Paul D Menges
Professors McGrath & Spedaliere
LITR 221: American Literature since the Civil War
March 22, 2015
Amory Blaine: Quintessentially American
Amory Blaine is introduced as a “romantic egoist,” whose narcissism remains a core character trait. Even if only based on his frivolity and life of riley, Amory would be a quintessentially American hero. Yet there is more to Amory’s American spirit than mere egoism. A contemporaneous reviewer in the 1920 The New York Times notes that Amory is “doing just what hundreds of thousands of young men are doing in colleges all over the country,” which is, not taking life too seriously and engaging in lively affairs and parties (“With College Men”). The 1920s were roaring boom years for the nation, and especially its upper middle class youth like Amory. Furthermore, Amory embodies a “glorious spirit of abounding youth,” and somewhat of a Peter Pan complex (“With College Men”). An increasing obsession with youth and a burgeoning youth culture do characterize the early decades of the twentieth century. Other features that make Amory Blaine uniquely American include his patriotic participation in the war effort, coupled with his sense of invincibility that derives at least in part from his never having to worry overly much about money. Amory also demonstrates the prevailing gender norms, shifting in light of the universal suffrage movement. His eternal freedom, his views toward work, his attitudes toward class and gender, his eternal youthfulness, and carefree attitude, and particularly his egotism combine to make Amory Blaine an “essentially American” character. Descriptions of his father in the opening chapters of This Side of Paradise show that Amory’s apple did not fall far from the tree. His father is described as “an ineffectual, inarticulate man with a taste for Byron and a habit of drowsing over the Encyclopedia Britannica,” (p. 1). The contrast between his “taste for Byron” and his being “inarticulate” reveal the many class-based fissures prevalent in American society during the 1920s. Later in the novel, characters like Rosalind Connage highlight the fact that some Americans might still cultivate social hierarchies, but Amory’s world is one in which social class is self-determined. After all, Amory’s father did not grow wealthy from his own labors, but rather, inherited money from his brothers. Amory’s mother came from a wealthy background herself. As a result, Amory grew up in an atmosphere that taught that money might grow on trees, and that social class is only what one makes of it. As The New York Times reviewer put it, “Amory Blaine has a well-to-do father and a mother who lives the somewhat idle, luxurious life of a matron who has never known the pinch of even economy, much less of poverty, and the boy is the creature of his environment.” Thus, when Amory decides he will attend Princeton, it is not as if he has any bold or sweeping dreams for his future. He simply wants to have fun. Princeton turns out to be the ideal collegiate environment for the young man. Its campus life is characterized by its “riotous gayety, its superficial vices, and its punctilious sense of honor,” (“With College Men”). By the 1920s, the United States had cultivated an image of itself as being invincible. Budding imperialistic tendencies, the campaigns of Theodore Roosevelt and the Spanish-American War, and other contextual variables would have impacted Amory’s own psyche. His ongoing egoism reflected the character of his birth nation. Likewise, Amory’s sense of self-importance and invincibility mirrored those traits in the United States. When Amory does not receive the accolades at Princeton he feels he deserves, instead of working harder, he simply quits. Amory reflects on his time at Princeton not in terms of how his education might enrich his soul or improve his ability to contribute to humanity. Instead, he muses on what good his education did for his ego. “He had conformed, he had...
Cited: Fitzgerald, F. Scott. This Side of Paradise. Digital Copy: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/805/805-h/805-h.htm#link2HCH0003
West, James L. “The Question of Vocation in This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Dammed.” Chapter 3 in The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Ruth Prigozy. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
“With College Men.” The New York Times. 9 May, 1920. Retrieved online: http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/12/24/specials/fitzgerald-paradise.html
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