The sad construction of the life of our Young Egoist, Armory, is told by Fitzgerald with an initially sardonic tone that slowly turns into a tender sympathy. The ground work for Amory’s self discovery at the end of the novel is laid in the wonderfully off kilter childhood, meaningless yet sturdy architecture of his prep-school days and finally the real intellectual awakening of an intelligent man through his college days.
You will admit that if it was not life it was magnificent (8)
The heart of the book is the lead up to and fall from a love affair. That rare thing that we all half-hope isn’t true if we have not experienced it, and then, goodness, if we do, find ourselves unexpectedly alive with the meaning for living.
“It may be an insane love-affair,” she told her anxious mother, “but it’s not inane” (186)
The affair leaves such a searingly raw wound on our Suffering Egoist that it can only be told in the form of a script. The later sense of unreality, that feeling of did I imagine all that? can only be rendered as a third person theatrical event, Some distance must be created in order to get the words out.
Rosalind: I’d rather keep it as a beautiful memory – tucked away in my heart.
Amory: Yes, women can do that -but not men. I’d remember always, not the beauty of it while it lasted, but just the bitterness, the long bitterness. (194)
Fitzgerald constructs a devastating recreation of one of the worst disillusionment known to mankind. The last third of the novel attempts to deal with the despair. The sardonic tone is heroically enlisted, but in the end the novel takes a very somber turn. Armory, turning philosophical, gives an impassioned and intelligent plea for socialism:
“Well,” said Amory, “I simply state that I’m a product of a versatile mind in a restless generation-with every reason to throw my mind and pen in with the radicals. Even if, deep in my heart, I thought we were all blind atoms in a world as limited as a stroke of a pendulum, I and my sort would struggle against tradition; try, at least, to displace old cants with new ones. I’ve thought I was right about life at various times, but faith is difficult. One thing I know. If living isn’t seeking for the grail it may be a damned amusing game. (278)
In Armory’s view life should not be lived for the bags of gold, but for the blue ribbons. He argues for the idea that people prefer to do things for the honor of doing them, for the honor of living and feeling. Living and feeling well, which is obviously within our capacity.
The woman that he truly loved left him for a bag of gold. He comes to see that this is a mistake of epic and tragic proportions. His entire world view, which he puts forward as a sort of political philosophy, is camped at the entrance of what looks to him as a stupid labyrinth: the incomprehensible fact that she left him for the banal safety of a bourgeoisie life.
It’s all a tragic error: we are conditioned to go along, progress, go forward, collect your bags of gold and ignore the rest. When what we really want is meaning and connection to what makes us human. That connection is the grail; it is the blue ribbon.
For Armory, it is cold comfort to have come to this understanding of who he is: an understanding with his heart.
The blue ribbon is love, and he lost.
*title of post from- The Drooping Hours a chapter heading- Fitzgerald has a near Hugo-ian talent for titles and chapter headings.