Summary: BOOK ONE, Chapter II

Portrait of a Siren 

It’s November, and the New York City social life is coming alive. Richard offers to introduce Anthony to his cousin Gloria Gilbert, a beautiful yet seemingly unintelligent girl. Anthony and Richard call on the Gilberts at the Plaza. There, they meet Mrs. Gilbert, Richard’s aunt, who explains that Gloria is out dancing somewhere, and Mr. Gilbert, a very dull man who is in the celluloid business and involved in films. Anthony and Richard depart without meeting Gloria.

A Lady’s Legs 

On a cold Saturday night in December, Anthony drops by his friend Maury Noble’s apartment. They gossip about Geraldine, a young woman who ushers at a club and whom Anthony sees from time to time, and about Richard Caramel and the novel he’s writing. As they talk, Maury reports on meeting Gloria Gilbert at a party. According to Maury, Gloria talked a bit about her mother’s belief in Bilphism, or reincarnation, but mostly about her own lovely legs and her tan. Maury is clearly intrigued by the beautiful Gloria.


Anthony wakes up in a fog after a night spent drinking with Richard. He remembers he asked Richard to bring his cousin Gloria Gilbert to tea. Anthony spends the morning thinking about starting to write and the afternoon imagining himself as a diplomat or congressman. He starts to admit to himself that he’s a fool when the doorbell rings and Gloria Gilbert is announced.

The Beautiful Lady 

Gloria is even more beautiful than Richard and Maury have described her. She, Richard, and Anthony talk superficially about women’s names and then about Gloria’s wild reputation. Anthony feels that his apartment has never been so warm and friendly.


Gloria and Anthony meet for tea at the Plaza. Gloria tells Anthony her age: twenty-two. She admits she loves talking about herself, and Anthony confides that he doesn’t really see why he should work. Gloria says that she doesn’t mind people who do nothing.


Anthony and Gloria go on several dates. On one date, they go to a large cabaret that caters to working-class people. Anthony finds the place cheap, but Gloria loves it. She tells Anthony that she belongs among these people. To Anthony, Gloria appears as bright and beautiful as the sun.

Analysis: BOOK ONE, Chapter II

This chapter introduces societal roles and rituals as a motif. The scene in which Richard introduces Anthony to Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert illustrates this motif. When Anthony meets Gloria’s parents, he catalogs their lesser quirks and traits according to their place in society and watches as each character performs their expected role. Just as Gloria is cast in the role of Beauty after the dramatic scene in Chapter 1, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert seem to be acting out the roles of Husband and Wife. Mrs. Gilbert prattles on and on during introductions, and the narration points out that she is following a script based on her role as the wife. Meanwhile, Mr. Gilbert plays his part in the role of the domineering husband. After fifteen years of marriage, the narrator notes, Mr. Gilbert has conquered his wife. His most effective weapon it seems is the number of “yes’s” he inserts into a conversation as if to poison it and emerge triumphant. The scene supports Anthony’s belief that marriage is a union he wants nothing to do with. He would much rather live a carefree life of leisure than get stuck in a marriage play like the Gilberts’. However, despite Anthony’s rejection of roles and rituals, he and Gloria will fall into the roles that society has given them, too.

This chapter also introduces beauty, and its inevitable decline, as a theme. Maury and Anthony primarily discuss Gloria’s youth and beauty when they anticipate meeting her, and they explicitly revel in the fact that they don’t perceive her as intelligent. This suggests that for them, Gloria’s value comes from her youth and beauty. When Gloria arrives, she plays her role as a society girl, thus fulfilling Beauty’s foreshadowing in the previous chapter. She explicitly links her beauty with gaining societal power, revealing that she pays great attention to her physical appearance because it allows her to place herself above others. Furthermore, Gloria obsesses over her age as if she were much older and commits to acting eighteen years old as long as she can. To Gloria, the idea of being twenty-two signals that she will inevitably lose her beauty and thus her freedom, and she will instead be burdened by marriage and motherhood. 

This chapter further explores wealth and waste. Much like Anthony, Gloria feels no pressure to have skills or to do anything, opting for a life of leisure that requires unearned wealth. For Gloria, who is valued in society only because she is beautiful, this unearned wealth comes through maintaining her youth and beauty. Gloria’s anxiety about getting older is essentially anxiety about having to do anything in particular with her time. Gloria’s worldview perfectly aligns with Anthony’s. Neither wants anything to do with work. The idea of working for one’s wealth is practically foreign and offensive to both. This sentiment foreshadows the marriage the two will have later in the book when they shirk their responsibilities to everything except their vices.