This Side of Paradise Summary
Amory Blaine is a spoiled little rich kid from Minnesota whose mother constantly dotes on him. He's basically Veruca Salt, only he doesn't fall victim to a bunch of psychotic super-smart squirrels. As he grows up, Amory develops a huge ego and a shallow knowledge of the world, concerning himself more with impressing people than with actually knowing anything. But when he gets old enough to leave home, Amory learns that there's more to life than what his mother has taught him. But it's extremely tough to overcome the years of ego-inflation he's had. He can try to act modest, but being modest ain't so easy.
Despite his laziness, Amory gets good enough grades to go to Princeton for his undergraduate degree. The guy knows he's cruising through life, and it's almost as if he wants to fail so he can finally get down to thinking about what matters to him. World War I starts before he gets the chance to fail, though, and he spends the last years of his youth fighting in the trenches of Europe.
Amory is lucky enough to return from The Great War alive. But once he's back, he becomes obsessed with the question of what his larger purpose in life is. He thinks he finds his purpose when he starts going out with a beautiful girl named Rosalind. But Rosalind dumps him because he's not successful enough. This breakup seems to be the last straw for Amory, who falls into alcoholism and spends the next year or so killing himself with booze. The only thing that really saves him is the start of Prohibition, which makes alcohol illegal in the U.S.
It'll take more than Prohibition to put Amory's life back on track, but the sad thing about this book is that Fitzgerald ends it without ever giving any kind of resolution to Amory's situation. This is (most likely) because Fitzgerald wrote this book when he was twenty-three, when he was still too young to have any answers himself.
Book 1, Chapter 1
Amory, Son of Beatrice
- Book 1 is called "The Romantic Egoist," so you just know you're going to dislike the protagonist.
- Meet Amory Blaine, a young boy with rich parents who is pretty much spoiled from the day he's born. His mother might be the most self-involved person you'll ever meet, and since Amory is her son, she does everything she can to build up his ego.
- The book tells us about how Beatrice Blaine (Amory's mom) returned to America from Europe and married her husband out of boredom and sadness. How's that for romance?
- By the time Amory is five, you can already see how much his mom has molded him into a little prince who likes to dress well and be the center of attention. He's so spoiled he even calls his mother Beatrice by her first name instead of saying "Mommy."
- Even on days when Amory wants to get out of bed and do stuff, his mom insists that he sleep in. She thinks this will help make him calm and refined. Meanwhile, Amory spends a lot of his youth listening to his mom complain about her bad nerves. He also hears her talk about him and how great he is at parties. So he starts to believe it.
- Amory travels the world with his mother and develops a superficial knowledge of high culture. But when he's thirteen, he has a scare when his appendix bursts in Italy. He's rushed to the hospital and his mom has a nervous breakdown afterwards.
- Beatrice Blaine thinks that her son would benefit from knowing a family friend from the Catholic Church named Monsignor Darcy.
- His whole young life, Amory tries to conceal from other boys just how superior he thinks he truly is.
- One day, Amory gets an invitation to a girl's winter party. He shows up late, though, and seems to have missed the whole thing. But then he finds out that the party has gone off to a club and that the girl hosting it—named Myra—has stuck around to wait for him.
- The two grab a coach to the club and get into a deep conversation. Amory talks his way into kissing Myra. But when she asks him to kiss her a second time, he refuses and she loses her temper. The two of them arrive at the club and don't speak to each other for the rest of the night.
- As Amory goes through school, his instructors consider him lazy, unreliable, and clever only in a superficial way. Girls continue to like him because of his ego and his good looks.
- The next time he goes home to stay with his mother, Amory learns that his mom has had a nervous breakdown due to alcoholism. But his mom wears this fact like a badge of honor, as though any upper-class woman should have a breakdown at some point.
- Amory tells his mom that he wants to leave home for prep school. She'd like to have him nearby, but she gives in and lets him go to St. Regis School in Connecticut. Before he goes, though, she'd like for him to visit her old friend, Monsignor Darcy.
- Amory goes to see Monsignor Darcy, thinking that the visit is a waste of time. But the two hit it off immediately and Amory realizes he can talk to Darcy about deep ideas he'd never mention to his mom.
- Amory meets an important man at Darcy's house whose name is Thornton Hancock. Hancock sees potential in Amory but worries that he'll be ruined by the superficial world of American prep school.
- Amory's first year at school isn't great. He's lonely because he's isolated from others; but he's isolated because he thinks he's so superior to everyone. One instructor tries to chat with him about his exclusion, but Amory walks out in a huff because he thinks he's above talking to instructors about this stuff.
- Amory gets romantic feelings for the first time when he sees a girl acting on a Broadway stage. His buddy Paskert talks about the girl, which only makes Amory think about her more.
- The next couple of years at St. Regis are much better for Amory, who becomes a bit of a football hero.
- Over time, St. Regis strips Amory of the superficial pride that his mother has taught him. But it doesn't take away the deeper, denser pride that goes to his core.
- Amory makes friends with his class president, Rahill, and the two get into the habit of talking late into the night. One night, Amory calls someone they know a "slicker" and the two of them spend the night discussing exactly what it means to be a "slicker."
- By the end of prep school, Amory decides that he wants to go to Princeton. And just like that, he gets in and goes.
Book 1, Chapter 2
Spires and Gargoyles
- Amory gets to Princeton and makes a tour of the surrounding town. When he gets to his dorm room, he meets a guy named Kerry Holiday. Kerry chats with Amory and invites him to dinner, where they meet Kerry's brother Burne. They hang out and go to the movies before heading back to their dorm. All three get along pretty well.
- That night before bed, Amory looks out his window and sees a group young men chanting and singing. He wishes he could join them, but freshmen have a special curfew and aren't allowed out after a certain hour.
- Amory tries out for football but ruins his knee in the first practice session. So that's that for the rest of the season.
- The longer Amory is at school, the more he realizes just how much of a hierarchy American society is. He admits that he's fine with the hierarchy as long as he's one of the people at the top of it. Plus, he can't stand the idea of having to work hard to climb the ladder.
- His buddy Kerry tells Amory he can always leave the hierarchy behind altogether and write poems like their classmate Tom D'Invilliers. Amory doesn't understand a word the guy writes, but still admires his style and fancy words.
- Finally, Kerry tells Amory that he either needs to work hard and become a success or just let it go and take life easy.
- Amory spends the rest of his freshman year slacking—just getting by, playing pranks, and writing notes to girls.
- One day, Amory is eating lunch when he meets the young poet Tom D'Invilliers. They talk about literature and become fast friends, though Amory is always worried some of the school jocks will overhear them talking about poetry.
- Amory writes a bit of poetry to be more like Tom.
- The summer after Amory's freshman year, World War I breaks out in Europe. At this point, the U.S. isn't involved, so Amory doesn't think about it too much.
- Amory gets involved with a Princeton musical production and tours eight cities with it. The thing goes over pretty well, even though the musical itself is mediocre.
- One day, Amory heads back to his home in Minneapolis to attend a party. People have arranged for him to meet Isabelle Borgé, who is apparently a beautiful girl.
- We flash to Isabelle, who is being told all about Mr. Amory Blaine and what a handsome and accomplished young man he is. It's like people are trying to push Isabelle and Amory together.
- When he arrives at Isabelle's party, Amory walks right up to Isabelle and tells her that everyone seems to be pushing them together. Isabelle is shocked by how direct her is, but she likes it. They flirt with each other.
- Amory gets Isabelle alone in a room and tries to kiss her. But a group of noisy friends comes barging in just as they're about to kiss. After the party has ended, Isabelle punches her pillow, wishing she'd kissed Amory. She knows they won't see each other for a while (if ever again) because Amory is going back to school.
- Back at school, Amory gets popular with some of the Princeton clubs. This is a good move, since the clubs tend to determine where somebody sits in the social pecking order.
- One day, one of Amory's buddies wakes him up and tells him to get his things together. Someone has gotten hold of a car and they're taking a road trip. They don't have much money, but they have a lot of fun with the little they have.
- Over time, Amory neglects his schoolwork. It's not that he's lazy; he just has all kinds of other interests. During this time, he writes letters to Isabelle Borgé.
- One night, Amory takes a bike ride with his buddy Tom D'Invilliers. Tom says he plans on not returning to Princeton for his sophomore year because he's fed up with Princeton turning him into a boring, spineless sellout. He's afraid he's losing his idealism and becoming cynical.
- Everything seems okay for a while, but tragedy strikes when Amory's friend Dick Humbird is killed in a car accident. Amory and his friends are following in another car when it happens and they all see Dick lying dead in the road. The event puts a damper on their partying, since all of them then realize that they'll die someday.
- Meanwhile, Amory finds ways of visiting Isabelle Borgé whenever he gets a chance. He realizes that this might be the peak of his life, so he tries to enjoy it while it lasts. One night, he takes her in his arms and kisses her. Now it's settled—this is (and will always be) the height of his young, egotistical life.
Book 1, Chapter 3
The Egotist Considers
- The more time Amory spends with Isabelle, the more he realizes that he has no real affection for her. He just gets caught up in her beauty and her love games. After all, Amory is an egotist who likes to think of himself as a winner. And in his mind, winning Isabelle's heart still counts as winning at life.
- When Isabelle won't let Amory kiss her, he ups the ante by announcing that he's going to leave town. Finally, the two of them have a falling out. Isabelle says she found Amory's ego charming at first, but now it's just annoying. So yeah, they break up.
- Things don't get any better for Amory once he's back at school, either. He ends up failing a crucial math course and becomes ineligible for all kinds of Princeton clubs as a result. So basically, his social status has plunged because he can't work up the motivation to do better in his classes.
- Amory realizes that his way of coasting through life isn't going to work anymore. The time has come for him to decide what he stands for.
- The next Thanksgiving, Amory's father dies, leaving the family's estate in Lake Geneva to Amory's mother, Beatrice. Turns out that the estate has become a bit of a dump and the family fortunes have shrunk drastically since Amory was young. So it looks like he won't be able to fall back on his family's fortune if things at school don't work out.
- That Christmas, Monsignor Darcy invites Amory for a visit. Amory admits that he's been thinking about leaving Princeton.
- Monsignor tells Amory to stop thinking about his life as one giant thing that's either worthwhile or not worthwhile. His advice is for Amory to focus on what's directly in front of him. "Do the next thing" is a motto of his. Amory doesn't know what to do next, though, without some larger sense of purpose guiding him.
- Without a sense of purpose, Amory spends more time with his jaded friend Tom and looks for someone who can help create a new poetic tradition for America. It's a long shot, but what else is a guy going to do?
- Amory writes satirical poems to help vent his feelings about how phony and superficial the world around him is.
- One night, Amory goes out with his buddy Fred Sloane and a couple of girls. The night starts off well enough, but Amory notices a guy at the bar who's staring at him and feels uncomfortable. The group goes back to an apartment, but Amory doesn't feel right. He eventually leaves and hears footsteps following him down an alley. When he turns, he confronts the face of his dead friend, Dick Humbird. Amory has been hallucinating and reliving Dick's traumatic death.
- When Amory wakes up the next day, he wishes he had someone in his life that was stupid, simple, and good. He feels like things are too complicated and that he's going mad.
- Things don't get much better when Amory returns to his Princeton dorm room. His first night back, his buddy Tom becomes terrified when he thinks he sees something outside Amory's window staring at Amory. This is almost too much for Amory to bear. It seems like madness is closing in on him.
Book 1, Chapter 4
Narcissus Off Duty
- Princeton nearly falls into anarchy when one-third of the entire junior class resigns from all the Princeton clubs. The clubs are what create a sense of hierarchy at Princeton, so the massive resignation smacks of equality and socialism to the established Princeton elite.
- Apparently, the ringleader of the mass resignation is Burne Holiday, the same guy who spent most of his university career desperately trying to get into the best clubs.
- Amory discusses the radical movement with Burne, and ends up agreeing with most of the guy's views. In a way, he's jealous of Burne for having discovered the path that Amory himself would have liked to find on his own.
- One day, Burne gets tricked into escorting a girl to the homecoming football game at Princeton. He wants to back out, but doesn't want to hurt Phyllis' feelings. So he decides to drive her away by dressing up as the biggest, most ignorant Princeton football fan he can. Phyllis is embarrassed to be with him and eventually takes off.
- A few weeks later, Amory goes to New York to catch a stage show. He hears something that reminds him of his old girlfriend Isabelle and scribbles a love poem on his show program.
- Amory receives a letter from Monsignor Darcy telling him that one of his (Amory's) distant cousins is living in Philadelphia. Her name is Clara and her husband has passed away, leaving her a widow with a child. Monsignor Darcy wants Amory to go meet her.
- Amory meets Clara and gradually falls in love with her. But it's a lost cause because Clara has vowed to dedicate her life to being a mother and decided never to marry again.
- Finally, Amory accepts that he'll never be with Clara. He doesn't have long to mope, either, because now the U.S. has gotten involved in World War I and all the young men are being shipped over.
- Amory's friend Burne decides to become a pacifist and refuses to support the war effort. Amory wishes he could take a stand like Burne, but the truth is he cares too much what other people think of him. The best thing Amory can do to show his protest is write a scathing poem about the war and hand it in during one of his English classes.
- Before he knows what's hit him, Amory is called to an army training camp. He's been conscripted into the army and he'll need to go fight in Europe.
May, 1917—February, 1919
- This section of This Side of Paradise passes through the two years that Amory Blaine is off fighting for the U.S. in World War I.
- The first thing we read is a letter from Monsignor Darcy asking Amory to be safe and to make it through the war alive. He finishes with a poem he wrote for Amory, which tries to talk about Amory's experience as if it were something from an Irish ballad.
- Next, we read a letter from Amory to his buddy Tom. It looks like they've both made it through the war alive, and Amory wants to meet up with Tom and find a place to live in New York City with their buddy, Alec. It looks like Amory's mom Beatrice has died, which means Amory will have a bit of money, but not much.
- Sadly, Amory's old friend Kerry Holiday has died in the war. Burne is also nowhere to be found, although people don't know what happened to him.
Book 2, Chapter 1
- Book 2 is called "The Education of a Personage," which sounds like Amory might be getting a little bit more tolerable. Phew.
- The first thing you'll notice about this chapter is that Fitzgerald writes it out as if it were a play. We look in on a young (and rich) girl's bedroom in New York. This is the bedroom of Rosalind Connage, the sister of Alec Connage, who is best buds with Amory Blaine and his soon-to-be roommate in New York.
- Alec, his mother, and his two sisters end up in Rosalind's room talking about the arrival of Amory Blaine. Amory shouldn't expect much attention, though, since this is Rosalind's coming-out week and all the attention will be on her.
- Alec thinks his sister will meet her match in Amory, since he's the only person he knows who's more spoiled than her.
- After sassing with her sister Cecilia (say that five times fast), Rosalind is alone. Amory Blaine shows up at the house and walks in on her, and we can tell immediately that he's smitten.
- They flirt for a while before Amory crosses the room and kisses her. She kisses back. But Rosalind is also hot and cold, and just as Amory thinks they're in love, she pulls away and tells him to leave.
- Once Amory has left, Rosalind's mom comes in and reminds Rosalind that the family doesn't have the money it once had. In fact, they'll be moving out of their house by the end of the year. Rosalind is confident, though, that she'll marry someone rich and never have to worry about money again. We also find out that she's been leading on a poor young man named Gillespie who thought he was going to marry her.
- At a party, Rosalind talks to Gillespie and says she's not as into him as she used to be. Just as she finishes tearing out his heart, another strapping young man named Ryder sweeps her out of her chair and dances with her. Gillespie walks away, crushed.
- Amory meets up with Rosalind and tells her (for some reason) about his old fling with Isabelle. Maybe he wants to show Rosalind that he has other women in his life besides her.
- Amory asks Rosalind to pretend that the two of them have fallen in love, although it doesn't seem as if either would have to pretend. They kiss again and profess their love to one another. Once Amory is gone, Rosalind feels sorry for him because she knows she'll break his heart.
- From the dinner on, Amory and Rosalind spend a lot of time together. In fact, they're almost always together, especially for lunch.
- But not everything in Amory's life is peachy. He's gotten a job in advertising and hates it with a passion.
- One day, Amory hears a story about Rosalind diving off a thirty-foot summerhouse into a pool and demanding that her date (Gillespie) do the same. Gillespie thinks this is evidence that Rosalind is a bit kooky. But Amory loves the story.
- It's not long before Rosalind's mother tells her to smarten up and stop hanging with a penniless fool like Amory. Rosalind defends Amory, but it sounds like her mother's arguments get to her in the end.
- Amory comes over to see Rosalind, and she sits him down to tell him she can't marry him. It's a long and messy breakup, but in the end, Amory accepts it and leaves.
Book 2, Chapter 2
Experiments in Convalescence
- Amory goes to a bar two days after Rosalind has broken his heart. He runs into an old acquaintance from Princeton and has a drink. In fact, he has several, while the other guy only has two. Eventually, he starts ranting and embarrasses his friend.
- The next morning, Amory wakes up with a monster hangover, which he gets rid of by drinking more booze.
- The bender continues for quite a while, as Amory always seems to be running into old friends and finding another excuse to drink. He starts making comments about committing suicide, but people assume he just has a dark sense of humor.
- A couple of days later, he marches into his boss' office and quits his job. Then he goes on a rant about how terrible it is to live in a world where artists need to work in crummy advertising offices just to get by.
- A couple days later, Amory walks into his apartment with a black eye. He also finds out from his buddy Tom that their roommate, Alec, has moved back home, meaning it'll be tough for them to go on affording their apartment. Amory responds to the crisis by hitting the town and getting drunk again.
- But then something crazy happens to Amory. The United States government enacts Prohibition, which makes the sale of alcohol illegal. Now it's going to be tough for Amory to stay an alcoholic.
- With less of a supply of alcohol, Amory sinks into an unmotivated, normal life. He feels like there's no direction to what he's doing, and he's right.
- One day, Amory puts his finger on his problem: the world is too big and too complicated for one person to make a difference, and this is what's keeping him from trying at anything. Tom suggests a few options, like writing fiction.
- But Amory says it all seems too useless to him.
- One day, Amory receives a letter from his old mentor, Monsignor Darcy. The man is worried that Amory is setting himself up for disappointment by getting involved with Rosalind, and he predicts that the relationship will end badly.
- Amory realizes that Darcy and he haven't communicated in months, so Darcy doesn't realize that Amory's relationship with Rosalind has already ended in heartbreak. The letter stings all the more because it predicts what would eventually happen, like it was fate or something.
- Eventually, Amory and Tom can't afford their apartment anymore. So Amory takes off to live for a few months in the home of an old uncle he's barely ever seen. And as the book tells us, this is where he meets a girl named Eleanor.
Book 2, Chapter 3
- The narrator gets ahead of himself by telling us right away how Amory and Eleanor's relationship ended. After checking himself, the narrator decides to step back in time and start at the beginning of Amory's time in Maryland at his uncle's place.
- When Amory first arrives in Maryland, he gets bored easily and spends his afternoons taking walks and singing to himself. But one day, he hears a girl singing on top of a nearby haystack and goes to check it out. The girl reaches over the top of the haystack and helps him up.
- The two of them strike up an instant friendship and talk about their lives and their deepest thoughts. Before you know it, they're holding hands and walking through the fields together, even though it's raining.
- As the summer goes on, Amory and Eleanor create a deep bond. But they both seem to know that the relationship is bound not to last. It's just a summer romance. Amory talks to Eleanor openly about his heartbreak with Rosalind, and Eleanor helps him get over it.
- Toward the end of the summer, Amory can tell that they're both preparing for their final goodbyes. He goes out horseback riding at night with Eleanor, and he wants to kiss her. But she's already pulling away. He gets annoyed and calls her cold, so she responds by riding her horse toward a cliff. It's only at the last moment that she jumps off. Her horse goes flying into the abyss and dies.
- After the horse incident, Amory leaves. Over the next few years, he and Eleanor send each other poems about love that can't last.
Book 2, Chapter 4
The Supercilious Sacrifice
- We look in on Amory walking the boardwalk in Atlantic City. And who should pull up next to him but his old roommate Alec?
- Alec is hanging with a couple of ladies and figures that Amory could use a fun night on the town. So Amory accepts and hops in the car.
- Once they're out, Amory wants to talk about the guys they've known who died in World War I. Alec doesn't want to talk about something so dreary, though.
- Amory is silent and thinks about how his youth is gone and he has nothing to look forward to.
- That night, Amory wakes up and hears Alec talking to one of the girls he's brought home.
- It sounds like there are some cops outside and that Alec is going to be busted for hiring a prostitute (the girl he's with). With quick thinking, Amory jumps out of bed and tells Alec to lie down and pretend he's drunk.
- Amory totally takes the heat and gets his name published in the paper as a dude who's been caught with a prostitute. Yeah, folks were pretty big into the idea of public shaming back in the early 20th century.
- Two days later, Amory picks up a newspaper and sees the paragraph about him being caught with a prostitute. Right below the paragraph, he sees an announcement about his old flame Rosalind being engaged to some rich dude named Ryder. Amory is crushed by the news.
Book 2, Chapter 5
The Egoist Becomes a Personage
- Alone again, Amory starts having conversations with himself. These conversations all tend to center on the question of what he's going to do with himself. If he doesn't plan on committing suicide (which he doesn't), he'll need to find something that makes life seem worthwhile.
- Amory continues to wander the streets until one day, he finds out that Monsignor Darcy has passed away. And that just about does it. For Amory, there are no more great men in the world, just a bunch of grey, bland fools who go about their lives chasing money and buying stuff.
- Ultimately, Amory decides that the only way he'll ever learn to love life is if he feels like he's necessary to other people. He needs to be needed. He also wants to give other people a sense of security, since this is what no one has been able to give him.
- One day, Amory takes a walk to Princeton when an expensive car pulls up next to him and the man riding in the back asks him if he'd like a lift. The man is riding with a smaller dude who appears to be his personal secretary.
- Before long, the three of them are talking about politics and the state of the world. Amory takes a socialist angle and insists that the world won't be any better until it stops running on money. He's certain that people will still work hard even if money comes out of the equation. The rich man in the car thinks he's crazy, though.
- Along the way, Amory mentions that it should be illegal for people to have more than a certain amount of money. He also thinks that inheritance should be illegal, so all children start out their lives with the same opportunity to excel.
- Ultimately, Amory doesn't think that it matters whether anyone agrees with him. He's convinced that sooner or later, a revolution will happen in America, and the poor will simply stand up and take the property of the rich.
- After he's done ranting, Amory learns that the rich man has a son who went to Princeton. It turns out that Amory knew him before he died in World War I, so he and the rich man bond over the son's memory before Amory gets out of the car and thanks the man for the ride.
- By the end of the novel, Amory can only look at the horizon and yell out, "I know myself […] but that is all" (2.5.251).