The America Fitzgerald depicts in The Beautiful and Damned is obsessed with the dream of becoming wealthy. Those who are already wealthy dream of becoming wealthier, to the point of each standing out as the single millionaire tycoon in the crowd. Fitzgerald is uneasy about the way the wealthy, who have never had to work for anything, can so easily misread the possibility of greatness as the promise of greatness. Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert exemplify the cycle of dissatisfaction created by society’s normalization of constantly dreaming of a bigger and better life without making concrete plans to achieve it.
Although Anthony and Gloria begin life near the top of the social ladder, they always desire more. These aspirations, however, always come at a cost. For example, Gloria tells Anthony that she envisions them living in a little gray country house, so they rent one, in addition to maintaining their apartment in the city. Though they know that they do not have the money to rent two homes, they nonetheless find themselves drunkenly renewing their second lease, placing themselves in financial jeopardy for a dream of country life that neither of them even seems to enjoy. This inability to temper desire in favor of practical reality is also apparent in Anthony and Gloria’s drinking. The young couple wants to live in the thick of high society, but Anthony’s grandfather, Adam Patch, has prohibitionist politics and his money is their main source of income. Despite knowing that Adam disapproves, Anthony and Gloria continue to rely on his money to host extravagant parties with copious amounts of alcohol, which leads the couple to the brink of financial ruin when Adam disinherits them. However, even after Anthony’s grandfather revokes his money, Anthony and Gloria cannot conceive of a reality in which they must sacrifice any of the things they want. They continue to make extravagant purchases, banking on the hope that they will win a lawsuit for the inheritance money instead of reining in their lifestyle in accordance with their means.
In addition to Anthony and Gloria’s inability to make their desires match their means, they also are unable to understand that in order to achieve their ambitions, they must work hard and make sacrifices. Gloria wishes she were an actress. She hopes that by hanging on the arm of Joseph Bloeckman, a film producer, she will somehow become a movie star. Even after marrying Anthony, she continues to hope that she will achieve her dream by simple association with Bloeckman. but eight years pass before she finally attempts a screen test. Told that she is past the age of a young starlet, she gives up the dream rather than trying to realize it in a way other than how she had imagined. Likewise, aspiring writer Anthony is easily deterred when the few stories he submits for publication are rejected. Rather than rewriting them and working at improving his craft, he decides that he will have better luck as a salesman—that is, until salesmanship also fails to bring him instant success. At each of these moments, Anthony has an opportunity to use his talents and resources to build a career. However, because he sees the world as full of endless opportunity, he convinces himself that there must be an easier, more comfortable career available, if he could only stumble upon it. Consequently, he ends up with no career at all. By contrast, Richard Caramel writes daily from a young age, even through his early days of mediocre reception. His commitment to a plan, coupled with his understanding that he will not receive success as a handout, leads him to a respectable literary career that is getting underway just as Anthony and Gloria are most dejected about their own careers.
Perhaps the most damning aspect of Anthony and Gloria’s inability to match desire with reality is that even when they do attain what they want, they tire easily of it. They seem doomed never to enjoy or make use of the pleasures they seek, even as this pursuit ruins their lives. Immediately after their wedding, for example, Anthony and Gloria experience buyer’s remorse with one another. Gloria finds Anthony cowardly for refusing to drive too fast, and Anthony finds Gloria flighty for neglecting domestic tasks like sending out the laundry. Their eagerness to attain each other as life partners without knowing one another better leads directly to their dissatisfaction in marriage. Similarly, while he’s away from home for military training, Anthony fixes his attention on Dorothy as his mistress—but as soon as he forms an attachment with her, he can think only of Gloria. Dorothy’s threats of suicide to maintain Anthony’s attention demonstrate that after their initial encounter, his interest in her is only piqued by the idea that he might lose her. At the end of the novel another dream is achieved as Anthony and Gloria win their lawsuit. Gloria is initially gleeful, but Anthony appears alone in the final scene, physically crippled and perhaps mentally unstable. The couple does not appear to have used their newfound money to rebuild their life together. Rather, the money has funded Anthony’s further spiral into alcoholism and isolation from his wife.
The presence of characters such as Richard Caramel—who works hard and achieves his dream of becoming a successful writer—suggests that it is possible to navigate the society Fitzgerald is criticizing without falling prey to unrealistic expectations about dreams and reality. Still, the economic order in which Anthony and Gloria exist offers too many opportunities and too many shortcuts. If one dream fails, there is always another waiting to be taken. As a result, the couple doesn’t learn from their mistakes. They remain convinced that true fulfillment of the American dream involves not a day of work, and contentment thus remains forever just out of their grasp.
Dreams and Reality ThemeTracker
Dreams and Reality Quotes in The Beautiful and Damned
In 1913, when Anthony Patch was twenty-five, two years were already gone since irony, the Holy Ghost of this later day, had, theoretically at least, descended upon him. Irony was the final polish of the shoe, the ultimate dab of the clothes-brush, a sort of intellectual “There!” – yet at the brink of this story he has as yet gone no further than the conscious stage.
…[T]o Anthony life was a struggle against death, that waited at every corner. It was a concession to his hypochondriacal imagination that he developed the habit of reading in bed – it soothed him. He read until he was tired and often fell asleep with the lights still on.
“Portrait of a Siren”
While it seemed to him that the average débutante spent every hour of her day thinking and talking about what the great world had mapped out for her to do during the next hour, any girl who made a living directly on her prettiness interested him enormously.
“…[Dick] says the biography of every woman begins with the first kiss that counts, and ends when her last child is laid in her arms…He says unloved women have no biographies – they have histories.”
There was one of his lonelinesses coming, one of those times when he walked the streets or sat, aimless and depressed, biting a pencil at his desk. It was a self-absorption with no comfort, a demand for expression with no outlet, a sense of time rushing by, ceaselessly and wastefully—assuaged only by that conviction that there was nothing to waste, because all efforts and attainments were equally valueless.
Always the most poignant moments were when some artificial barrier kept them apart: in the theatre their hands would steal together, join, give and return gentle pressures through the long dark; in crowded rooms they would form words with their lips for each other’s eyes—not knowing that they were but following in the footsteps of dusty generations but comprehending dimly that if truth is the end of life happiness is a mode of it, to be cherished in its brief and tremulous moment. And then, one fairy night, May became June. Sixteen days now—fifteen—fourteen—
…After a moment she found a pencil and holding it unsteadily drew three parallel lines beneath the last entry. Then she printed FINIS in large capitals, put the book back in the drawer, and crept into bed.
“It’s been mighty funny, this success and all,” said Dick. “Just before the novel appeared I’d been trying, without success, to sell some short stories. Then, after my book came out, I polished up three and had them accepted by one of the magazines that had rejected them before. I’ve done a lot of them since; publishers don’t pay me for my book till this winter.”
“Don’t let the victor belong to the spoils.”
In a moment he would call Tana and they would pour into themselves a gay and delicate poison which would restore them momentarily to the pleasurable excitement of childhood, when every face in a crowd had carried its suggestion of splendid and significant transactions taking place somewhere to some magnificent and illimitable purpose…Life was no more than this summer afternoon; a faint wind stirring the lace collar of Gloria’s dress, the slow baking drowsiness of the veranda…Intolerably unmoved they all seemed, removed from any romantic imminency of action. Even Gloria’s beauty needed wild emotions, needed poignancy, needed death…
Things had been slipping perceptibly. There was the money question, increasingly annoying, increasingly ominous; there was the realization that liquor had become a practical necessity to their amusement – not an uncommon phenomenon in the British aristocracy of a hundred years ago, but a somewhat alarming one in a civilization steadily becoming more temperate and more circumspect. Moreover, both of them seemed vaguely weaker in fibre, not so much in what they did as in their subtle reactions to the civilization about them.
The phone clicked. Her eyes looking along the floor saw his feet cut the pattern of a patch of sunlight on the carpet. She arose and faced him with a gray, level glance just as his arms folded about her.
“My dearest,” he whispered huskily. “He did it, God damn him!”
It occurred to him that all strongly accentuated classes, such as the military, divided men into two kinds: their own kind – and those without. To the clergyman there were clergy and laity, to the Catholic there were Catholics and non-Catholics, to the negro there were blacks and whites, to the prisoner there were the imprisoned and the free, and to the sick man there were the sick and the well. . . So, without thinking of it once in his life-time, he had been a civilian, a layman, a non-Catholic, a Gentile, white, free, and well. . .
Then he found something that made him stop suddenly and sit down on one of the twin beds, the corners of his mouth drooping as though he were about to weep. There in a corner of her drawer, tied with a frail blue ribbon, were all the letters and telegrams he had written her during the year past. He was suffused with happy and sentimental shame.
“I'm not fit to touch her,” he cried aloud to the four walls. “I'm not fit to touch her little hand.”
Nevertheless, he went out to look for her.
Gloria told over to herself the people who had visited them in the gray house at Marietta. It had seemed at the time that they were always having company – she had indulged in an unspoken conviction that each guest was ever afterward slightly indebted to her. They owed her a sort of moral ten dollars apiece, and should she ever be in need she might, so to speak, borrow from them this visionary currency. But they were gone, scattered like chaff, mysteriously and subtly vanished in essence or in fact.
This was her twenty-ninth birthday, and the world was melting away before her eyes…
“Oh, my pretty face,” she whispered, passionately grieving. “Oh, my pretty face! Oh, I don’t want to live without my pretty face! Oh, what’s happened?”
Then she slid toward the mirror and, as in the test, sprawled face downward upon the floor – and lay there sobbing. It was the first awkward movement she had ever made.
For a moment he did not doubt that the whole project was entirely natural and graceful. To his distorted imagination Bloeckman had become simply one of his old friends.
Turning about from the window he faced his reflection in the mirror, contemplating dejectedly the wan, pasty face, the eyes with their crisscross of lines like shreds of dried blood, the stooped and flabby figure whose very sag was a document in lethargy. He was thirty-three-he looked forty. Well, things would be different.