The Search for Identity
From the perspective of Amory Blaine
Everyone searches for his or her identity, thinking to find it on the proverbial “journey of life”. People think that an identity is something to be found or discovered, where in reality it is something built. A person’s identity is a mélange of accumulated memories and experiences. We accrue our identity over the course of our lives, unconsciously adding to it as we experience and feel different things. This is shown very well in the life of Amory in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side Of Paradise.
Amory Blaine is the main character of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel This Side Of Paradise. He is described as an egotist, caring about people’s perception of him more than his actual character. Amory constantly seeks to be seen as different, higher, or of a different breed than his peers. Amory’s identity, throughout the course of the novel, is constantly shifting to match the atmosphere of the group he’s in; he consistently second-guesses and re-evaluates his life goals, never sticking to one ‘philosophy’ for longer than a few chapters at a time. Amory’s identity, as he knows it, is a shifting, amorphous thing; it is exceedingly subject to change depending on the social climate around him.
Amory’s identity starts out very similar to his mother’s, a result of her homeschooling and teaching him for the larger part of his elementary years. Amory’s father was very hands-off in terms of parenting, leaving Amory and his mother alone for much of Amory’s early life. Amory’s mother, Beatrice, is very much an aristocrat; she is used to living at a higher standard than people in her peer group. This aloof and pretentious behavior rubbed off on Amory, providing him with a base personage on which to build upon. At this stage in Amory’s life, he has an “identity”, but this identity is not fully grown; Amory’s identity still is young, not yet altered by outside influences. He hasn’t gone anywhere with his identity yet, he is just starting to learn who he is.
Our identities are hugely influenced by experiences in our lives, one such experience being school. School and education are huge influences for children in their early lives, they lay down the foundations of our person. Who we want to become, what we want to do with our lives, and even our personal goals are influenced by our education. This phenomenon is exhibited in Amory’s life when he first attends school at St. Regis’s academy after traveling around the world with his mother. His education furthered his worldview and expanded his thinking; while he matured his identity also matured to aid him in a range of new experiences as he progressed down life’s road.
Another major factor in our identity is our relational ties, our friends and lovers, teachers and mentors. Amory made friends at St. Regis’s, but when he first came he felt much superior to the other boys because he hadn’t interacted with people his age much. Going to a school with people his age and making connections with them altered Amory’s identity slightly, he no longer felt obviously superior to his peers; Amory at this point only wanted to be viewed as superior, and he carried this identity with him to Princeton. At Princeton, Amory made real friends for the first time. Juxtaposed with Amory’s earlier state of identifying as superior to his peers, now he feels like there are indeed people worthy of his time, people that are his equals. This in and of itself is quite a major change, it shows how over the course of our lives continual exposure to a certain thing can cause us to acclimate. In this instance, Amory was first exposed to friendship within his peer group in elementary school and was less open to it. But by the time he went to college, he had acclimated and began to strike up relationships with his classmates.
After college Amory goes out into the world to start the working life and is invited by his friend Alec to Alec’s sister’s courting ball. Amory, knowing of the beauty of Alec’s sister Rosalind, accepts the invitation. This brings us to a third identity-altering phenomenon, love. Amory, upon meeting Rosalind, is instantly attracted to her and her to him. They hit it off at the ball, much to the chagrin of Rosalind’s mother who likes Amory well enough but wants Rosalind to marry a wealthy aristocratic man in order to secure her future. This relationship drastically changes Amory while it’s happening, but also after it ends. Amory identifies differently before, after, and during the relationship between him and Rosalind. Before the relationship Amory is aloof and cold, thinking himself the mental superior to most of his peers. His identity is centered around his intellect, how intelligent he is compared to his classmates. But after he starts to date Rosalind we see a change in his character. Amory’s feelings for Rosalind cause his values to change, he now values Rosalind and what she thinks of him much more than he values what his peers’ view of him is. There is a change in Amory’s identity, both on a superficial level and a deep emotional level. He identifies as Rosalind’s lover, but on a deeper level he is emotionally invested in his relationship with her, he has deep relational ties with her that matter to him.
At the end of the first half of the story, Amory and Rosalind break up. Rosalind knows that Amory is poor now because of his family’s bad investments, and she knows that if she’s poor she will be miserable. Not wanting Amory to suffer because of her, and not wanting to suffer herself, she ends the relationship. Needless to say, Amory is destroyed by this. Rosalind had become the source of his joy, his identity was wrapped up in their relationship. Once that was taken away from him, he goes through a period of drifting through life. Although our identities don’t seem like they change very often, they are the source of actions; they are the filter through which we see the world. Amory’s view of the world drastically changed in the course of a few chapters, moving from a La Vie En Rose kind of state to a somber, melancholy existence. Amory’s identity changed, obviously because he is no longer in a relationship, but also because his emotional bonds were very quickly severed. He doesn’t identify as being in a happy place anymore, and his actions reflect this sudden change in identity.
What we see over the course of this novel is the evolution of an identity. There is indeed an argument that our identities don’t change, but as we can see in Amory’s life in This Side Of Paradise, he is a very different person at the end than at the beginning. His experiences throughout his life altered his personage dramatically. Amory at his core is a different personality, there are still elements from his old identity, but they’re just parts in a new puzzle. His experiences and responses to those experiences molded him and shaped him so that he was never quite the same at any two points in his life. It’s the same with us, the audience. Our identities are constantly changing, evolving with us as we grow both mentally and spiritually throughout our lives.