Amory's Relationships in This Side of Paradise
One of the most persistent problems for young people in any era is the struggle to find direction for the rest of their lives. In the post-World War I times, the birth of the modern era brought new complications to this struggle. This Side of Paradise follows the life of Amory Blaine, through his teenage and early adult years in this time. Amory floats through life unaffected, except for four failed relationships that serve to bring him into various stages of depression. At the end of the book, Amory has come out of this and come to realize that he needed to trust himself and himself only. Through Amory's four relationships in This Side of Paradise, the reader is shown Amory's restlessness, culminating in his own realization and acceptance of this restlessness, which serves to give Fitzgerald's message for the generation to not assume that money and prestige will immediately cause happiness.
The first three relationships, those with Isabelle, Rosalind, and Clara, represent his restlessness in that he can never manage to make any of them last, no matter how much he feels like he should. He is generally passive towards all his relationships, and they tend to end without a violent disagreement or disasterous event, but with a dissatisfying falling out. He never very much did anything in particular with any of them that either resulted in the strengthening or destruction of the relationships. With Isabelle, Amory knows he never really cared for her, but he never took any steps to cut of the contact until a relatively innocuous arguement between them. Reflecting on it, he says, “Oh yes - her name was Isabelle - nothing at all to her except what I read into her” (170). He did not love her, he merely thought that she was a good person to be dating, and that he should be dating. When he was with Clara, he knew that she did not want to be married. Still, he proposed to her. This action showed he was still of the opinion that marriage was the thing to do, even though Clara was strictly against marrying again. Amory, when Clara asks him if he really wanted to marry her, says, “It was the twilight... I didn't feel as though I were speaking aloud” (136). He did not even put that much thought into something that should be made an important decision. He barely tried to make Rosalind, the only woman he thought he could ever love, to reconsider her decision to leave him for the prospect of more money. Rosalind had been seeing other men, including the man she was going to marry, during her and Amory's relationship. Amory knew this, and never once tried to stop her from seeing these other men. This ended up being the end of their relationship, as Rosalind married one of the men she had been seeing when they were together.
His relationship with Eleanor shows marked growth in this area. The relationship was no more committed than any of his others, but Amory also did not pretend it was any more committed. He never proposed to her, as he did to Isabelle, Clara, and Rosalind. When Amory saw something he did not like in Eleanor, a rash nature he could not deal with, he quickly ended the relationship. “But as Amory had loved himself in Eleanor, so now what he hated was only a mirror” (218). He shows initiative by ending the relationship, a step forward in his character, who rarely shows any sort of initiative. The Eleanor situations show his growth, further removed from Rosalind and accepting of Clara. The two of them exist more on an equal footing, versus Rosalind and Clara, whom he put on pedestals of their loveliness.
The final chapters, in which Amory has a lengthy discussion with two men he does not know, serve to say that he has grown past trying to fit in a society that has passed and has come to accept his own restlessness. He discusses how marriage is a trap for the educated man, even though in the past he has tried to get any number of girls to marry him. Amory also comes to realize that he cannot find the place in society that he once thought he could. From the point he left St. Regis, the private school he attended for high school, he searched for the popularity he found there. He never gained it in the far bigger sea that was Princeton. “I loathed the army, I loathed business. I'm in love with change and I've killed my conscience” (251). He followed the rest of his generation into war, and then into business, but neither of these things pleased him. They brought him no fulfillment, and that is why he says he has destroyed his conscience. At the end, he knows that these things will never please him, that he can not find happiness in these things. He realizes that the only thing he can trust is himself. The book closes on, “I know myself,” he cried, “and that is all” (255).
Amory is used by Fitzgerald to make a statement about the generation using superficial things such as status to guarantee them happiness. Amory does well enough in everything he attempts scholastically and in business, but he cannot find happiness in these things. All of these things are hollow, and he cannot find fulfillment spiritually in them. He reflects on his generation as a whole, specifically relating to himself. “I'm restless. My whole generation is restless” (251). When he speaks of his failures to make himself happy, it can be applied to the generation as a whole. Fitzgerald shows this in Amory, and also his fellow students at Princeton.“In Princeton everyone bantered in public and told themselves privately that their deaths at least would be heroic” (138). They all, like Amory, go through life expecting good things to happen because they are doing what they think they should be doing. Amory realizes that these things will not just happen.
Amory's restlessness is shown through his relationships with four women, and then, through these relationships, he comes to a realization about this himself. Fitzgerald uses his character to show a crucial aspect of the generation. It is shown through the development of his character through the development of the relationships, ending with him finding out he needed to go on his own.