A year ago, when Anthony left for the officer training camp, Gloria walked through the crowd away from the train station a shell of her former self. She has been unhappy with Anthony for a year but nonetheless loves him. She writes him a letter expressing her love as soon as she gets home, then falls asleep. She realizes that she has few friends and is very lonely without Anthony, even though she does not enjoy his company. She keeps meaning to go see him in the South, but the lawyer keeps telling her the lawsuit is about to go to trial. After a time, she reconnects with Rachael Barnes. A few drinks in, she decides she likes Rachael and forgives her for her flirtation with Anthony and for witnessing the disastrous arrival of Adam Patch at the party in Marietta.
Aside from the chapter in which Gloria sits alone in her room before the wedding, this is one of the first instances the reader gets a glimpse into Gloria’s inner mind. Despite constantly surrounding herself with people, Gloria is profoundly lonely with or without company. This loneliness is indicative of the way Anthony and others treat Gloria—not as a person with thoughts and feelings in which they are interested, but rather as a “society girl,” an object of beauty to be gazed upon and desired. Gloria’s forgiveness of Rachael suggests that her upset after the party in Marietta has less to do with Rachael and more to do with her feelings of abandonment within the marriage she entered with the hope of being “safe and secure.”
Rachael invites Gloria to dinner with two military captains. After dinner, they all retire to Rachael’s house, where each captain picks a woman with whom to flirt. Gloria’s captain tells her she should stop drinking, and she defiantly takes another drink. She shivers when she sees Rachael kissing the other officer. Rachael offers Gloria a room to stay overnight with the officer who has been flirting with her, but Gloria declines. In the cab on the way home, she feels indignant that the officer did not even try to get her to come home with him.
Gloria is torn between the desire to feel wanted and the desire to remain loyal to Anthony, who after all is supposed to be the partner who will solve her loneliness in the long term. Gloria’s insistence on drinking is no doubt partly indulging a habit, but this scene also reveals that many of her behaviors, including drinking, are motivated by a desire to defy authority figures who tell her what is good for her.
In February, an old flame comes to New York with the Aviation Corps and calls upon Gloria. She had once intended to marry him. She finds that she loves him not at all, although he still seems to love her just as much as ever. She sentimentally kisses him one evening and is glad to have done so, because the following day, his plane is shot down over Minneola.
Gloria’s feeling before her wedding that her story is “finis” seems temporarily contradicted by the appearance of the former lover, who likely made an appearance earlier in her diary. However, this hope is shattered by his sudden death, which confirms Gloria’s utter aloneness. The fact that he is a military man and dies a hero’s death both emphasizes Anthony’s cowardice, previously criticized by Gloria, and serves as a reminder that Anthony could die in the military as well.
When the trial is postponed again to fall, Gloria decides to try becoming an actress without telling Anthony. As time passes, she realizes from his letters that he does not want her to come visit, so she starts to think less about him. She passes the time with a series of suitors. She tells her friends that Anthony has been made corporal, but no one seems to care. When his letters grow more frequent for a time and then drop off entirely, she begins to worry and must restrain herself from going to Mississippi. A telegram tells her that he was in the hospital with influenza but has recovered and will shortly be in New York.
Gloria’s infidelities during the time Anthony is away, and the drop-off in the flow of her letters to him, is motivated not by lack of interest but by a concerted effort to feel less lonely when he seems to have little interest in her. Not only does she feel abandoned by him, but her real pride in Anthony’s promotion gets her little attention from her friends after several years of boasting about Anthony’s career plans that never go anywhere. Gloria is frustrated but remains invested in Anthony’s wellbeing. She truly seems to love him.
A week after Anthony and Gloria’s reunion at the Armistice Ball, Anthony’s regiment must return to Mississippi to be officially discharged. Anthony is relieved not to run into Dorothy there. He can think only of Gloria now. He is unmoved by the captain’s emotional speech about honor and duty. He returns eagerly to New York.
Rekindled romance with Gloria still remains just out of Anthony’s grasp while he travels back to Mississippi. Once again, Anthony is excited about what he has almost achieved and is glad to avoid the reality he knows might await him in Mississippi.
By February, two months after Anthony’s return, he and Gloria are back to quarreling and spending more money than they have. They can no longer afford their apartment. One day, when Anthony comes home drunk, Gloria laments that she can’t afford a fur coat. Anthony says of course she can, and Gloria tells him she is sick of relying on bonds to finance their lifestyle, which they always say they will change but never do. For example, Anthony told her earlier that he was not going to drink today, but now he is drunk. Gloria feels resentful and hopeless.
Like clockwork, Anthony and Gloria are back at each other’s throats the minute there is a sense of permanence to their reunion. They also fall easily back into financial trouble now that Anthony once again has no real income and is not being supported by the training camp. Their reliance on bonds is hypocritical, because to purchase bonds is to buy into a financial system from whose rules they wish to be exempt. For all Gloria claims to want to change her lifestyle, she only wants to change it so that she can purchase more lavish, beautiful items, like a fur coat.
Anthony considers writing for newspapers but is unable to find a suitable job. One day, when perusing the paper, he finds an ad for a salesman position. He answers the call and finds himself in a room full of prospective salesmen, listening to a man extoll the virtues of pamphlets called “Heart Talks.” These pamphlets, which the salesmen would be tasked with pedaling, profess to be about “the principal reasons for a man’s failure and the principal reasons for a man’s success.”
After Anthony’s former vague justifications for his own failure, the reader should be skeptical of his assessment that none of the newspaper jobs listed are suitable. On the contrary, the ever-lazy Anthony is likely not suitable for the jobs. No more does he seem suited to sell pamphlets about reasons for success and failure. In fact, he seems to be the target audience for the Heart Talks.
Anthony reports back to Gloria about Heart Talks, laughing at the ridiculousness of the salesmanship scheme. She tells him he can’t give up again and convinces him to go back to buy in as a salesman. Anthony is one of only a handful of men to sign up as salesmen. They are all encouraged to be “pushers” and to buy stock in the pamphlets to increase their personal interest in the matter.
Anthony’s derision of the Heart Talks salesmanship scheme demonstrates his own lack of self-awareness, given that he himself appears to create a market for them. Gloria finally works to motivate Anthony to work instead of to give up work, but the result promises to be just as financially disastrous, given that the pamphlet makers use his position as salesman to dupe him into buying stock in the pamphlets.
Anthony’s first attempt at selling the pamphlets is a disaster. To get his foot in the door of an architect named Weatherby, he tells the man’s assistant that he is there on a personal matter. When it becomes clear to Weatherby that Anthony is a salesman, he strides into his inner office and shuts the door in Anthony’s face. Anthony spends the next hour bolstering his confidence with whiskey. He thinks of his next sale attempt as a success. Although he fails to sell the plumber anything because the man is off to lunch, he tells himself that he would have made a sale were the man not hungry. Time after time, he politely takes no as an answer from his marks. He gets progressively drunker as he tries to sell pamphlets to a series of bartenders.
Anthony demonstrates more determination at salesmanship than we have seen in any other career endeavor, but he is still a poor salesman. Like with his short stories, he repeats the same mistakes over and over again instead of using each failure as a learning opportunity. Anthony’s use of alcohol to get through the working day shows not only that he is developing a serious drinking problem but also that, as ever, he is able spin elaborate self-delusions about the reality of his situation.
Very drunk, Anthony decides once and for all that he is going to make a sale at a delicatessen. He tries to parrot the speech he was pitched when he answered the ad from the paper, but he can barely get his words out. When the proprietor threatens to call the police, Anthony stumbles out to the street and takes a cab home.
Anthony’s drunkenness has reduced him to the same infantile speechlessness he has demonstrated on occasions fraught with emotion. His retreat from salesmanship is also a retreat into the comfort and safety of his home, where he can hide from all adult responsibility.
When prohibition passes in July, Anthony counterintuitively finds alcohol even more readily available than before, because it is now a badge of honor to have it on offer. He becomes increasingly argumentative with not only Gloria but also with Maury. He often has hazy memories of these arguments.
Anthony’s drinking problem causes him to become ever more disconnected from his social circle. In an ironic and sad way, Anthony is achieving his lifelong desire of existing among people but simultaneously removed from them.
Anthony has not laid a hand on Gloria in anger since the incident on the train platform after the day at the beach. However, their relationship is volatile. He hates her as much as he loves her. Gloria continues to want a squirrel fur coat, and their inability to afford it is a constant reminder of their growing financial anxiety, which is mounting to panic. Gloria resents that one week, during which they are thrown out of a theater because Anthony begins removing his clothing, they spend as much money partying as they would have spent on the coat.
Anthony and Gloria frequently act like martyrs to their own dire straits, but the fact that they spend as much as Gloria’s coveted fur coat on partying in one week demonstrates that they could have the items they deny themselves if they only changed their lifestyle. The reader thus sees that they are entirely incapable of impulse control and that they self-sabotage in order to feel sorry for themselves.
In November one night, Gloria tosses and turns and asks Anthony for ice water. She reflects uneasily that she did not try hard enough to find love in her youth, feeling only that her beauty must be flung at a lover while she still had it. She knows that she never wanted children, but even without them she is losing her beauty. She keeps thinking that she will be twenty-nine in February. She decides to go see Bloeckman the following day to audition for a movie. The next day, she collapses on her way to the elevator. She returns to the apartment and waits for Anthony on the bed, unable even to get undressed. She is diagnosed with influenza, which develops into double pneumonia as winter progresses. Gloria feels that she wants only to be a little girl.
Gloria’s collapse parallels Anthony’s earlier collapse from influenza. Like him, the moment both feminizes and infantilizes her. After her failure as a woman to want children, collapsing from influenza almost seems to answer her desperation to feel like she has been successful at femininity. Gloria’s worry over her impending birthday in February is important, given that previously the narrator stated that her birthday was in August. Gloria’s continued anxiety over her age, inextricable in her mind from her femininity, has devolved into self-delusion: she frets so much that she gives herself an extra six months of being twenty-eight.
Gloria rants feverishly one day about how she would sacrifice the millions of people swarming around the city for a palace. The Irish serving woman isn’t quite sure what Gloria said she would sacrifice a million of. She supposes dollars, but that does not seem quite right.
Gloria’s feverishness leads her to a confession of extreme selfishness that amounts to misanthropy. She feels she deserves a palace more than the rest of the world deserves to live. The extremity of this confession goes unchecked by the other characters because even when saying something horrible, Gloria remains a largely unheard character.
In February, a week before her birthday, Gloria calls Joseph Bloeckman to schedule a screen test. She finds that he has changed his name to Joseph Black. He eagerly helps her, bringing her in to read for the part of a flapper who faints upon receiving a phone call informing her of her husband’s death in a car accident. Gloria hopes she does not still look too ill. She enjoys the screen test and feels that she has done very well. She does not tell Anthony what she has done.
Still laboring under the delusion that she is not yet twenty-nine, Gloria seizes the last week before her fake birthday, this artificial mark of youth’s end, to pursue her dream of acting. The part she seeks is that of a flapper—it seems that she wants to play herself. Should she succeed, her youth will be immortalized on film. Gloria does the screen test for herself, not because of lingering feelings for Bloeckman, but she nonetheless does not tell Anthony about it because she knows he will be jealous.
Gloria is anxious over the next few days while she waits to hear back about the screen test. The third day, she bites the inside of her mouth raw and quarrels with Anthony until he leaves the apartment. Gloria goes for a walk to pass the time until the mail arrives. She tries to distract herself by people-watching but counts down the minutes until three o’clock, when the mail should be delivered. Arriving eagerly at home at the that hour, she finds a letter from Bloeckman informing her that the director wants a younger actress for the part of the flapper. She is being considered for the role of a rich widow instead. Gloria laments that it is her 29th birthday and that her beautiful face is aging. She sinks to the floor in tears in “the first awkward movement she had ever made.”
While waiting to hear back about the results of this audition for immortality, Gloria ironically feels every minute go by as slowly as she would like them to do on a regular basis to slow her aging. When she reads that she has been decided already too old to play the flapper, she is devastated, because it seems she has missed the chance to play herself on screen. Her life, as she has always imagined it, is already over. Gloria’s flair for the dramatic and determination to fit the events of her life into a tragic narrative are evident in her reflection that it is now her 29th birthday, the original false date of which she had set one week after the audition, while now it has been only a few days.