“I know myself, but that is all.” Thus is the phrase with which F. Scott Fitzgerald ends his masterpiece, This Side of Paradise. The novel is told from the point of view of a philosophical intellectual known as Amory Blaine. It is the tale of his life, depicting his many struggles and painful character development, representing the political viewpoint of the world during that time period. Although he remains a deep thinker throughout the story, his thought process and personal views seem to take many drastic changes as the novel goes on. Starting out as a young boy who believes he owns the world, the book ends with a broken man who has resigned himself to raising a white flag and surrendering to the cruelty of the world. Amory Blaine introduces many notable philosophies throughout the novel, for example; the need to be successful, the inability to see evil, and the opposition to change.
In the beginning of the novel, it is evident that Amory holds himself to a high standard in every aspect of his life. He believes that he has great potential, and that it is imperative to be successful in worldly things. “If one can’t be a great artist or a great soldier,” he claims. “The next best thing is to be a great criminal” (Fitzgerald 18). This appears to be the one moral he sticks to during his early life. Amory Blaine becomes a great scholar, a great friend, a great lover, and a great scourge. Although this life of success entertains the young man for some time, he comes to the realization, as all people have to come to at some point, that the constant striving for triumph is tiring and fleeting. It caused him to lose “half his personality in a year” (Fitzgerald 117). As the burden of life’s sorrows began to be placed more on Amory’s shoulders, he started to give up his philosophy of success.
After his college years, Amory faced the horrors of war and much heartbreak. The once spritely and brilliant young boy was a broken man beginning to create his hatred for the world. “If we could only learn to look on evil as evil, whether it’s clothed in filth or monotony or magnificence” (Fitzgerald 175). Amory comes to understand that the world changes its definition of wrong based on what is popular at the time. Frustrated by his many losses, he begins to blame his pain on the fickleness of society. “It’s the whole thing,” he asserted. “It’s the one dividing line between good and evil. I’ve never met a man who led a rotten life and didn’t have a weak will” (Fitzgerald 149). Convinced that this was the imperative opposition to cruelty, Amory begins to strive for the one thing he believes he can control, his will. Although this seems to work for a period of time, even his strong will becomes worn down, and he must revert to yet another life moral.
Amory comes to the decisive conclusion that the problems within the world are completely reliant on society’s opposition to change. “They haven’t clear logical ideas on one single subject except a sturdy, stolid opposition to change” (Fitzgerald 317). Stating this with stern confidence, Amory begins to take on the mindset of a socialist. He does not agree with the way Socialism has been carried out in the world, but he has now come to the understanding and agreement for the backbone upon which it was created. His heartbreak and loss of all dignity he believes rests on the fact that, “They don’t think uneducated people should be highly paid, but they won’t see that if they don’t pay the uneducated people their children are going to be uneducated too” (Fitzgerald 318). During his first argument in favor of socialism, Amory introduces many new concepts to his audience. He claims that the only flaw to socialism is the fact that human nature is prone to be greedy, but if people learn to fight against their self-love and become open to the reality of change, Socialism is a decent structure to turn to. “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” (Fitzgerald 318). Fitzgerald speaks through the mouth of his protagonist, proclaiming the truth that the darkness of the world is due very much too undeserved fame and undermined creativity and uniqueness all which spurn from the opposition to break out of the comfortable norm and embrace change.
Fitzgerald introduces countless philosophies in his novel, This Side of Paradise, that continue to be relevant lessons in our modern world; including: the human need to be successful, the inability to see evil, and the opposition to change. The main protagonist, Amory Blaine, starts out as a confident young man who holds the firm belief that his dignity and personality are rooted in his worldly success no matter where that category of success rests in. He soon learns that this success-driven personality is “a physical matter almost entirely; it lowers the people it acts on” (Fitzgerald 118). Beginning to be broken down by the hatred he has seen in the world, Amory blames his hurt on society’s inability to recognize evil. He comprehends that all his heartbreak was largely due to “evil creeping towards Amory under the mask of beauty” (Fitzgerald 255). Amory’s final philosophical claim lies under his newfound belief that the issues in the world are only occurring because of people’s opposition towards change. Once also against change, but now a broken man, Amory states “I’m in love with change and I’ve killed my conscience” (Fitzgerald 319.) This Side of Paradise does not end on a positive note but it is not necessarily a negative one either. It concludes with an understanding that, at least in this world, the only thing you can claim to understand or control is yourself.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. This Side of Paradise. Scribner. New York. 1920. Print.