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MANICHAEAN
08-13-2013, 12:23 AM
“This Side of Paradise” by Scott Fitzgerald.

Let’s start with the story and its structure. It’s the tale of Amory Blaine, a young mid-Westerner who believes he will achieve extraordinary success in life. He goes to boarding school and then to university, falls in and out of love, drinks too much, tries to write, goes to war, works briefly in an advertising agency and endlessly philosophizes alone and with his friends. Amory is a handsome, charismatic, intelligent, and insecure boy who grows up to be a handsome, charismatic, intelligent, and insecure man.

The novel was written when the author was only twenty-three years old and perhaps it shows, as sometimes it’s as if Fitzgerald is writing about writing before he knows how to write. It's not what I would call a great book but it's a sincere book. You can tell he put everything he had into it; his life, loves, poetry, every idea, every experience--he crammed it all in. A lot of it doesn't fit together. Not all of it is interesting but the saving grace is that behind it all there's this exuberance and passion.

There is a rambling structure; Amory met this girl, made this friend, met this new girl etc. This surprised me, as two of the main elements of “The Great Gatsby” are its concise plot and thematic unity. Apparently Fitzgerald figured that out later.

If the novel is to be read as a barely concealed biography of a young F. S. Fitzgerald, it makes the read so much more intimate. Fitzgerald's ego and his insecurities, his relationship with his wife Zelda, his desire for success, and the cynicism of the age are all there in the text.

Literary novels with a male protagonist are however hard sells, (even at that time,) and the problem with using a bright, young man as a protagonist is that bright young men can be tedious.

What’s needed in a literary male protagonist is a delicate balance of sensitivity and strength that we don’t normally see in the real world. Thus most of Hemingway's male leads were war veterans or soldiers or, in the case of “The Old Man and the Sea,” handicapped with age. Other ways to get around the unsympathetic male protagonist is with pure youth e.g. Catcher in the Rye, or by insanity as in Captain Ahab in Moby Dick.

Where Fitzgerald succeeds is with his execution of the class snobbery factor (something that he wasted no time in establishing in The Great Gatsby). Armory Blaine is sensitive and weak in many ways—for example his vanity—but since he is a Princeton student and literary scholar, we know he also has dominance.

Leaving aside these flaws in plot and structure, Fitzgerald’s’ descriptions and his flow are so beautifully executed that it takes some of the attention away from a non-active story. He knows how to manipulate language, and we see that he is a talented writer. In fact he has the uncanny ability to be witty, observant, and uniquely descriptive at one and the same time.

Some people, (particularly young people) don't know what to do with their lives, and one might argue that the rich are different from the rest of us. In “This Side of Paradise,” the Egotist steps into the labyrinth of the rest of his life and realizes he knows himself and nothing else.

Or as an emerging young American would put it,

“Where now he realized only his own inconsequence, effort would make him aware of his own impotency and insufficiency.”