It is not until after Anthony Patch has reached financial ruin, cheated on his wife, and turned to alcoholism that he begins to understand the consequences of his irresponsible decision-making as a young man. By this time, he can no longer decide to save his money, remain a faithful husband, or drink responsibly, because the damage is already done. Similarly, Gloria Gilbert’s naïve youth, which she already mourns at the young age of 22, leads her to reckless decisions she later regrets. The loss of youth brings both characters wisdom that would only have been useful when they were younger, a tragic irony that Fitzgerald underscores through the fact that Anthony and Gloria are only in their early 30s when they realize they have wasted their lives.
Anthony and Gloria’s particular inability to cope with adulthood is apparent in the lies and self-deceptions they advance about their age. Gloria, who often thinks about her impending birthdays, contradicts the narrator’s initial assertion that her birthday is in August when she pushes her birthday back several months, reflecting that she “would be twenty-nine in February.” Gloria and Anthony also find it incredibly insulting that Bloeckman’s colleague, who conducts a screen test for Gloria, wants to cast her as a 30-year-old character when she is only 29. Following Gloria’s mental gymnastics about the timing of her birthday, she may in fact be 30 after all. These petty deceptions betray Anthony and Gloria’s desperation to deny even the slightest signifiers of aging, showing how central their immature desire to deny the realities of adulthood has become to their lives and psyches.
Although most of the characters of the novel are young, many of them worry that time is slipping away from them. Rather than work toward goals, they stall for time in the hope that adult fulfillment will happen upon them. Soon after Anthony meets Gloria, she tells him that she does not want the responsibility of marriage or children. She says that she would like to be 18 from now on, instead of acknowledging her actual age of 22. Her request for a gum drop and her statement that, “I’m always whacking away at one – whenever my daddy’s not around” suggests that by sneaking candy, she hopes to remain childlike instead of caring for her own children. Maury, too, is dismayed and befuddled by the onset of adulthood. He worries that he has not accomplished his intended goals in the intervening years since graduating from Harvard. Paralyzed by his anxiety, he spends his time discussing Dick’s novel instead of rising to adulthood by working on his own writing projects. However, Maury’s discomfort with his increasing age separates him from Anthony, who is unable to admit that, at 26, he should be making solid strides toward a career. Maury exits the party scene that Gloria and Anthony still inhabit, distancing himself from the youthful exploits of his friends and thereby managing to reappear later on as a composed and moderately successful man from whom a drunken Anthony must beg for money.
Despite their attempts to convince themselves that they can remain forever young, Anthony and Gloria are relentlessly haunted by an unreasonable fear of death. In the direst of financial straits, Gloria tells Anthony that they should move to Italy for three years and then “just die.” Her realization that their extravagant lifestyle is untenable without a steady income convinces her not that they should reduce their expenditures, but rather that their poor financial decisions have shortened their lives. Her misconception that old age has been thrust upon her ironically demonstrates that there is immaturity even in her wise realization that she and Anthony are in financial trouble. At the end of the novel, Gloria and Dick find Anthony on the bathroom floor, poring over his exotic stamp collection, which he started during childhood as a “diversion” from his worries about death. Dick’s joking comment about whether Anthony is returning to childhood underscores both the absurdity and the tragedy of Anthony’s preoccupation with this relic from his youth. He is so distracted by the feeling that death is near that he retreats into the past, and into his imagination of far-off places, rather than enjoying the present while he is alive.
It is true that Anthony and Gloria make immature choices they cannot retract later in life. However, their preoccupation with lost time makes a self-fulfilling prophecy of their fear about premature aging. Once they realize that their lives are passing them by, they find themselves caught between nostalgia and mortality, with no room left for the adulthood that is supposed to fall between childhood and old age.
Immaturity and Wisdom ThemeTracker
Immaturity and Wisdom 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.