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Book I, Chapter 4: Narcissus Off Duty

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In January of Amory's senior year, he learns that a number of juniors are thinking of resigning from their clubs as a form of protest. Burne Holiday (Kerry's brother) is the instigating force. In discussions with Burne, Amory realizes the extent to which he has allowed himself to become idle. Burne reignites Amory's intellectual flame, which had almost gone out. Though serious in demeanor, Burne has a history of organized mischief, involving pranks like assembling a taxicab in a dean's office.

Amory and Burne, who is gradually distancing himself from social convention and becoming somewhat of a martyr, strike up an intense friendship. Burne explains to Amory how he comes to understand other people, that "it always makes everything all right to project yourself completely into another's place." Amory assumes an attitude similar to Burne's and disturbs the Cottage club by bringing eccentric guests to dinner there. Alec is disturbed by Amory's new attitude, but Amory asks him to accept it as long as he is the same old Amory in private.

As a postscript to a letter, Monsignor Darcy asks Amory to visit a poor, widowed relation of his in Philadelphia. When Amory finds Clara, though, he is somewhat disappointed that she is not the image of poverty and squalor that he imagined; he also falls in love with her. She is beautiful and charming; although she likes Amory, she announces she has never been in love and does not love him. Still, she observes that Amory is really quite humble and has neither much self-respect nor much judgment. Amory considers her the only girl he has ever met whom he could understand might prefer another man to him.

The war reaches America and men start to enlist. Burne declares himself a pacifist, sells all his belongings and leaves for Pennsylvania on a battered bicycle. Amory and the others set off for the war, all of them trying to figure out whom to blame for the violence. Amory writes a poem blaming the Victorians. Amory and Tom say an emotional goodbye to Princeton.


In this chapter, entitled "Narcissus off Duty," Burne helps to dislodge Amory from his egotism and open him up to a new world. Unlike Amory, who simply idled out of convention, Burne openly confronts it. The charge Burne leads against the social clubs acts as an open revolt against the world Amory came to oppose through self-involved apathy. Amory absorbs Burne's thoughts and opinions and learns a great deal from his ability to empathize with other people. Burne reawakens the fundamental Amory.

Yet, Amory can only absorb Burne's ideas by changing on the outside; his change is merely skin-deep. He adopts much of Burne's persona as a pose, not as a true change. Amory's conversation with Alec reveals to what extent Amory's change is merely a pose, another phase.

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