The Beautiful and Damned

by

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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The Beautiful and Damned: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A month later, in November, the cold winter seems to be making people in the city more eager than ever to socialize, many with an eye to marriage. Anthony sees an uptick in social invitations. On 42nd Street one afternoon, Anthony runs into Richard Caramel. He begrudgingly walks with Dick and listens to him discuss his writing process, remarking how disgusted he is by Dick’s face in the cold.
Anthony exists in a society with elaborately choreographed rituals, into which he is invited despite his continual feelings of loneliness. One of these rituals is marriage. As is any young bachelor, Anthony is in danger of being the target of women looking for husbands. Anthony’s disgust with Dick’s face and distraction from the substance of Dick’s conversation suggests that Anthony might be prone to the traps of the society girl who is beauty incarnate.
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Dick tells Anthony that he has a famous cousin named Gloria Gilbert who they could go see. She is from Kansas City but lives at the Plaza during the winter with her parents. Her mother, Dick says, is a practicing Bilphist, and her father would like to be a character in one of Dick’s novels. Anthony remarks that he has heard Gloria’s name. He says that he does not care for young girls but reflects inwardly that he is in fact fascinated by women who make a living on their beauty alone.
As a “famous” society girl, Gloria has presumably made a name for herself through no means but her beauty. Anthony’s attraction to the idea of monetizing beauty reflects not only his attraction to beautiful women but also his narcissism and hope that his own beauty might be enough for him to get by in the world without working.
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Dick goes on to say that Gloria is nice but has no brains. When Anthony teases Dick for the kind of intelligence he expects women to have, Dick asks why Anthony and Maury treat him as though he were inferior to them. Confused by the question, Anthony distracts Dick with a speech about how an artist is better served by the ability to imitate tradition than by great intelligence. Having reached the Plaza while talking, Anthony looks at his and Dick’s reflections and is relieved to find that in contrast to Dick, the cold has made his face appear more handsome.
In this moment Anthony proves unable to have a conversation about an interpersonal issue. Rather, he must deflect to philosophy, which is all he has been trained to discuss. His privileged upbringing has given him an array of intellectual tools but has left him emotionally stunted. He is unconcerned by Dick’s expression of discomfort in their friendship but continues to be preoccupied by the desire to be more beautiful than Dick.
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Anthony and Dick go upstairs to the Gilberts’ apartment. Gloria is out dancing, but they meet first Mrs. Gilbert then Mr. Gilbert, who has loose ties to the film industry. Neither approves of Gloria’s free-spiritedness. Mrs. Gilbert worries that she will dance herself to exhaustion, and Mr. Gilbert is frustrated that he cannot control her as easily as he controls his wife. The narrator remarks that thirty years of marriage have sapped Mrs. Gilbert of “moral courage.”
The Gilberts are one of the only models of marriage Anthony has seen as an adult. Mr. Gilbert models controlling behavior on the part of a husband, while Mrs. Gilbert models a wife’s concession to being controlled. The absence of Gloria in this scene both emphasizes the unbalanced marriage and builds up more mystery and legend around the dream of Gloria.
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Anthony and Dick discuss the weather and Gloria with the Gilberts. The narrator describes the young men laughing in “three-four time,” and the scene ends with “Smiles! Smiles! Bang! Two disconsolate young men walking down the tenth-floor corridor of the Plaza in the direction of the elevator.”
The style of the passage emphasizes that this social interaction is an aesthetic performance and that the characters have been groomed to perform a certain way. This then raises the question of who the audience is.
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The narrator’s attention shifts to Maury Noble. Maury is at a transition point in his life. His plan was always to become rich after three years of travel in Europe. Back in the U.S., it is time for the second phase of his plan. Although he is not rich yet, his latest endeavor has been to take up drinking. He pursues drinking with the same commitment he would use to learn a language while in school.
Although Maury has been spoiled by a privileged upbringing and often drinks with Anthony, it seems that he is less constitutionally unable to accomplish anything than Anthony is. Rather, he is deliberately spending his days drinking as part of a concerted project.  Unlike Anthony, he is conscious of his need to do something to enact his plan to get rich.
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Maury has an apartment in New York City but often spends weekends in Philadelphia with his mother and brother. After his afternoon with Dick, Anthony is delighted to find that Maury is home for a weekend for once. Maury’s presence fills the apartment and gives Anthony a sense of comfort that he finds paralleled only by the company of a “stupid woman.”
Anthony depends on Maury, his intellectual sparring partner, and on women he considers his intellectual inferiors to feel safe in his own home. Maury might be seen as a foil for Anthony in several ways. His closeness with his mother and ability to spend weekends with her contrasts with Anthony’s orphaned loneliness. In fact, it is important to note that Anthony is in competition with Maury’s mother for Maury’s time.
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Anthony tells Maury about the current “stupid woman” he has been seeing, named Geraldine. Maury marvels that she probably understands nothing of the history of the world. The question of whether or not Dick could write her as a character in his book leads Anthony and Maury to an abstract discussion about literature. The conversation dies when Anthony describes a “classic” as a book that stands the test of time. The narrator remarks that the two men are more interested in generalities than the technical aspects of literary study.
The narrator has stated that Anthony feels more comfortable around Maury than Dick. This passage contrasts with the preceding interaction with Dick to demonstrate that Maury is more likely than Dick to talk in abstract philosophical terms that are comfortable to the highly-educated but poorly socialized Anthony.
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Tired of literary discussion, Anthony and Maury begin discussing their respective days. Maury describes the girl he met at tea who distracted him to the point that he missed his train to Philadelphia for the weekend. She was young, ate gum drops compulsively, and discussed the beauty of her legs with Maury. When Maury reveals that she turned out to be Dick’s cousin, Anthony realizes that the girl is the very Gloria Gilbert he missed at the Plaza.
Both Anthony and Maury notice Gloria’s youth and beauty above all. In fact, her youth and beauty are so distracting that Maury neglects to stick to the schedule that usually governs his life. Fitzgerald uses Maury in this scene to demonstrate that it is not only Anthony who is dangerously attracted to Gloria. Like the sirens of Homer’s Odyssey, Gloria’s main defining characteristic is her powerful allure to men.
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Maury and Anthony go on about how wonderful it is that Gloria is beautiful and not smart. Anthony tells Maury that he seems especially taken with her. Maury responds with worries about his advancing age (he is two years older than Anthony). He feels unable to escape into romance the way Anthony can. Still, he tells Anthony, he felt a kinship with Gloria, as though something about her were old just like him.
Maury and Anthony value women’s beauty and despise women’s intelligence. Their remarks reflect their conditioning by a society that not only casts women as objects to be gazed upon, but that also tends to valorize beauty over intelligence. Unlike Anthony, Maury has reservations about yielding to his desire for Gloria’s beauty and indeed sees that she might be more substantive underneath its mask.
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Morning several days later finds Anthony sleeping late. When he finally gets up, he dresses slowly and adds an evening with Dick and Gloria to a very short to-do list. He marvels at how much more structured his day looks than usual.
Anthony’s renewed interest in Dick is motivated by a newfound interest in Gloria, who he now desires both because of her beauty and because Maury covets her as well. His self-satisfaction with planning a social engagement demonstrates both his privileged access to leisure time and his poor time management skills. With each wasted day, he is wasting more of his life.
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Anthony stares at the books he has taken out from the library and failed to read. They are accruing late fees, but he has no plans to return them soon. The sight of them sets Anthony into one of his melancholy moods. He laments to himself that he is weak and aging too fast, lacking the aspirations of Dick or even Maury.
Anthony’s inability to stick to the social contract surrounding library due dates increases the reader’s sense that Anthony is unable to truly function in society. He worries that time and his friends are passing him by, and yet he passively allows himself to fall further behind schedule. Again because of his privileged upbringing, he does not worry about financial consequences of his lateness.
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An afternoon of cocktails and luncheon at the University Club cheers Anthony. He runs into two of his former classmates who are now married, and they remind him of Mr. Gilbert. He realizes that he is still unattached and poised to use his grandfather’s inheritance to “build his own pedestal and be a Talleyrand, a Lord Verulam.” However, as soon as he returns to the solitude of his apartment, the cocktails wear off and he becomes melancholy once more.
Anthony is beginning to rely on alcohol to keep his mood up. When drunk, he manages to convince himself that he is better than those around him and that he will rise to greatness. He takes for granted that he will inherit a fortune from his grandfather on which he will build himself into a legacy-worthy political figure.
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Just as Anthony is overcome with disgust for his inability to apply himself to any pursuit except drinking cocktails, Dick buzzes into the apartment and announces Gloria. Upon answering the door, Anthony immediately notices her gloved hands and Alice-blue dress with a lace collar. As Dick sells up Gloria’s beauty and Gloria complains of the cold, Anthony springs to action, making a fire and performing the duties of host.
Anthony relies on the presence of others to distract himself from his self-loathing. His mood lightens when he sees Gloria’s fashionable clothing. The sight seems to give him the energy to perform the role of host. The social grace of listening to his guest and making a fire is born not out of real hospitality but out of the desire to match Gloria’s fashionable appearance.
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Gloria immediately begins talking at length, even though she alone listens intently to her words. Anthony contemplates her beauty and only becomes aware of what she is saying when she compliments his name. She says that “Patch” suggests he should look like a horse, but that he lives up to the name “Anthony,” looking both majestic and solemn.
Gloria is self-absorbed to the point that she does not seem to notice that no one is listening to her. Anthony once again demonstrates that he is interested in Gloria for her beauty alone. He only begins listening to her when she compliments his own appearance. They are perfectly matched in their self-absorption, but already show, this early in their relationship, a fundamental inability to attend to one another.
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Dick chimes into the conversation about names, but the conversation keeps falling back into a dialogue between Gloria and Anthony. They speak disparagingly of Adam Patch’s reformist tendencies, but what makes Gloria sit straight up is Anthony’s assertion that he has heard a few things about her.
In each other’s company, Anthony and Gloria fall immediately out of touch with the rest of the world. Gloria seems more comfortable than Maury with Anthony’s preferred method of bonding: insulting mutual acquaintances or celebrities. Gloria mirrors Anthony’s desire to be complimented by sitting up when she hears that her reputation, the image she carefully cultivates, has preceded her.
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When Gloria asks what Anthony has heard about her, Anthony mentions that Maury told him of her beauty. He ascertains that Gloria remembers Maury but that he never called her. Anthony begins to wonder how, earlier in the day, he found his apartment so dreary when now it is full of cheer.
While the self-interested Gloria is flattered by the rumors circulating about her, Anthony is pleased to find that he seems to have won out over Maury in the competition for Gloria’s attention. Gloria wants to be gazed upon as an object of beauty and intrigue. Anthony wants this object of beauty to gaze back at him.
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Later in the week, Anthony and Gloria have tea on their own. Anthony contemplates Gloria in the gray suit she has explicitly picked out because it requires heavy makeup, and he wonders at how young and even childlike she seems, both physically and mentally.
Gloria and Anthony seem equally invested in Gloria’s carefully composed appearance. Anthony’s wonder at Gloria’s youthfulness demonstrates both the infantilizing of women common to this society, and a nostalgic preoccupation with the lack of responsibility Anthony himself had as a child. 
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Gloria carefully scopes out the restaurant, picking the perfect place to sit, and along the way pointing out to Anthony various attractive girls and their physical flaws. Anthony turns the conversation topic to Gloria herself. She tells him that according to Dick, she has no autobiography because “the biography of every woman begins with the first kiss that counts, and ends when her last child is laid in her arms.” Gloria isn’t sure whether she has experienced a kiss that counted in her 22 years.
Like Anthony, Gloria is invested in elevating herself at the expense of others, particularly when it comes to physical appearance. By quoting Dick, she reveals that she thinks of herself in terms that society has laid out for her as a woman. She has kissed or been kissed any number of times, but she has difficulty distinguishing a performed kiss from a “real” kiss because she is constantly performing the role of the society girl. The line she quotes from Dick also shows that motherhood is expected of her as woman—her life is only defined in relation to men and children, not on her own terms.
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Anthony tells Gloria that he thought she was only 18, and she tells him that is the age she is going to start being. She does not want the responsibility of aging, marriage, or children. At her request, Anthony orders some gum drops for Gloria to suck on while she turns the subject to him.
Gloria professes to defy societal expectations by rejecting the timeline society has set for her, but she also reinforces this timeline by worrying about her age. She does not want to reject the timeline entirely but rather wants to remain suspended at a particular, youthful moment when she has the most power and agency within society’s expectations. It is in this moment that Anthony first caters to her wishes by ordering her the candy that makes her appear so childlike.
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Aided by a cocktail, Anthony proudly announces that he does nothing because he has no useful skills. Gloria does not react as strongly as he had hoped, instead making a distracted statement that her father is angry at her. Anthony exasperatedly asks her if she ever forms judgments on things. Finally, she says it always surprises her that anyone does anything given that all she wants to do is sleep and be surrounded by enough active people to make her feel secure. It is her world, she says to Anthony, as long as she is young. Anthony understands that she first intended to say “beautiful.” Gloria changes the subject by asking Anthony to dance.
Because neither Anthony nor Gloria has the discipline to keep after adult responsibilities, they feel comfortable confessing their laziness to one another. In fact, in each other’s company, they are proud of their lack of accomplishments. Gloria’s self-absorption prevents her from focusing for long on Anthony’s confession of laziness, and Anthony betrays the first hint of his temper and frustration with being ignored by her. Both characters demonstrate an uneasy understanding that they conflate beauty with youth.
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Anthony begins taking Gloria out on dates over the next several weeks. It is difficult to schedule with her around her other social engagements, and her attention often wanders when she is out with Anthony. He finds her frustrating and is especially jealous when, just before Christmas, he calls and she tells him she just sent a man out of her apartment. Although she is in a foul temper, Anthony quickly agrees when she tells him she wants to go do something exciting.
Anthony remains fixated on Gloria despite her inattention to him. In fact, he seems all the more determined to pursue her because of her affected disinterest, even though he finds it incredibly frustrating. He seems to want her because he cannot fully have her, and she enjoys being the object of his desire.
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There aren’t many option, so Gloria settles for the cabaret. Anthony notices that all the women there seem detached, as though they are in the crowd but not part of it. They seem to be there out of convenience, and to find husbands above their social standing. When Anthony finally looks at Gloria, she is the only one who looks supremely happy and comfortable.
Anthony and Gloria find themselves in the midst of a social performance. All the women are trying to sell images of themselves to the men of good social standing in the hopes of climbing the ranks of society. Anthony feels removed enough from this performance to reflect on it as though he is an objective observer, but the fact that Gloria seems the most at home of any of the women in this setting suggests that Anthony may be unwittingly falling prey to her performance.
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When the play begins, the gaudiness makes Anthony supremely anxious about the falseness of life. Meanwhile, Gloria insists that she has “a streak of cheapness” and belongs here in the theatre. Anthony diverts his attention from the stage to Gloria. He wishes he could paint her in this moment, and finds her radiant as the sun.
Anthony has difficulty distinguishing between the false reality presented on stage and the reality of life. His anxiety over this blurred boundary reflects his conception of his life as a story that will unfold without his intervention. Gloria feels that a performance venue is exactly where she is most at home, suggesting that she too feels that her life is disconnected from reality. Anthony’s intense desire to render an artistic representation of Gloria suggests an impulse to break with reality even further, becoming fully absorbed in her appearance instead of with his “real” life, or even his interactions with Gloria herself as a person beyond her beauty.
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