So how is it that this novel, despite it’s shortcomings, was still able to be successful? Ask any New York agent to represent your literary novel with a male protagonist and he’ll tell you: “Literary novel’s with a male protagonist are hard sells.” And they are. Think about it: How many literary novels with male protagonists have you enjoyed in the last, say, five years? Probably zero. The key to the success of This Side of Paradise is in Fitzgerald’s mastery of the Male Protagonist in a Literary Novel Problem. But why should this even be a problem at all? It’s my belief that males generally don’t relate to one and other. They dominate each other. The question of ‘do you respect a full grown man?’ really comes down to: ‘is he dominate in some way?’
In a literary novel, a male protagonist is essentially going after the status quo. He’s saying that the society in which you live needs to change. We’re not apt to give credence to a full grown male who thinks things should change and yet is not in a powerful situation. We’ll assume it’s sour grapes. So, in a literary novel, a male lead must be powerful enough to have an unbiased view of the problem he sees with society. The difficulty is that powerful, dominant men generally don’t tend to be sensitive and open-minded enough to appreciate a societal problem. What’s needed in a literary male protagonist is a delicate balance of sensitivity and strength that we don’t normally see in the real world.
Many a would-be author will pen a male protagonist who just isn’t strong enough for us to feel sympathy for him. And striking this balance, or countermining this principle, has been the secret struggle of many a literary author. Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a whinny, emotional punk… but he was the king of Denmark; T.S. Garp was a famous author; most all of Hemingway’s male leads were war veterans or soldiers or, in the case of The Old Man and the Sea, handicapped with age. Other ways to get around the unsympathetic male protagonist is with youth, ie, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn, or insanity, (see: Hamlet, yet again), Lolita, Moby Dick (Captain Ahab) and Slaughter House Five.
The average, weak and sensitive male is to be avoided at all costs by the would-be author of literary fiction. History shows us that it is only kind to those that follow this principle and This Side of Paradise is no exception. Where Fitzgerald succeeds is with his execution of what I’ll call the Snob Narrator (something that he wasted no time in establishing in The Great Gatsby). Amory Blaine is sensitive and weak in many ways—for example his vanity—but since he is a Princeton student and literary scholar, we know he also has dominance. It’s this balance of sensitivity and strength (much like Shakespeare’s Hamlet) that convince us through the 268 pages of this novel until the very end that Amory Blaine might have the solution to what is wrong with society. SPOILER ALERT: He didn’t. Fun read though. And very inventive.
Alright, you waited patiently. Here’s the new Great Gatsby trailer. I usually don’t go in for trends but with a little luck, this might just be THE BOMB!
PS the production values look awesome and Leonardo DeCaprio is a good actor. Seriously, I’m a fan. Not sure how I feel about Toby Maguire in this one yet. I’ll hold my opinions on that until I see it.