This Side of Paradise
Book II, Chapter 5: The Egotist Becomes a Personage
In New York, Amory reflects for the first time in his life about poor people, realizing that he detests them. An eloquent survey of the psychological suffering of people in cities follows. Amory maintains a conversation with himself in dialogue form between Question, "Q," and Answer, "A." His inner dialogue reveals how he thinks that good people going bad releases energy, and that people enjoy warming themselves on this energy. "A" concludes that Amory has no more calories left to give and has begun to warm himself on others. "A" then reflects on how he does not want to recapture his youth only to lose it again. A short collage of thoughts follows, which includes references to Beatrice, his youth, his finances and Dick Humbird. He is then denied admittance to a private club and accepts this denial with equanimity.
Amory reflects on where he would like to let himself dissipate: exotic places across the world. He regrets how his heroes, Burne Holiday and Darcy, are gone and how his loves have not transmuted themselves into art. Amory realizes that he has entered the labyrinth of the world, and at Darcy's funeral he decides he wants to provide people with security.
Lacking money, Amory sets out to walk to Princeton. On his walk a wealthy, heavy man and his irritating secretary pick him up and drive him for a while. Amory sets out on a long disquisition directed at the big man, quite rudely ignoring the secretary, on the nature of people's relationship to money. He attacks capitalism. He attacks what he terms "the spiritually married man," who accepts the systems already in place and tries to succeed in them, juxtaposing that man with the "spiritually unmarried man," who is a vehicle for change and growth. The big man does not agree with Amory's socialist ideas (and really, it is the first time Amory has even thought about them himself), but he likes Amory nonetheless. Before they drop him off, the big man introduces himself as Mr. Ferrenby, the father of Amory's friend Jesse who died in the war. Amory tells Mr. Ferrenby what a fine son he had, and sets out walking again.
Amory thinks while he walks, recognizing that he mustn't try to banish his selfishness but instead embrace it. He pauses beside a Civil War graveyard and several of the tombstones make him think of his lost loves. Amory arrives at Princeton around midnight, feeling sorry for the boys who are still being subjected to these old codes, but not feeling sorry for himself. He feels the old stir of ambition and dreams and pines for Rosalind, but he accepts it all. Stretching his arms out to the sky, the book ends with the words: "'I know myself,' he cried, 'but that is all--'"
In this chapter, we witness a final culmination of Amory's understanding of "the fundamental Amory." Amory, for the first time, perceives of a whole new class of people, the poor, since he finally realizes that he must count himself among them. Amory concludes that he has no more goodness to lose; he has hit bottom. Yet, he does not want to recapture his goodness or youth simply to have the pleasure of losing it again. He does not regret the choices he made; he simply regrets that they have already been made. He regrets that people he knew and the decisions he made did not become what he wished them to become. He sees those decisions in a true and unsentimental light for the first time, as the faces of the people who influenced him most pass through his mind; his mother, the unconventional, Dick, the conventional, and his lovers, the goals.
Amory decides, with resolve, to walk to Princeton, the site of his former happiness and some measure of his glory. There he can fully reconnect with his past. In walking, the trek transmutes into a form of a pilgrimage to his past. As Amory expounds his ideas to Mr. Ferrenby, he presents the sum total of what he has learned through his experiences, but all he says he still maintains a wholly selfish perspective. He denounces the "spiritually married man," even though he embraced that mode of existence happily when he was in love with Rosalind. When his heart was broken, he was forced rudely from this life, so he, in turn, denounces it and praises the "unmarried" man that he became. In his attack on capitalism, he readily admits that he would favor a revolution because of the possibility that it would land him on top.
The fact that the man to whom he is speaking turns out to be the father of a dead friend makes the scene more poignant. Amory may have been quite pleased with himself for his speech, but when he learns of the man's connection to the dead boy (Jesse), his pilgrimage must continue. The man's identity unsettles Amory and forces him to complete his quest.
As he continues his walk to Princeton, Amory concludes that he must embrace his selfishness and no longer try to banish it. He knows that he can act unselfishly, but only because they are expressions of himself and his own selfishness. This moment brings together many of his personal realizations throughout the novel.
When he arrives at Princeton--what he now sees as a somehow constant environment in which boys are still trying to conform--Amory makes some peace with himself. He accepts what he has been through, who he has become, and even who he will be in the future. In his moment of ecstatic joy and near beatitude, he embraces the fact that he knows himself, "but that is all--" Amory embraces his knowledge of himself and seems content to know nothing more for the time being.
The final punctuation mark of the novel has been a great source of debate among editors; some have opted for a period, others for a dash. The latest definitive edition, looking at manuscripts and marked copies of the book, chooses the dashes. Depending on the edition you have, the ending can be more or less definitive. A period would imply that Amory does know himself and that is the end. A dash, on the other hand, leaves the ending hanging, suggesting that he knows himself just at that moment, but that there is no definitive end. He will continue to grow and change, and changing self-knowledge must accompany any change. Though a period provides a more conclusive end to the book, it would indicate that Amory does not know that he will still change, implying a more limited self-knowledge than knowing that he will continue to change. In either case, the words themselves have become famous in American literature.
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