Dick Caramel has always wanted to be a writer, but after college he was caught in the fad of working for charity or “service.” He spent about a year working with immigrants before becoming bored and starting a journalism career. About a year into this second career, he was fired and began working on his novel, The Demon Lover.
Like Anthony, Dick has had trouble consistently maintaining a job. Not in desperate need of a large income, he has been caught up in societal trends that have waylaid his progress toward his vision for himself. Still, he has maintained the goal of becoming a writer and has begun to work towards this goal in earnest.
In January 1914, Dick’s book is nearly complete and is the subject of most of his social interactions. It follows him like a shadow and has turned his nose a blue color that is “suggestive of the flames licking around a sinner.” One of his literary confidantes is Mrs. Gilbert, who tells him one day that her palmist sees great things in store for him, despite never having heard his name. Uncomfortable discussing himself, Dick changes the subject to Gloria and his opinion that Anthony is smitten with her. He thinks she ought to marry him and have done with it, because the caliber of men she has been hanging around has been decreasing.
Dick’s book is consuming him, creating his own personal version of hell. However, as Mrs. Gilbert’s palmist predicts, Dick’s suffering now will pay off for him later. Dick’s absorption in his work and discomfort discussing himself contrasts sharply with Anthony and Gloria’s desire to discuss only themselves and never to actually work. Despite his familiarity with both Anthony and Gloria’s lack of work ethic, Dick thinks that they should get married because it will preserve Gloria’s social standing.
Mrs. Gilbert reflects that Gloria used to surround herself with undergraduate men until one day she suddenly announced she had grown tired of them. While she used to cultivate a reputation as the most sought-after young woman in Kansas City, she no longer seems to care about her reputation and has grown “cold.” Dick listens, reflecting that while he used to be interested in Gloria as the subject of a journalistic endeavor, he now finds himself interested in her on a familial level. Just as he begins to wonder why Gloria has been spending time with Joseph Bloeckman, Muriel Kane, and Rachael Jerryl, the door opens, and Gloria walks in with the latter two.
Mrs. Gilbert’s sense that Gloria no longer cares about her reputation is at odds with Gloria’s interest in what Anthony has heard about her. The tension between these two moments suggests that Gloria is interested in her reputation, but is no longer concerned with conforming it to societal standards. Mrs. Gilbert’s concern that Gloria has grown “cold” emphasizes that, just as she herself expressed to Anthony, she is failing to live up to the ideal of womanhood that has been constructed for her. Now that Gloria is allowing her reputation to differ from that of the ideal society girl, Dick is no longer interested in her intellectually and wants to marry her off favorably.
Dick notices Gloria’s two friends with what he thinks of as the novelist’s eye. Muriel Kane hovers between “plumpness and width” and is too fashionable, overly aware of style but not manners. Rachael Jerryl, meanwhile, is older and more reserved. Dick pegs her as a “Jewess” and notices that she seems to follow or copy Gloria’s every move. Gloria sucks on a gumdrop and largely ignores the group as they get to know one another, and Mrs. Gilbert describes Dick as an Ancient Soul. Gloria finally intervenes to invite everyone to a party, at which she promises to introduce Dick to Joseph Bloeckman.
Dick is less concerned with the women he observes than with how his observations reflect back on him as a novelist. The women are objects of beauty (or of beauty’s shortcomings), while Dick allows himself intellectual interiority. Mrs. Gilbert reinforces his self-assurance by calling him an Ancient Soul. This imbalanced perception of gender reflects the educational norms of the elite class at this time—as a man, Dick was allowed to attend Harvard—and foreshadows Anthony’s condescension to Gloria in their marriage. Although Dick might read Gloria’s invitation as evidence of her flightiness, her introduction to Bloeckman could prove vital to Dick’s career.
On Monday, Anthony takes a girl named Geraldine, who works as an usher, to lunch. He doesn’t think much of her but prefers her to women of his own class because she does not expect him to marry her. In response to Geraldine’s questions about his heavy drinking and relation to millionaire Adam Patch, Anthony says that he does not intend to live to forty anyway and that, even if everyone wants to marry him because of his wealthy grandfather, he never intends to marry either.
Anthony purports to reject social conventions such as marriage when they would constrain him, but he nonetheless reinforces social stratification by looking down on Geraldine, a working-class woman. Ironically, Geraldine’s work makes her much more financially stable than Anthony, whose financial plan, he announces, is to live as a bachelor and die before the age of forty. He is unable to conceive of shouldering the responsibility of middle age, let alone old age.
Geraldine tells Anthony she is sure he will one day fall in love. Anthony tells her the story of his fictional character Le Chevalier O’Keefe, who fell to his death from a tower as he attempted to visit a maiden. Unimpressed, Geraldine bets Anthony he will be married within a year. Anthony protests that in addition to his distaste in marriage, such a plan is impractical for financial reasons. After Geraldine leaves, he feels intensely lonely and throws a tennis ball across the room in frustration.
Just as he did when he was a child, Anthony retreats into books rather than dealing with the real world around him. By using his unstable finances as an excuse for his opposition to marriage, Anthony betrays his own uncertainty about his financial situation. He masks his anxiety as a desire to remain a bachelor, but once he is alone, his unwillingness to work for an income that would support two adults makes him feel as though he will always be alone.
The party to which Gloria invited Dick and her friends takes place at the Biltmore. Before Gloria, Muriel, or Rachael arrive, Joseph Bloeckman commands the attention of the room. At 35, he is socially disconnected from Anthony, Dick, and Maury. Anthony scoffs internally when Bloeckman attempts to bond with him, first over knowledge of Anthony’s grandfather and second over Harvard-Princeton sports rivalries. Anthony finds both conversation topics boring. When the girls finally arrive, Gloria and Rachael disappear into the dressing room while Muriel takes over as the center of attention. Bloeckman recaptures Dick’s attention by mentioning his work in the film industry and the adaptation of novels for the screen.
By locating the party at the Biltmore, Fitzgerald once again reminds readers that the characters exist among social elites. Bloeckman is out of place among Anthony and his friends, but there is an ironic sense in which he is out of place because he is more adept at social networking than they are. Bloeckman attempts to make professional connections by which he and others such as Dick may get ahead, but the crowd at the Biltmore seems to consist of young people who have been told that their admission to the upper echelons is simply assumed. Dick, always more hardworking than Anthony, is captivated by Bloeckman. Meanwhile, the women either disappear from the social scene or draw negative attention by tending to or neglecting their appearances.
As soon as Gloria and Rachael reemerge, everyone begins dancing except for Bloeckman, who sits at a table and hopes for Gloria to rejoin him “on his left hand” while the oysters are still fresh. Meanwhile, Anthony is dancing “on Gloria’s left hand.” He compliments her beauty and says he approves of her as a priest approves of the Pope. Gloria comments on the vagueness of the compliment, then redirects Anthony’s attention to Muriel, who is leaning on Maury, swaying, and singing.
Anthony valorizes Gloria’s ephemeral beauty as the organizing principle of his spiritual existence, demonstrating once again his inability to accept the constraints of time. Anthony appears to win out over Bloeckman for Gloria’s attention by placing himself in the position Bloeckman had hoped Gloria would occupy next to him. However, Gloria’s redirection of Anthony’s attention to Muriel suggests that Anthony might be deluding himself about the strength of his own connection to her.
When the song is over, everyone returns to the table. Gloria complains that “Blockhead” never dances. She frequently puns on Bloeckman’s name like this. Muriel comments that he must think the rest of them a frivolous crowd. Bloeckman responds by stating abruptly, “When a man speaks he’s merely tradition. He has at best a few thousand years back of him. But woman, why, she is the miraculous mouthpiece of posterity.” Everyone attempts not to laugh, and Anthony shouts that Bloeckman must have memorized a subtitle from one of his movies. Gloria stares at Bloeckman in silent reproach until he resumes the air of a middle-aged man among youths.
Gloria enjoys teasing Bloeckman and denigrating him as a middle-aged, “blockheaded” man who provides contrast to her own youthful attractiveness and whimsy. When he utters a line that suggests that Gloria, as a woman, speaks for “posterity,” he threatens her ability to think of herself as fixed in time, never to become a mother or pass the baton of youth to a later generation. While Anthony uses the moment as an opportunity to deride Bloeckman’s dedication to his career, Gloria is uneasy until Bloeckman reverts to his previous air, as if he never said anything.
Everyone falls to eating soup and listening to the orchestra. All but Richard and Rachael drink champagne, and all but Gloria and Bloeckman dance. Anthony watches Gloria as she listens to Bloeckman and watches the dancers. He wonders what Bloeckman is saying to her.
Alcohol is already a recurring element of the social scene upon which Anthony and Gloria are forging their relationship. Only the most ambitious characters seem to be abstaining from it. As he drinks, Anthony’s interest in Gloria is increased by the possibility that she may be “taken” by Bloeckman.
At ten, Gloria dances with Anthony out of earshot of the others and tells him she wants to go to the drugstore. She needs gum drops so she will stop nervously biting her fingernails. They leave the party and find a drugstore, where Gloria looks at the perfume counter and finally buys her gum drops. Anthony suggests riding around in a cab. Once in the cab, Anthony kisses Gloria. She remains silent as Anthony contemplates her beauty. The narrator writes, “Her eyes appeared to regard him out of many thousand years: all emotion she might have felt, all words she might have uttered, would have seemed inadequate beside the adequacy of her silence, ineloquent against the eloquence of her beauty…” When Gloria finally speaks, it is to tell Anthony to have the cab take them back to the party.
Gloria seems mostly interested in Anthony insofar as he will pay attention to her and buy things for her. Anthony, believing that he is purchasing a romantic attachment to Gloria, willingly complies. It is important to note that it is Anthony who kisses Gloria, and that Gloria never responds until the moment when she asks to end the private outing with him. The narrator’s comment about the “thousand years” behind the look Gloria gives Anthony, along with the “eloquence of her beauty” recalls the scene in which Beauty was sent to Jazz-Age New York for a stay of fifteen years. If not the single personification of this ancient Beauty, Gloria at least embodies elements of her.
Back in the supper room, Muriel asks Gloria where she has been. Gloria tells her she went to call her mother. Bloeckman, meanwhile, fixes Anthony with a strange glance. When Gloria goes by, Bloeckman rises and then resumes his conversation with Dick about literature’s influence on film. The narrator comments that Anthony will reflect on this moment many years later.
Gloria wants to keep her outing with Anthony a secret, but Bloeckman appears to guess that Anthony and Gloria have been away together. The fact that his attention turns to Anthony rather than on Gloria suggests that he reciprocates Anthony’s feeling that Gloria is a beauty object most desired when others desire her as well.
In the morning, Anthony sits in his apartment and reflects on his kiss with Gloria. She strikes him as different from other women in that she has not “submitted to any will of his nor caressed his vanity.” He decides they will be able to separate their reality from the game of entanglement, and so he calls her at the Plaza Hotel. He is affronted to find that Gloria is out. He worries that he is at a disadvantage for expressing interest first and that he will seem like the other men who chase her.
Anthony’s desire for Gloria is not only motivated by Bloeckman’s rivalry but also by her apparent disinterest in him. Most of all, it seems that he wants her because he cannot have her. He thinks that because of her independence, they will be able to spend time with one another without falling prey to society’s romantic script, to which he feels superior. However, he almost immediately slips into this same script when he calls her and begins to worry what she will think of him.
The narrator interjects that it does not occur to Anthony that it isn’t Gloria influencing him but rather some omnipotent photographer taking snapshots of Gloria who is using Anthony as the sensitive plate. Anthony imagines Gloria moving through her day and decides that he must kiss her again. He goes to Dick’s reading of his novel but resumes calling Gloria at six in the evening. When he finally reaches her at eight, he finds, “climax of anticlimaxes!” that she is unavailable until Tuesday.
Fitzgerald suggests that in contrast to the mythological siren who traps men like Homer’s Odysseus, Gloria is caught in the same trap as Anthony. By describing the trap as a photographic apparatus focused on Gloria but making use of Anthony, Fitzgerald intimates that while beauty itself may not be inherently dangerous, society’s obsession with beauty is damaging to both beautiful people and the people who get caught up with them. Photography was a rapidly evolving technology at the time Fitzgerald was writing. He seems invested in the idea that the dangers of beauty have something to do with modern society’s treatment of beautiful objects.
Tuesday is freezing cold. Anthony meets Gloria at the Plaza and wonders whether he dreamed their kiss. He asks if they can go somewhere alone, not at a tea table. She says yes, but not today. Today she wants to walk. Once on the walk, they are both distracted by the cold and barely talk. Finally, Gloria tells Anthony she would rather go home. She comments on his self-absorption, and Anthony tries not to express his annoyance.
As soon as Anthony finds himself in Gloria’s presence, she disappoints him. This scene demonstrates that Anthony is more invested in the idea of Gloria than in Gloria herself. Just like his false starts at a writing career, Anthony’s dream of romance sours as soon as he attempts to bring it to fruition and is faced with reality.
Back at the Plaza, Gloria insists that Anthony come upstairs. He at first despises himself for letting her take control this way, but he soon talks himself into “sophistic satisfaction” by reflecting that he had wanted to come up in the first place and only refused out of propriety. Anthony inquires about Bloeckman and whether he is in love with Gloria. Gloria tells Anthony that Bloeckman doesn’t like him either. She also admits that she told Bloeckman where she actually went during the dinner party. Anthony tries to disguise his jealousy by turning the conversation into one in which they reveal parts of their pasts to one another.
The narrator’s use of the phrase “sophistic satisfaction” reminds the reader that Anthony’s self-satisfaction in this scene and others is based on false reasoning (sophistry is fallacious reasoning). Anthony believes he is in control of Gloria and the situation, but his rapidly changing emotions in reaction to the things Gloria tells him reveal otherwise—he cannot even control his own responses.
The narrator interjects that the growth of intimacy is like the creation of a painting with more and more details until it is impossible to conceal the flaws to sell an ideal image. “We must be satisfied,” the narrator writes, “with hoping that such fatuous accounts of ourselves as we make to our wives and children and business associates are accepted as true.”
The narrator’s commentary presents a cynical view of human nature that seems to suggest that neither Anthony nor Gloria will be able to maintain their desirable images as they grow closer to one another. Additionally, Anthony’s lack of self-awareness in the preceding scene, combined with his idealized self-image, suggests that he is poised to undergo a disillusioning “growth of intimacy” with himself, by which he will begin to see his many flaws.
Anthony tells Gloria of his difficulty in finding a suitable career, and Gloria expresses disinterest in what he or anyone else does. Just as Anthony thinks he hates her, she looks at him, and the hate vanishes. He begins alternately kissing her and begging her to ask him to leave so he does not fall in love. Suddenly, she does ask him to leave. After his departure, Gloria stares into the fire and says, “Good-by, you ass!” Later, Anthony is unsure whether or not Gloria enjoyed the kisses.
Alone in Gloria’s parents’ apartment, Anthony and Gloria are occupying the most intimate space they have thus far in the novel. However, both of them are entirely self-absorbed throughout the interaction. Gloria fails to communicate to Anthony what she wants, and Anthony fails to notice Gloria’s dissatisfaction until after the fact. They are both more intent on the drama in their own heads than on the reality they are living.
Anthony is overtaken with panic at the realization that he is “not so much in love with Gloria as mad for her.” He wants her all the more for her rejection of him. He wanders aimlessly through the streets, thoughts of Gloria distracting him even from dealing with his hunger. He revels in the intense jealousy that makes him want to kill Bloeckman, taking it as a sign that he is finally in love.
Despite the fact that Gloria has just rejected Anthony, his thoughts continue to dwell on her. Anthony is consumed by the fantasy of a seemingly-impossible relationship with Gloria, to the extent that he neglects bodily functions like hunger. He also conflates love with the insecurity he feels in his fantasized relationship. Dangerously, Anthony is both naïve and unable to escape his naïve mind.
After another day, Anthony has calmed down and decides to devise a plan to deal with his love for Gloria and her rejection of him. Memory is short, he decides, so if he waits six weeks before calling her again, they should be able to start fresh. He begins the six-week hiatus by falling asleep. As the six weeks roll on, Dick’s manuscript is accepted for publication. Anthony feels a growing distance between himself and his friends. He feels that he wants only what Gloria can give him.
Anthony continues to operate under the delusion that Gloria will fall in love with him if he only waits long enough. His disconnection from reality grows as he lets his desire consume him, cutting him off from the people who do figure prominently in his life. Once again, Anthony demonstrates his sense of entitlement by sleeping the days away while Dick works on his writing. Anthony remains convinced that what he desires will come to him if only he waits passively.
Anthony tries to pass the time with Geraldine the usher, who lets him kiss her as much as he wants. However, he is driven to the brink of madness again by two incidents: one in which he sees Gloria walking with a strange man, and one in which he runs into Joseph Bloeckman waiting for Gloria in a restaurant. In the fifth week, Anthony gives in and calls Gloria. When Mrs. Gilbert answers, he refuses to identify himself.
Anthony’s pursuit of Geraldine for her unrestrained kisses seems at odds with his pursuit of Gloria, the withholder of kisses. Anthony does not appear to know what he actually wants, and once again his desire for the idea of Gloria increases when he sees that her affection may be monopolized by another man. Despite the strength of his desire, the phone call indicates that Anthony struggles even to carry out his plan of passive waiting to achieve his goals.
The first thing Anthony says to Gloria when he finally sees her is that she bobbed her hair. The narrator interjects to note that the style will not be fashionable for another five or six years. The pair walks through the Zoo and around the city, talking little but enjoying the sights and the warmer weather. Gloria tells Anthony that she wants to escape south to Hot Springs, where a million robins sing. Anthony says that all women are birds and that Gloria is a sparrow, and sometimes a bird of paradise. Anthony is flattered to hear Gloria say he is a Russian wolfhound. They decide to spend a whole day together next Sunday.
Anthony is focused first and foremost on Gloria’s physical appearance. The narrator’s interjection suggests that Gloria’s cultivated looks are extremely fashionable: she is as invested in her appearance as Anthony is. The pair finds each other much more tolerable when they are both comfortable, which foreshadows the strain their relationship will suffer under financial pressure later in the novel. It is also important to note that Anthony and Gloria find the idea of more time together agreeable only after having a conversation in which they imagine each other as animals. Their relationship relies heavily on fantasy and dreams.
On Sunday, Anthony and Gloria spend the day on his lounge. He tells her that he loves her, and she says she is glad. In the morning, after a night of reflection on their day together, Anthony calls Gloria and in “a sheer cry, a rhapsody,” tells her again that he loves her. Again, she says she is glad. “Handsome then if never before, bound for one of those immortal moments which come so radiantly that their remembered light is enough to see by for years,” Anthony goes the Plaza and knocks on Gloria’s door. She answers in a pink dress, “starched and fresh as a flower,” and they embrace.
Gloria goes along with Anthony’s plans and impulses, but she never responds in kind to his professions of love. Anthony does not seem to notice this lack of reciprocity, though. Indeed, he seems invested in the burgeoning relationship for the beauty and vitality it helps him see in himself as much as for Gloria herself. He appears able to conceive of Gloria in no other terms than beauty, envisioning her as an inanimate flower rather than as a complex person.