Summary: BOOK THREE, Chapter II
A Matter of Aesthetics
We now learn about the period in which Anthony is in the army away from Gloria from Gloria’s perspective.
After Anthony leaves for Camp Hooker, Gloria feels utterly alone and realizes how few friends she has. Muriel is doing war work in a hospital. The men are all in uniform. One day in early January, Gloria runs into Rachael Barnes. Rachael invites her to dinner with two sweet officers who are headed overseas.
The Wiles of Captain Collins
Gloria has a wonderful time at Rachael’s dinner, basking in the admiration of Captain Collins. After dinner, the four go out dancing, and then they return to Rachael’s apartment to drink. Rachael and Captain Wolf have an intimate conversation. At the other end of the room, Captain Collins tries to kiss Gloria. Rachael offers the couple her spare bedroom, but Gloria refuses and goes home.
One of Gloria’s old flames, Tudor Baird, takes her out several times and falls in love with her again, all of which Gloria enjoys. One night she even gives him a kiss. The next day, Tudor is killed in a plane crash, and Gloria is glad that she’d kissed him.
By the spring, Gloria can tell from Anthony’s letters that he does not want her to join him in the South. She goes out on dates with a number of men but makes her marital status clear. In October, she receives frantic letters from Anthony followed by a long silence. Then a telegram tells her that he had been ill and will soon be in New York. He comes back into her life at a ball, and once again she experiences the illusion of happiness and security.
Discomfiture of the Generals
Anthony returns to Mississippi to be discharged from the army. Anthony is relieved that Dot is not waiting for him and concludes she has gone. Their captain’s farewell speech makes Anthony loathe the military more than ever. He returns to New York and Gloria.
Anthony and Gloria face life with a dwindling income and with no resolution of their lawsuit. They accuse each other of spending too much. They make resolutions and do nothing. Anthony sinks so low as to sign on to sell a book called Heart Talks, which promises the secrets of success.
Further Adventures with “Heart Talks”
Anthony’s sales career fails quickly. Prohibition goes into effect, but Anthony can always find liquor. He quarrels with Maury over his drinking habits. Meanwhile, there’s another judgment against them in their lawsuit, another appeal, and another delay. Gloria resolves once again to go into motion pictures. She comes down with influenza and feverishly seeks her mother, just wanting to be a little girl again.
“Odi Profanum Vulgus”
The nurse who is taking care of Gloria hears her raving in a fever. Gloria says people are swarming like rats or lice and that she’d sacrifice a million of them for a palace.
Just before her twenty-ninth birthday, Gloria calls Joseph Bloeckman and asks him about getting into the movies. A letter comes the next morning offering her a screen test for a part. Saying nothing to Anthony, Gloria goes to the film studio. Bloeckman shows Gloria around and hands her on to Percy B. Debris for a screen test.
Mr. Debris reads Gloria through her screen test, and she forces herself to act and follow his directions. She feels awful about her performance and spends the next three days replaying the scene in her mind. Bloeckman sends a note to say that Mr. Debris needs a younger woman. Gloria looks in the mirror, sees every wrinkle, and cries for the loss of her beauty.
Analysis: BOOK THREE, Chapter II
Here, Gloria finally sees her beauty begin its decline. Much of Gloria’s role in this chapter revolves around an examination of her beauty and therefore her sense of self-worth. She has been objectified constantly throughout the novel, and her trajectory in this chapter recalls the dramatic scene from the first chapter in which Beauty is destined to become a society girl to be paid in love. Gloria’s sense of beauty and self-worth declines almost as soon as Anthony returns from military training. The results of Gloria’s screen test also support this theme. It’s devastating to Gloria to learn she is too old to play the role of the flapper, and this emphasizes not only that her beauty is waning but also that she has missed out on the opportunity to pursue an acting career. In processing this rejection, Gloria realizes that it is now her twenty-ninth birthday. Earlier in the book, Gloria’s twenty-sixth birthday is in May, suggesting that Gloria may have postponed her birthday to stave off the inevitable. This speaks volumes about the value she places in her beauty and the devastation she feels while perceiving its decline.
Anthony’s narrative here engages with alcoholism and self-sabotage. As soon as Gloria and Anthony are reunited, he falls into hard alcoholism. He claims he will go a day without drinking, and when he is unable to, Gloria sinks deeper into a sense of hopelessness. He also refuses to meaningfully look for work and insists that all the newspaper ads are for jobs that are beneath him. Ironically, these jobs are likely too good for Anthony, who has no experience doing anything. Furthermore, he sabotages his career prospects by getting drunk in the delusional hope that it will improve his sales tactics. He refuses to learn from his mistakes and instead makes the situation much worse in pursuit of comfort. Furthering the irony, the job Anthony takes is one that might be beneficial to him, if he were capable of recognizing it. Anthony’s downward trajectory through alcohol will only get worse as he continues to sabotage his own life.