Final Verdict: 3.0 out of 4.0
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.
This Side of Paradise is Fitzgerald’s first published work, and it shows. It comes across as a sort of announcement from Fitzgerald himself: “I am here. This is what I am about. You will love me and all the genius things I have to say.” Unfortunately, though the announcement and intent are clear, the story itself is rather disjointed, disconnected, and underwhelming. Amory Blaine is a spoiled brat who thinks incredibly highly of himself, and who condescends to everyone else (including his mother, who also thinks incredibly highly of him – the beginning of the problem). He comes from a wealthy family and he and his mother are essentially given all the money they want from Amory’s father, to keep them occupied, satisfied, and generally out of his way. The story is about Amory’s journey from boyhood onto prep school, college, and the military. While the story itself isn’t worth much, the book does live up to its reputation as a siren for the advent of Fitzgerald and a lighthouse beacon to the dawn of “The Lost Generation.” Much of what Fitzgerald writes about here is reshaped, reformed, and reworked by him in later works and by other authors of the period, whom Fitzgerald influences.
3 – Characters well-developed.
Although none of the characters are particularly likeable, they are developed in such a way as to be distinctive and purposeful. Amory Blaine’s spoiled narcissism is clearly a problem with the generation – a generation of children who grew up with married but estranged parents; husbands supporting their disillusioned wives’ every whims, to the detriment of the family unit; children shipped off to boarding schools with professions chosen for them long before they’re old enough to make decisions of their own. There is a blasé attitude about the church’s function in family affairs (although the minister himself is a rather charming intellectual, he is also insignificant in the grand scheme of things). Amory’s many girlfriends are further example of the interesting male-female dynamic. The women all come across bolder and more promiscuous than the men, though no one would ever admit it. Amory’s reaction to his first kiss is perhaps one of the most realistic moments in the book – excitement, shock, fear, self-doubt, anger. Typical teenage boy! Unfortunately, Amory never really grows out of that phase and, thanks to his relationship with his parents (and their horrendous example) he also never learns to respect women. They are trophies – he falls for very few women (they must be perfect) but when he does fall, he falls fast, hard, and in a near-suicidal way. Still, though he would appear utterly devoted to these girls, their real significance seems to be only in as much as they can inspire him creatively (and for how long they can stroke his ego).
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.
Fitzgerald was definitely flexing his literary muscles here. It is clear, though the story is a bit discombobulated, that Fitzgerald is bound to be a shining star in the literary world. There are certain moments – be it a phrase, a paragraph, or entire passages – where I can see Fitzgerald becoming what we later know he is. This is one of the most fascinating things about reading writers’ first works long after reading their later works. It is also fortunate that This Side of Paradise had such moments, because without the Fitzgerald name and without these examples of high-quality writing and craftsmanship within a rather dull story, it is possible that I would have given up on the book. I also enjoyed the few moments where Fitzgerald broke into political posturing a bit – indeed, there is a moment where I envisioned Fitzgerald writing in one corner of a room, with Ayn Rand in the other, and they are each violently scratching away at their own papers, espousingolar opposite ideals. I think Fitzgerald is putting himself to the test with this first book – he is finding out who he is, what he believes, and what he wants to say. The voyage is a bit shaky, but getting there is worth the trip.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.
The most interesting aspect of the novel is that it is the dawning of a new generation. This Side of Paradise was published just two years before T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and it is impossible not to draw comparisons. Following World War I, much art and literature was devoted to describing “The Lost Generation.” As Eliot’s poem is concerned with the emotional and spiritual stagnation or snuffing-out of western civilization (particularly the male population), so too is This Side of Paradise concerned with a people devoid of substance and without purpose or direction. Eliot’s poem is more innovative in terms of structure, form, and narration, but there is a certain musicality to This Side of Paradise which is also present in The Waste Land and which, I think, is indicative of The Jazz Age in general. Keeping this work in perspective – reading it in relation to the period and other works of the time (not just literature – but art and music as well) makes the significance of This Side of Paradise truly apparent.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School +
Interest: Jazz Age, Prohibition, Bildungsroman, The Lost Generation, Post-World War I
“It was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being.”
“The idea that to make a man work you’ve got to hold gold in front of his eyes is a growth, not an axiom. We’ve done that for so long that we’ve forgotten there’s any other way.”
“People try so hard to believe in leaders now, pitifully hard. But we no sooner get a popular reformer or politician or soldier or writer or philosopher — a Roosevelt, a Tolstoi, a Wood, a Shaw, a Nietzsche, than the cross-currents of criticism wash him away. My Lord, no man can stand prominence these days. It’s the surest path to obscurity. People get sick of hearing the same name over and over.”
“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. . . .”