After another spring traveling around California and socializing with other bourgeois couples, Gloria and Anthony realize they have spent too much money and decide to go into “retirement” in the little gray country house. There they are more aware than ever that other couples before them have walked the halls, and Gloria begins to panic about her advancing age – she will be twenty-four in August, which is just six short years from thirty. One day, Gloria says that it is a good thing she wants only Anthony because if she wanted something she would simply take it. Anthony is concerned by this statement and says that he could see himself wanting another woman but would never act on the impulse. What if Gloria were to take a fancy to someone else? She responds that this would be utterly impossible.
Rather than get rid of their second home, Anthony and Gloria move into it to save money. They have been relying on their social life for happiness, so their decision to save money by isolating themselves seems impractical and unlikely to last long. Indeed, being alone in the house leaves them ample time to reflect on and panic about the temporariness of their situation. Anthony worries that the marriage will not last, and Gloria worries that her beauty is fading. Imagining her beauty to be her only asset, she helplessly succumbs to oncoming age—Fitzgerald emphasizes her foolishness by stating that she isn’t yet twenty-four. Gloria is still young enough that she can’t imagine being attracted to another man, even though she has already experienced such extra-marital attraction. Still, she is so focused on her advancing age that she is unable to appreciate her youth while she has it.
Anthony and Gloria hire a new servant named Tanalahaka, a Japanese man who lives with them in the country house. They call him Tana because he will respond to almost any summons. When he first arrives, he shows Anthony an array of collectible Japanese and American objects he keeps in his trunk. They have difficulty communicating because of their language barrier, which persists throughout Tana’s employment. The narrator describes the appearance of Tana as a “radical change in ménage” and characterizes him as a poor speaker of English and a fan of comic strips. Anthony’s fascination with Tana is followed up by a scene in which he attempts to take Gloria on an anniversary “date,” knocking on the door before sitting with her on the couch and exchanging pet names. However, neither is particularly sad to see the night end.
It doesn’t necessarily seem that Fitzgerald is indicting Anthony for his racism in particular. In fact, the narrator describes Tanalahaka’s arrival as a change in “ménage,” the French word for furniture; although the narrator could be speaking in free indirect discourse, narrating the thoughts of Anthony rather than expressing Fitzgerald’s own sentiments, nowhere is there a direct contradiction to this objectification of Tanalahaka. Still, Anthony’s decision to hire a servant and subsequent racist treatment of that servant demonstrates that he desires to surround himself with people who make him feel superior. Ironically, Tanalahaka’s fascination with comic strips seems to echo Anthony’s childlike fascination with his stamp collection. Indeed, Anthony and Gloria demonstrate childlike behavior by playing pretend on their anniversary date, but they struggle to maintain their fantasy once back inside the house they cohabitate.
One day in June, Anthony and Gloria spend the afternoon at the beach. Anthony is in the midst of a conversation over Scotch when Gloria abruptly tells him they must leave. He follows her but decides that for once, he is going to assert his will over her. He demands that they go see Rachael Jerryl, who is now Mrs. Barnes. When Gloria fails to comply, they get into a heated argument. Anthony grabs Gloria’s arms, and Gloria shouts on the train platform and finally bites Anthony’s hand. Anthony forces her into a taxi cab to return to Marietta with him. At home, he passes out drunk. Later, Gloria flings herself on the bed and says that while she will always love Anthony, something has been irrevocably changed. Nevertheless, the narrator states, Gloria knows she will forget the incident in time. The couple never speaks of it again.
In this scene, Anthony and Gloria play out the dynamic of Gloria’s parents’ marriage. Anthony is unable to dominate Gloria in the way Mr. Gilbert seems to have dominated Mrs. Gilbert. Gloria speaks as though the physicality of the encounter disturbs her deeply, but the narrator lets the reader know that she fails to be permanently shaken by the incident. Once again, Anthony and Gloria deal with their disagreement through avoidance.
Once Anthony has pointed out Gloria’s fierce independence, she adopts it as a moral code. On the front porch of a neighbor in Marietta, she proclaims that she will never do a thing for anyone except herself and, by extension, Anthony. She passes out and must be brought home by the neighbor woman. Gloria wonders whether she is pregnant. She tells Anthony that she is not worried about the pain but rather about the loss of beauty her pregnancy would entail. When asked if he wants her to have the baby, he says he will be with her whatever she does as long as she is a sport about it. She says she will go see a friend the following day, and Anthony says he will go see his grandfather.
The narrator has feminized Anthony, and here it seems that Gloria is trying to act masculine by representing herself and her husband outside the house. While the modern reader might not see a problem with this reversal of traditional gender roles, Fitzgerald is signaling that Anthony and Gloria’s marriage is abnormal. The narrator never states that Gloria is going to have an abortion, but Anthony’s question suggests that it is a consideration, and perhaps even takes place and isn’t directly discussed. Their lack of desire to actually have a baby is both taboo and telling of their self-delusion in past conversations about children.
At Adam Patch’s house, Anthony is discouraged to find that his grandfather does not recall reading the essay he recently sent over. Adam suggests that Anthony pursue a career as a war correspondent, which Anthony says he will have to consider. For one thing, it would entail separation from Gloria. On the train on the way home, Anthony runs into Joseph Bloeckman, who looks more dignified than he did a year ago. They discuss the adaptation of Dick’s novel for the screen and discover that they now live only five miles apart. Anthony extends an open invitation to Bloeckman, indicating that Gloria would surely love to see an old friend. Bloeckman also asks after Anthony’s grandfather, and Anthony says he is doing very well. Bloeckman calls Adam Patch a fine American.
Anthony’s dissatisfaction in his marriage is evident from the fact that he finds time away from Gloria desirable, even if it means working in a dangerous job, and from the fact that he no longer seems hostile toward Bloeckman. Although Anthony has inwardly celebrated the decline of his grandfather’s health, he is reluctant to tell others of Adam Patch’s increasing memory problems; he disagrees with most of the principles on which Adam Patch has the title of “fine American,” but he does not dispute Bloeckman because he reaps the benefits of good social standing by relation if others continue to respect his grandfather.
At home, Anthony finds Gloria eating a tomato sandwich and drinking lemonade in the hammock, talking to Tana. Anthony reflects that Tana sounds as though he learned his information about Japan in a children’s primer. Once Tana has left, Gloria tells Anthony that there is no chance she is pregnant. Anthony then tells her about his grandfather’s proposal that he become a war correspondent. When asked, he lies and says he would not want to go without Gloria. They begin to discuss Anthony’s need to work. They argue again, Gloria feeling as though Anthony blames her for his lack of productivity, and Anthony feeling that Gloria refuses to recognize the little work he has done on his writing.
Anthony once again finds a sense of superiority by infantilizing Tana. He seems to think that his grandfather’s simple suggestion that he work as a war correspondent constitutes an adult accomplishment. It is uncertain whether or not Gloria has had an abortion, and Anthony moves quickly from that topic onto discussion of his own affairs. The characters use each other as scapegoats so they can avoid blaming themselves for their own unhappiness.
Joseph Bloeckman appears unannounced at the house one day. While he and Gloria discuss setting up a screen test for her to become an actress, Anthony wonders in amazement that both he and Bloeckman used to be so taken with Gloria. He looks forward to having Tana bring them alcohol. “Even Gloria’s beauty,” he reflects, “needed wild emotions, needed poignancy, needed death…” After Bloeckman leaves, Anthony says he hates actors and that no matter how bored Gloria is sitting on the porch all day, if she goes into the movies, he will go to Europe as a war correspondent. Gloria dissolves into tears. After sentimentally comforting one another, Gloria writes a letter to Bloeckman while Anthony writes one to his grandfather. “It was a triumph of lethargy,” the narrator writes.
Anthony’s inability to appreciate Gloria manifests in disgust with Bloeckman, because Anthony cannot recognize his own shortcomings. No longer finding Gloria’s beauty intoxicating, Anthony now turns to alcohol for entertainment. He feels that her beauty is not enough, but he also threatens to leave the country should she try to upstage him with a career in the movies. They see each other as rivals instead of partners. By comforting each other but continuing with their respective career plans, they lazily avoid the real confrontation necessary to a marriage, condoning each other’s childlike resentment while clinging to their individual fantasies.
One day in July, Anthony comes home to find only Tana at the kitchen table, making a typewriter out of odds and ends. Tana says that Gloria is out with Bloeckman. Furious, Anthony plans what he will say in his outburst upon her return and even worries that she has run off to California with Bloeckman. When she finally shows up and says that she and Bloeckman were driving all over New York, Anthony fails to say anything at all.
The narrator once again offers a racist portrayal of Tanalahaka in which, like a child, he plays pretend with found objects. He serves as a foil for the childlike Anthony, who seems to judge Tanalahaka while failing to see that he too is playing pretend by living the life of a successful man without actually working or accomplishing anything. Although Gloria may be trying to make Anthony jealous as she pursues life outside their marriage, it is Anthony who falls into infantile speechlessness upon her return, failing to confront her about his unease.
On the morning of February 22, Anthony and Gloria must have Bounds remind them what day it is when they awake. They are just back from a two-day revel that was planned as a grand gesture before Anthony begins his new job on the 23rd. Anthony, who once used to argue with Maury over who would pay for dinner with Dick, now has less money than Dick. He and Gloria have decided to forego California this year and have discussed being more careful with money. Adam Patch has arranged for Anthony to work at this new desk job. Still, Anthony goes to borrow money from his broker on the 22nd. He must walk part way because he does not have enough money for the full cab ride and wouldn’t dream of riding the subway. Late in the afternoon, he returns home to find Gloria asleep, clutching a child’s doll.
Anthony and Gloria know that their finances are rapidly draining, and they at least have enough wherewithal to plan for less spending and more income. However, they can only think of this plan in the abstract. It seems like an end to their life as they know it, and it seems so impossible that the first day of Anthony’s new job will actually arrive that they lose track of the days. They demonstrate their inability to bid farewell to their childish impulsiveness, and dream of freedom from responsibility by marking the start of their adulthood with more irresponsible partying and spending. Anthony’s image of Gloria in a childlike position, clutching a doll, underscores his ironic inability to recognize his own childish actions.
From this point onward, Gloria commits even more to her philosophy of doing only what she desires. Anthony tries to be excited about his new job but soon loses his ambition to work his way up the bureaucratic ladder. He frequently shows up to work hungover and finally quits, telling his boss that he is not cut out for the work. He is depressed after this, but Gloria comforts him and draws him back to the party scene. They come to be known as the color of every party. Wives dislike Gloria, and husbands love her. One day, Anthony and Gloria realize that during a drunken revel they re-signed the lease on the country house they had decided they could no longer afford. They discuss how they will have to give up Anthony’s apartment, but they never arrange it with the realtor.
As on previous occasions, Anthony and Gloria fail to follow through on their plans to manage their finances. Anthony rationalizes to himself and to his boss that he is simply not suited to this particular job. Rather than encourage him to continue trying, Gloria seconds his self-delusion. Meanwhile, Gloria rationalizes her own selfishness and irresponsibility by telling herself that they are consistent with her philosophy of life. The couple continues to talk about responsibility without ever backing up their talk with actions. Their retreat into drinking and partying to deal with their frustration feeds back into their poor decision-making in a vicious cycle.
The following summer finds Anthony and Gloria hosting an endless stream of guests at the country house. Gloria moves into Anthony’s room because she finds that her own room reminds her too much of the women who once occupied it but have now aged. She detests Tana ever since she found him lounging on Anthony’s bed one day. The feeling is mutual, although Tana seems to like Anthony. The couple fails to dismiss Tana but rather “endures” him “as they endured all things, even themselves.”
Despite their dwindling finances, Anthony and Gloria maintain the image of wealth in the country house and parade their “success” in front of their friends, revealing that they prioritize their short-term image over their long-term prospects. The narrator has previously described Tanalahaka as piece of furniture in Anthony and Gloria’s house, and the way Anthony and Gloria keep him around despite their dislike of him is symptomatic of their inability to rid themselves of the trappings of the wealth into which they were born.
One evening, Dick and Maury come to the house with a stranger named Joe Hull. Gloria does not trust him and tells Anthony that she wishes he would use Tana’s bathtub. Over the course of the evening, Dick and Maury repeatedly tell Gloria to cheer up. Dick picks her up against her will, and Hull does the same. Gloria escapes to an upstairs bedroom, where she listens to the rain for two hours. Suddenly, Hull appears in the doorway. Gloria runs out of the house and toward the train tracks. Anthony comes after her. She tells him she wants to go away, alone, but he insists on staying with her. Dick and Maury catch up with them. Hull, they say, is asleep in the house.
It seems that Gloria narrowly avoids sexual assault in this scene. Certainly, she endures sexual harassment from not only Joe Hull but also from Dick and Maury, confirming that the men in her life see her as an object of desire rather than as a person. Gloria’s complaint to Anthony reveals her continued racist disgust with Tanalahaka, but his neglect to respond reveals that he is oblivious and unresponsive to Gloria’s troubles. They share a residence and a room but are alone in their marriage. Anthony reveals his inability to understand or respect anyone’s desires but his own when Gloria asks to be alone, and he follows her anyway.
Gloria persuades the three men to at least stay outside by the train tracks if they insist on keeping her with them. Maury launches into the story of his education. He concludes that while writings such as the Bible endure the test of time, humans can only hope to make the world a better place by living in it but have no lasting existence on earth. Everyone falls asleep in the early morning except Maury. He stares out over the train tracks and reflects on the fact that everyone, including him, will soon return to the daily business of living.
Maury’s melancholy speech on his resignation to the meaninglessness of life reveals that unlike the others, he understands that he is bound to the daily schedule of productive society. Fitzgerald does not necessarily glorify the system that demands such a daily schedule. However, Maury at least recognizes its existence, while Anthony and the others demonstrate their continued ignorance by falling asleep exactly when they should be rising to go to work.