In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, the character of Amory Blaine is not unlike many other characters in Fitzgerald’s works; he is a man of humble beginnings but great ambition, who seeks to overcome his societal trappings and achieve success and happiness in his life. However, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot seem to get over his own anxiety about permanence, sincerity and peace in his life. In this way, Amory Blaine can be seen as uniquely American – he follows the American Dream of starting from rags and moving to riches, all while his own life falls apart at the seams despite this. The achievement of success being no guarantee of happiness is one of the running themes of Fitzgerald’s deconstruction of American exceptionalism, and Amory Blaine is a shining example of this malaise at the heart of America.
Amory’s aimlessness in This Side of Paradise is indicative of the American experience around the time the novel was written. The generation in which Fitzgerald belonged was already disillusioned by the ravages of World War I – heroism in war was a thing of the past, and so he and the others of his time were fairly cynical about the capabilities of their country and human nature on general. To that end, Amory’s seemingly fruitless pursuit of his love Zelda, and the disappointments he experiences along the way, are indicative of how Americans felt during the early 20th century.
When Amory begins the novel, he is a young man growing up in Midwestern America; the early parts of the book cover his adventures in school. He is born to certain advantages – his mother is rich and used to being pampered; Amory attends prep school as a result. Because of his riches and privilege not making him used to the value of hardship and hard work, he becomes quite lazy despite his own intelligence. Despite this, he manages to enter Princeton; still, his laziness leads him to fail a class, and he does not take full advantage of this opportunity. In a way, this central laziness and lack of ambition are part and parcel of Amory Blaine’s character; he represents the American affluence and entitlement that surrounded a country that had achieved so much success in such a short time. To that end, he believes he does not have to work for what he wants, or at least does not feel like it. At the same time, Amory’s laziness in class is also indicative of the American values of freedom and independence; it is not that he is not smart, but he chooses to express it through discussions with classmates and friends rather than in his coursework. Regardless of its positive or negative aspects, Amory Blaine’s personality showcases that American sense of autonomy.
While he was at school, Amory adopted the perspective of his friend Burne, who told him, "it always makes everything all right to project yourself completely into another's place” (Fitzgerald 142). This means that Amory feels the freedom to intrude on others’ company and time if they feel like it; to that end, he brings all manner of strange guests to his Cottage club, which estranges his new friends. However, this perspective is further evidence of Amory’s exceptionalism and individualism, while at the same time showing his aimlessness and his desire to be different at all costs – things which make Amory uniquely American.
Once World War I starts, Amory enlists, having experiences that echo the American sentiment toward war at that time as well. Amory drops out of school and enlists in the war, evincing a kind of American patriotism that belies his hidden ambivalence about school. One gets the impression that he signed up for the military in order to avoid his responsibilities with his schoolwork. Fitzgerald shows Amory’s time in the war through a few brief letters and poems, in which Amory expresses his confusion as to what to do after the war, though he hates being there now. Amory’s insecurity about his knowledge of himself and the world around him makes his desire to be exceptional rather frustrating: he "would write immortal literature if he were sure enough about anything to risk telling anyone else about it” (Fitzgerald 175). This combination of confidence mixed with confusion encapsulates the American experience and personality through Amory.
Amory Blaine’s treatment of women and relationships is also indicative of the young American male; Amory (which could be a play on amore, Italian for ‘love’) has many different lovers over the course of the book. His first love is Myra St. Claire, whom he meets as an adolescent. However, because of his own nervousness around her, this establishes his lack of self-confidence around women for the rest of the book: “Sudden revulsion seized Amoryhe 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” (Fitzgerald 22). Class issues are prevalent throughout the book, especially with his young love Rosalind; they cannot marry because Amory is not wealthy (his mother gave half of her money to the church). This sets Amory off on a short tryst with a woman named Eleanor, then back to Princeton with the tenets of socialism firmly in his brain. While socialism seems somewhat anti-American; this youthful dabbling in alternative sociologies is part of the American experience for youth at that time – the international spirit of the world in the 20th century led young intellectuals to see what alternatives Europe had, in an attempt to find a centering force in their lives. This certainly happens with Amory, showing a young man completely unsure of himself in the constantly changing world that he lives in.
The American personality revels in the advancements and accomplishments the nation has made, but often has a hard time finding out what it wants to be happy – this is the central issue with Amory Blaine. As he eventually admits:
"I'm restless. My whole generation is restless. I'm sick of a system where the richest man gets the most beautiful girl if he wants her, where the artist without an income has to sell his talents to a button manufacturer. Even if I had no talents I'd not be content to work ten years, condemned either to celibacy or a furtive indulgence, to give some man's son an automobile” (Fitzgerald 232).
Because of Amory’s rudderless nature, he hopscotches from one cause to the next, finding his behavior ultimately quite selfish and unsatisfying. Amory lacks direction, which is the kind of thing that happens when one is the child of privilege who suddenly finds himself not having everything they want. Going to school, going to war, finding love – all of these things do not give him happiness, making him lose faith in these systems that Americans typically invest in. However, his doubt and questioning of these systems is, again, uniquely American, as he constantly values his independence and attempts to find something better than what he is given. Even when he sabotages himself (as with his love Zelda), he comes to understand his own faults and tries to work on them. The final line of the book makes this constant search for knowledge clear, as he does not assume anything but what he knows: “I know myselfbut that is all” (Fitzgerald 236).
Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise is uniquely American because of his intense desire to find happiness, and his inability to find it among the decadence and aimlessness of the culture that surrounds him. He at once embraces and rejects everything about his culture, doing his best to find answers on his own. He never truly finds them, but this is also the American experience – always striving for more, as he is never happy with what he has. The systems of family, money and sex that surround him are what he is told will make him a complete being, but he never truly finds a balance that will work for him. To that end, Amory Blaine is a character whose constant search for meaning demonstrates America’s unique restlessness.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. This Side of Paradise. Scribner, 1920. Print.