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In F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel This Side of Paradise, Amory Blaine searches for his identity by "mirroring" people he admires. However, these "mirrors" actually block him from finding his true self. He falls in love with women whose personalities intrigue him; he mimics the actions of men he looks up to. Eleanor Savage and Burne Holiday serve as prime examples of this. Until Amory loses his pivotal "mirror," Monsignor Darcy, he searches for his soul in all the wrong places. When Monsignor Darcy dies, Amory has the spiritual epiphany he needs to reach his "paradise" - the knowledge of who Amory Blaine truly is.
Amory appears to be a rather vacuous choice for a protagonist. He relies mainly on his breathtaking handsomeness and wealth in order to get by in life. He has been endowed with brains, but it takes him years to learn how and when to use them. Amory spends his late high school and college years frolicking with his peers and debutantes. By constantly associating with others Amory creates an image of himself that he maintains until he becomes bored or finds a new personality to imitate. Amory does not know who he really is, what he truly feels, or what he thinks. He merely cultivates his personality du jour depending on how he believes he would like to be. Essentially, Amory is shopping at a personality store, trying each one on until he can find one that fits.
This personality imitation began when Amory spent his adolescent years in the presence of his flamboyant mother, Beatrice. Beatrice raised Amory to be what she wanted him to be, as long as it was stylish and acceptable to coeval virtues. When he goes to Princeton, the separation from his mother, who essentially thought for him, leads Amory to search for himself. However, his idea of searching for his identity entails merely simulating the personalities of those he admires. This trend becomes obvious in the pattern of Amory's love interests. His first conquest, Isabelle, is a strong-willed girl who knows what she wants. Amory falls in love with her because of her distinct personality; perhaps subconsciously he feels that by being in her presence he makes up for not having a personality of his own. Amory's next love, Rosalind, represents Amory's latent desire for the riches and luxuries that he lost with the death of his parents.
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Amory claims he is attracted to Eleanor because of "the mirror of himself that he found in the gorgeous clarity of her mind" (202). This demonstrates the fact that Amory does not consciously realize his actions when he emulates other peoples' personalities. He does so because he knows of no other way to create an identity for himself. Speaking of Isabelle, Amory says that there "was nothing at all to her except what I read into her" (170). This seems rather ironic, considering the exact opposite of his statement reflects the truth: Amory consists of nothing save the qualities others project into him when he associates with them. However, Eleanor brings Amory to the point at which he seems almost ready to shape his own individuality instead of mimicking others. The shock he receives after Eleanor has a violent mood swing and nearly rides her horse off a cliff makes him realize that his life is on a fateful path. Eleanor and Amory hate each other after this realization, but the hatred has a good quality in that Amory understands that he "had loved himself in Eleanor, so now what he hated was only a mirror" (218). Choosing to emulate Eleanor's dementia proved to be a bad decision along the course of Amory's search for himself. He sees his own defunct image in this "mirror," and it frightens him. It causes him to temporarily loathe himself as well as Eleanor, but it also teaches him that he needs to become an individual. While this idea exists in Amory's mind, it does not strike him full force until the death of Monsignor Darcy.
Monsignor Darcy seems to be an odd choice for a role model for Amory since Amory continually refers to himself as a "paganist" (209). However, it is not surprising that Amory idolizes the Monsignor not only because his pagan talk is superficial, but also because Beatrice held the Monsignor in the highest regard. Amory does not mean he believes in paganism when he refers to himself as "paganist;" he does not know himself well enough to know whether or not he believes in God. Rather he means he experiences what could be called a paganism of the soul: he has no soul, therefore nothing exists for him to, figuratively, worship, or technically, with which to worship. Amory looks up to Monsignor Darcy because he epitomizes what Amory wishes he could be; passively he continually strives to be like the Monsignor, which gives him a sense of stability in knowing what he aims for even though he cannot quite obtain it.
Amory found this same sense of stability in Burne Holiday during his Princeton years. Amory emulates him because "Burne stood vaguely for a land Amory hoped he was drifting towards" (116). Possibly, since Monsignor Darcy could not be at Princeton with him, Amory uses Burne as a substitute for the Monsignor. In the end, the loss of his male role models prompts Amory to find himself. He realizes that:
...of Monsignor's funeral was born the romantic elf who was
to enter the labyrinth with him. He found something that he
wanted, had always wanted and always would want - not to be
admired, as he had feared; not to be loved, as he had made himself
believe; but to be necessary to people, to be indispensable; he
remembered the sense of security he had found in Burne. (240)
Monsignor Darcy serves as Amory's persevering and stable source of security. Despite the fact that Amory would not know his true self from a common housefly in his drink, the Monsignor stayed with him throughout his search for identity. When Amory loses Monsignor Darcy, his driving force, he has a spiritual epiphany: he realizes that unless he becomes an individual, his life will amount to nothing. Monsignor Darcy's death causes Amory to recognize living a meaningless life as his greatest fear; he suddenly feels "an immense to desire to give people a sense of security" (241).
Amory's spiritual epiphany marks the point at which Fitzgerald's title reveals its significance. The title This Side of Paradise represents Amory's continuous struggle to reach his personal paradise: learning his true identity. Until Monsignor Darcy's death, Amory is trapped on "this side of paradise," on the opposite side of the looking glass, so to speak. He knows what he wishes to obtain - individuality - but he cannot reach it because it exists on the other side; he can see his goal, but like trying to touch one's image in a mirror, he cannot capture it until he breaks the glass. In order to break the glass Amory has to endure the trauma of losing his "sense of security," then he is forced to be his own security. The successful culmination of Amory's struggle to find himself becomes clear when he says, as the last lines of the novel, "'I know myself, but that is all.'" (255)
F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the "mirrors" in his novel to demonstrate the vacuity of Amory Blaine. Since he has no identity of his own, he mimics others to compensate for his shortcomings of soul. He is initially attracted to his victims ("victims" because Amory is, essentially, a parasite) because they are attractive like him; he then emulates their personalities, flaws included, according to his own whims of who or what he desires to be like. Amory spends a significant portion of his life flailing on "this side of paradise." Only when Amory loses his critical "mirror," Monsignor Darcy, and must discover his identity, can he reach his "paradise."
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. This Side of Paradise. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975