Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fitzgerald: Flashes of Brilliance

The Egotist lives on in a self-emoting glance. Those who have considered the self, the rest of humanity, see its penetrating rays. Flashes of brilliance gleam in This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel. Exploring the self in form and in practice, Fitzgerald takes the reader on the odyssey of Amory Blaine: the talented, the privileged, the intellectual. Little is lost upon the impressions of youth, love, despair and hope. In capable fashion, Fitzgerald stares into the approaching depths of woe, and from it, extracts the fierce grace of life. In presenting a portrait of transformation of the formative years of growing maturity, the novel grapples with what existence and purpose mean in real terms. But, it is through the abstract scenarios and representativons that Fitzgerald elucidates the great crisis of humanity.

Amory Blaine is your above average prep-school student, properly primed in all ways, with connections to show for it. While his interests tickle intellectual topics, his affinities are far from the devout seeker of knowledge. At the start of the novel, He engages in adult behavior, yet still envisions the world with the air of a junvenile. He describes one of his early experiences at Princeton, that "every night for the last week they had rehearsed 'Ha Ha Hortense' in the Casino, from two in the afternoon until eight in the morning, sustained by dark and powerful coffee, and sleeping in lectures through the interim" (56).

But, picking up from a few thoughtful classmates, and frmo his legendary love affairs, Amory faces a transformation ever more. As the book progresses, the rigid social order of Princeton matters less to Amory as he seeks new meaningful knowledge. His close fatherly mentor from adolescence, the Monsignor, advises him on philosophy and spurs some of the first real intellectual discussions of Amory's life. Monsignor introduces to Amory the idea of personage. He confides that "a personality is what you thought you were, what this Kerry and Sloane you tell me of evidently are. Personality is a physical matter almost entirely; it lowers the people it acts on - I've seen it vanish in a long sickness. But while personality is active, it overrides 'the next thing'. Now a personage, on the other hand gathers" (104). Naturally, these clues are not lost on the bright and enduring Amory. Always in the background, the Monsignor communicates to Amory in an almost telepathic way.

Likewise, Amory's brilliant minded but fading friend Burne, who "seemed to be climbing heights where others would be forever unable to get a foothold" (132), alludes to new artistic and eccentric literary figures that Amory never before considered to be worthy of exalted praise. In the chapter entitled "Narcissus Off Duty", Burne exults the works of Whitman and Tolstoi. Burne exudes that "He's [Whitman's] tremendous - like Tolstoi. They both look things in the face, and, somehow, different as they are, stand for somewhat the same things" (124). Singing praises to these literary giants, Burne stirs and renews Amory interest in the sublime. It is Burne's commentary that sparks the awaiting flame inside Blaine, which in turn, inspires him toward greater truth and realization.

Fitzgerald's ability to delve into the self exudes his excellence in writing. The reader recalls their own 'Burne' or 'Monsignor' to conjure up the same stimulating experiences. Not systematic prose, but rather landscapes of emotion dominate the page. As Amory widens his view, the narcissism that once gripped him disappears. Fitzgerald masterfully captures Amory's growth throughout the novel. Each chapter leaps in intensity as the kaleidoscope of feeling blots each relationship that consumes Amory's life.

However, much Fitzgerald leaves to the imagination of the reader. Amory's entire war life from late 1917 to early 1919 stand still under the label "Interlude". Only a letter from the Monsignor marks the time span. Yet, it is this writing which marks the turning point in Amory's life that would leave him forever changed. Monsignor writes that, "There are deep things in us and you know what they are as well as I do. We have great faith, though yours at present is uncrystallized; we have a terrible honesty that all our sophistry cannot destroy and, above all, a childlike simplicity that keeps us from ever being really malicious" (159). When the novel returns from "Interlude", Fitzgerald's tone is certainly deeper with gravity, heavier with sorrow and at times, nearing on frantic.

Blaine finds his life shattered upon arrival from Europe and after discovering his penchant for drink, much of his old ways he can never go back to. It is here that Amory delves into the affair of the heart. On finding an agreeable and ambitious young woman named Rosalind, Amory plunges headlong into the affair, wrapping it with all his efforts, dreams and hopes. Swallowed in love he dexcribes how, "Then they would smoke and he would tell her about his day at the office - and where they might live. Sometimes, when he was particularly loquacious, she went to sleep in his arms, but he loved that Rosalind all Rosalinds - as he had never in the world loved any one else. Intangibly fleeting, unrememberable hours" (189). However, as fast as the affair whipped up his feeling, it would come to unravel at frightening speed. Fitzgerald's display of varied emotion and phases of love through Amory's relationships present not only his depth of thought on human interaction, but also his intense cry; longing for pleasure and companionship, wringing from gripping passion.

Yet, Amory is almost bound from the start to slip into menacing depression. Losing Rosalind to the practicalities of society and mostly her conventional acceptance of 'the way things are', Amory is left alone without emotional support and eventually without even the gay smile of a passerby. After simply quitting his job during a fit of depression, Amory hits the bottom of his capacity. Fitzgerald writes,

"The rain gave Amory a feeling of detachment, and the numerous unpleasant aspects of city life without money occurred to him in threatening procession. There was the ghastly stinking crush of the subway - the car cards thrusting themselves at one, leering out like dull bores who grab your arm with another story; the querulous worry as to whether some one isn't leaning on you; a man decideding not to give his seat to a woman, hating her for it; the woman hating him for not doing it; at worst a squalid phantasmagoria or breath, and old cloth on human bodies and the smells of the food men ate - at best just people - too hot or too cold, tired, worried" (255).

Amory is at once disgusted and dejected from the once bright and dazzling life he lead as a freshman at Princeton. Moreover, word of the Monsignor's death symbolizes the end of the former partnerships which have lead Amory to exciting yet foreboding new conclusions. Unfortunately, his greatest guides would not accompany him into the new dimensions he seeks. These life shifting events mark a decidedly abrupt tear of Amory's life, and out of it, a new era bounds forward.

But, Amory's journey, while at a nadir, is not over. He discovers at the darkest of tiomes his own power for change and reconciliation. As the "Egotist Becomes a Personage", Amory at last realizes the severe consequence of human action. Shaking off his past "sentimentalism," Amory explores the ultimate questions of existence.

He concludes,

"Progress was a labyrinth ... peolple plunging blindly in and then rushing wildly back, shouting that they had found it ... the invisible king - the elan vital - the principle of evolution ... writing a book, starting a war, founding a school ..."

"Amory, even had he not been a selfish man, would have started all inquiries with himself. He was his own best example - sitting in the rain, a human creature of sex and pride, foiled by chance and his own temperament of the balm of love and children, preserved to help in building up the living consciousness of the race."

"In self-reproach and loneliness and disillusion he came to the entrance of the labyrinth" (265).

The journey had just begun.

Begging the existence of God, the difference between knowledge and truth, addressing the affairs of material, Amory's journey twists through the chords of love, through patches of despair and over life's hills and valleys. There is much angst, but an equal amount of joy in Fitzgerald's work. However, all the same, only one thing is proven true. Amory represents the emerging transformed man, set forever apart.

No comments: