you’re a genius, is that you’ve attributed all sort of atrocious faults to yourself and are trying to live up to them”
“St. Cecilia”.

Amory had seen Monsignor go to the houses of stolid philistines, read popular novels furiously, saturate himself in routine, to escape from that horror.
“Still Weeding”.


As aristocrats, egotists, narcissists, and decadents, Rosalind and Amory share an aversion to what they call “people”, and they separate themselves from them to the extent that they can. “People” can mean your family, conventional public opinion, gossip, the working class and the poor, boring people you can’t really talk to, the audience you are playing to, the inept performers you are criticizing, or human objects you preach to / manipulate / project yourself on. “People” are the Other, the They, the Them, the objectifiers and the objectified — everyone who can be dismissively reduced to a category.

And yet, in moments of crisis Amory’s decadence slips and he needs people (“simple and sane and honest and good“) and wants to give them security as Msgr. Darcy gave others security. But he knew that “people” are absolutely not us.

Vanity, tempered with self-suspicion if not self-knowledge, a sense of people as automatons to his will, a desire to “pass” as many boys as possible and get to a vague top of the world… with this background did Amory drift into adolescence.
“Code of the Young Egotist”.

Either your eyes were opened to the mean scrambling quality of people, or you’d have gone through blind.

He pitched onto the bed and rolled over on his face with a deadly fear that he was going mad. He wanted people, people, someone sane and stupid and good. 
“At the Window”.

–“It’s a bad time to admit it—people are beginning to think he’s odd.”
–“He’s way over their heads—you know you think so yourself when you talk to him—Good Lord, Tom, you used to stand out against ‘people’. Success has completely conventionalized you.”

“Narcissus off Duty”.

HE: “Shall we pretend? So soon?”
SHE: “We haven’t the same standards of time as other people”.
HE: “Already it’s — other people”.

“The Debutante”.

ROSALIND: He’s too much people.
AMORY: I was in love with a people once.
“Several Hours Later”.

ROSALIND: “I want to belong to you. I want your people to be my people”. I want to have your babies”.
AMORY: “But I haven’t any people”.

“A Little Interlude”.

Amory was finding it a great relief to be in this cool house on Riverside Drive, away from more condensed New York and the sense of people expelling great quantities of breath into a little space
“Temperature Normal”

… at worst a squalid phantasmagoria of breath, and old cloth on human bodies and the smells of the food men ate—at best just people—too hot or too cold, tired, worried.
“The Egotist Becomes a Personage” .

O. Henry had found in these people romance, pathos, love, hate—Amory saw only coarseness, physical filth, and stupidity.
“The Egoist Becomes a Personage”

He was ashamed of the fact that very simple and honest people usually distrusted him; that he had been cruel, often, to those who had sunk their personalities in him— several girls, and a man here and there through college, that he had been an evil influence on; people who had followed him here and there into mental adventures from which he alone rebounded unscathed.
“In the Drooping Hours”

He found something that he wanted, had always wanted and always would want—not to be admired, as he had feared; not to be loved, as he had made himself believe; but to be necessary to people, to be indispensable; he remembered the sense of security he had found in Burne.

…so that Mrs. Newspaper, Mrs. Magazine, Mrs. Weekly can have a better limousine than those oil people across the street or those cement people ‘round the corner.”
“Amory coins a phrase”.

Aromas, scents, odors, stinks, immigrants

Amory was highly responsive to odors and dreamed of basking on a scented tropical isle, and could instantly sniff out evil, immigrants, and Bohemians.

He heard from below the shrieks of laughter, and smelled the vapid odor of hot chocolate and tea-cakes.
“A Kiss For Amory”.

The minutes passed and Amory sat there very quietly. He regretted the rule that would forbid freshmen to be outdoors after curfew, for he wanted to ramble through the shadowy scented lanes.
“Spires and Gargoyles”.

What an ironic mockery the morning seemed!—bright and sunny, and full of the smell of the garden; hearing Mrs. Borge’s voice in the sun-parlor below, he wondered where Isabelle was.
“The Egotist Considers”.

But Amory was beyond that now; he turned off the street and darted into an alley, narrow and dark and smelling of old rottenness. He twisted down a long, sinuous blackness…..
“In the Alley”

Back at the hotel he felt better, but as he walked into the barber-shop, intending to get a head massage, the smell of the powders and tonics brought back Axia’s sidelong, suggestive smile, and he left hurriedly… The car, a smoker, was hot and stuffy with most of the smells of the state’s alien population; he opened a window and shivered against the cloud of fog that drifted in over him.
“At the Window”

Amory was finding it a great relief to be in this cool house on Riverside Drive, away from more condensed New York and the sense of people expelling great quantities of breath into a little space.
“Temperature Normal”

– “But think of the cheapness of it—no one’s really going to martyr you for being a pacifist—it’s just going to throw you in with the worst—”
–“I doubt it,” he interrupted.
–“Well, it all smells of Bohemian New York to me.”

“Amory is Resentful”.

The berths across from him were occupied with stinking aliens — Greeks, he guessed, or Russians. He thought how much easier patriotism had been to a homogeneous race, how much easier it would have been to fight as the Colonies fought, or as the Confederacy fought. And he did no sleeping that night, but listened to the aliens guffaw and snore while they filled the car with the heavy scent of latest America.
“Amory is Resentful”.

Beauty means the scent of roses and then the death of roses—
“Bitter Sweet”.

Amory paced the board  walk at day’s end, lulled by the everlasting surge of changing waves, smelling the half-mournful odor of the salt breeze.
The Superciious Sacrifice”.

…. a dense, strolling mass that depressed him with its heavy odor compounded of the tobacco smell of the men and the fetid sensuousness of stale powder on women……The rain gave Amory a feeling of  detachment, and the numerous unpleasant aspects of city life without money occurred to him in threatening procession. There was the ghastly, stinking crush of the subway.… at worst a squalid phantasmagoria of breath, and old cloth on human bodies and the smells of the food men ate—at best just people—too hot or too cold, tired, worried.
“The Egotist Becomes a Personage”

He remembered one day in the subway when a delivery boy had brought in a great funeral wreath of fresh flowers, how the smell of it had suddenly cleared the air and given every one in the car a momentary glow.
“The Egotist Becomes a Personage”

The hulls of many boats in various stages of repair were around him; he smelled sawdust and paint and the scarcely  distinguishable fiat odor of the Hudson.
“In the Drooping Hours”.

There were so many places where one might deteriorate pleasantly: Port Said, Shanghai, parts of Turkestan, Constantinople, the South Seas—all lands of sad, haunting music and many odors….
“In the Drooping Hours”.

Once he had been miraculously able to scent evil as a horse detects a broken bridge at night, but the man with the queer feet in Phoebe’s room had diminished to the aura over Jill. His instinct perceived the fetidness of poverty, but no longer ferreted out the deeper evils in pride and sensuality.
“Still Weeding”

“What are you,” asked the big man, “one of these parlor Bolsheviks, one of these idealists? I must say I fail to see the difference. The idealists loaf around and write the stuff that stirs up the poor immigrants.”
“The Big Man with Goggles”

There was a dusky, dreamy smell of flowers and the ghost of a new moon in the sky and shadows everywhere.
“ ‘Out of the Fire, Out of the Little Room’ ”.


This Side of Paradise is riddled with success, and Fitzgerald’s books have been permanently embedded in the American mythology of success / failure. (Hugh Hefner modeled the Playboy Lifestyle on The Great Gatsby, and recent Fitzgerald movies have had the effect of celebrating lifeways that fascinated but ultimately repelled Fitzgerald). America is for the successful, as Melville already knew before the Civil War, and even though the successful are mostly bourgeois Philistines and Pharisees, none of Fitzgerald’s characters ever get out from under the shadow of success. Zelda was Scott’s success, as he was hers; sex and alcohol only played a supporting role in ruining them. But Fitzgerald wavered. He had read Veblen and James and saw the bitch goddess for what she was, but life got him.

His father, an ineffectual, inarticulate man with a taste for Byron and a habit of drowsing over the Encyclopedia Britannica, grew wealthy at thirty through the death of two elder brothers, successful Chicago brokers….
“Amory, Son of Beatrice”.

Taft and Hotchkiss, which prepared the wealth of the Middle West for social success at Yale.
“Preparatory to the Great Adventure”.

From the scoffing superiority of sixth-form year and success Amory looked back with cynical wonder on his status of the year before.
“Philosophy of the Slicker”.

The slicker was a definite element of success, differing intrinsically from the prep school “big man.”
“Philosophy of the Slicker”.

He let the first term go by between an envy of the embryo successes and a puzzled fretting with Kerry as to why they were not accepted immediately among the elite of the class.
“Spires and Gargoyles”.

It is also a tradition that the members are invariably successful in later life, amassing fortunes or votes or coupons or whatever they choose to amass.
“Ha-Ha Hortense”.

The minor snobs, finely balanced thermometers of success, warmed to him as the club elections grew nigh….

Somehow, with the defection of Isabelle the idea of undergraduate success had loosed its grasp on his imagination.
“The Superman Grows Careless”.

He had conformed, he had succeeded, but as his imagination was neither satisfied nor grasped by his own success, he had listlessly, half-accidentally chucked the whole thing and become again:
6. The fundamental Amory.

This has given you time to think and you’re casting off a lot of your old luggage about success and the superman and all.
“First Appearance of the Term ‘Personage’”.

I know you don’t think much of that august body, but it does represent success here in a general way.
“Narcissus Off Duty”

— “I tell you,” Amory declared to Tom, “he’s the first contemporary I’ve ever met whom I’ll admit is my superior in mental capacity.”
— “It’s a bad time to admit it—people are beginning to think he’s odd.”
— “He’s way over their heads—you know you think so yourself when you talk to him—Good Lord, Tom, you used to stand out against ‘people.’ Success has completely conventionalized you.”

“Narcissus off Duty”.

(Enter DAWSON RYDER, twenty-six, handsome, wealthy, faithful to his own, a bore perhaps, but steady and sure of success.)
“The Debutante”.

“Sometimes I think that with both of us the secret of success, when we find it, is the mystical element in us: something flows into us that enlarges our personalities, and when it ebbs out our personalities shrink….
“Another Ending”.

Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to 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; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken…..
”The Egotist Becomes a Personage”.


“You are ‘the man’, you told me, you know, at the beginning of our
conversation ‘who has made America Younger-Generation-conscious’.
Did you realize, when you used that expression, that you had dropped
into the language of advertising?”
 — Edmund Wilson, in Kazin, p. 62.

In traditional societies the younger generations are merely preparing to step into the shoes of their parents, but progressives and decadents believed that history has a direction and that each generation is different from the one before. Amory starts by assuming a world in decline, the response to which might be either decadent acceptance or progressive resistance, but at the very end he wonders whether he hasn’t just been part of the traditional repeating cycle of lost hope: Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds…..

Amory is uncertain about his own generation and his relationship to it (though he pretends to speak for it to the big man with goggles), and both Fitzgerald and Amory seems to have thought of the Jazz Age as the generation following their own.

In life these things hadn’t happened yet, but I was pretty sure living wasn’t the reckless, careless business these people thought — this generation just younger than me. For my point of vantage was the dividing line between generations, and there I sat — somewhat self-consciously.
The Crack-Up, p. 87.

Amory thought how superficial was the recent overlay of his own generation.
“Preparatory to the Great Adventure”.

“To impart a Thorough Mental, Moral, and Physical Training as a Christian Gentleman, to fit the boy for meeting the problems of his day and generation, and to give a solid foundation in the Arts and Sciences.”
“Preparatory to the Great Adventure”.

But the trumpets were sounding for Amory’s preliminary skirmish with his own generation.
“Preparatory to the Great Adventure”

Somehow Amory’s dissatisfaction with his lack of enthusiasm culminated in an attempt to put the blame for the whole war on the ancestors of his generation ….. So he sat one day in an English lecture and heard “Locksley Hall” quoted and fell into a brown study with contempt for Tennyson and all he stood for—for he took him as a representative of the Victorians.
“Amory is Resentful”.

“And what we leave here is more than this class; it’s the whole heritage of youth. We’re just one generation—we’re breaking all the links that seemed to bind us here to top-booted and high-stocked generations. We’ve walked arm and arm with Burr and Light-Horse Harry Lee through half these deep-blue nights.” 
“The End of Many Things”.

This is the end of one thing: for better or worse you will never again be quite the Amory Blaine that I knew, never again will we meet as we have met, because your generation is growing hard, much harder than mine ever grew, nourished as they were on the stuff of the nineties. 
“A letter dated January 1918”.

For the second time in his life Amory had had a complete bouleversement and was hurrying into line with his generation.
“Several Hours Later”.

–“Well,” Amory considered, “I’m not sure that the war itself had any great effect on either you or me—but it certainly ruined the old backgrounds, sort of killed individualism out of our generation.”

Amory based his loss of faith in help from others on several sweeping syllogisms. Granted that his generation, however bruised and decimated from this Victorian war, were the heirs of progress. Waving aside petty differences of conclusions which, although they might occasionally cause the deaths of several millions of young men, might be explained away—supposing that after all Bernard Shaw and Bernhardi, Bonar Law and Bethmann-Hollweg were mutual heirs of progress if only in agreeing against the ducking of witches—waiving the antitheses and approaching individually these men who seemed to be the leaders, he was repelled by the discrepancies and contradictions in the men themselves.
“Still Weeding”.

Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to 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; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faith in man shaken.
“The Egotist Becomes a Personage”.