Sunday, May 31, 2009

What Side of Paradise are You on?

Yet another late post, this time on F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald is of course best known for his examination of the American dream in The Great Gatsby, but this novel, his first, is the one that actually thrust him onto the scene of American literature. One of the things that first comes to my mind is the fact that Fitzgerald belongs to that group of American writers considered, thanks to Gertrude Stein, the "lost generation." After reading This Side of Paradise, that description seems particularly fitting as Amory acts as a representative figure of this "lost" concept given the sense of disconnect and alienation between Amory and essentially the rest of the world. In many ways Amory may be seen as representative of many of the authors of the lost generation who were well read, well educated, and yet somehow adrift in the world they lived in. Amory's life of privilege, one many readers may look at with envy, in fact seems to do little to ground him. Instead, as he flits from place to place and often woman to woman, the most overwhelming feeling of his experience is that of emptiness. While Amory often comes across as the sort of character one either wants to throttle or simply abandon his story, in fact, minus the world travels and Ivy League education, could be that of countless other youth. The novel may best be read as the struggle of a person trying to find his way, something everyone must do at some point in life. Behind his facade of false and to me often annoying bravado is the overwhelming desire to fit in, revealing a lack of self-esteem that the exterior seeks to conceal. Hhmm, imagine art imitating life here...

One of the chief topics of discussion for this book was whether or not we like Amory. In some ways this may seem oh so unscholarly, but I think back to what I try to ingrain into my students, the fact that we should have an emotional response to literature. Otherwise, what's the point? However, rather than inciting us to action by exposing some injustice in the world around us, Amory perhaps forces us to look inward rather than outward. In response to this, a couple of the questions we examined were: Not only do we like him or not but do we praise him or agree with him? As some of my earlier comments show, I often grew weary of Amory, but there are at times redeeming qualities about him, such as when he takes the blame for a friend in the hotel room scene as well as his recurring thoughts on the death of his college cohorts in the war. At the end of the novel, readers are left with two possible options for Amory's life: he will either become a Darcy or a Beatrice. One road leads to redemption and the other to destruction, or at least the equivalent of such in the emotional/psychological sense if not the physical one.

One last thing we discussed was Fitzgerald's writing style. The text mimics Amory's own world view, as illustrated by certain sections, in which life is either a poem or a play. These ideas are supported by his attempts at writing poetry as well as the references to other poets as well as the portion written as play's script would appear on paper.

1 comment:

wordswordswords said...

Good job, Nancy. Just a quick add on to that last paragraph, one thing I think we all appreciated was the experimental nature of the novel. Mixing genres is like mixing alcohol: most of the time, it ends in vomit but sometimes it makes for a memorable experience. And I think Fitzgerald is poetic enough to where it works. It's not the greatest novel of all time, but it's worth examining from a writing style standpoint, especially for young, aspiring novelists.