Change and Transformation
In "Babylon Revisited," a father tries to regain custody of his daughter after the death of his wife, financial disaster in the stock market crash of 1929, and his own battle with alcoholism. A central theme of the story is Charlie's struggle to convince himself and others that he has abandoned the "dissipated" ways of his pre-crash life in Paris. Through telling details, Fitzgerald shows the reader that Charlie has largely reformed, while hinting that his problems may not be entirely behind him.
Throughout the story Charlie is presented with temptations to return to the "utter irresponsibility" of his previous life, which he must overcome to prove he truly understands that personal character is the "eternally valuable element." In the story's opening scene, Charlie appears to demonstrate his new self-discipline by refusing the bartender's offer of a drink. But he then undercuts the reader's confidence by giving...
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Babylon Revisited, a Modernist Analysis Francis Scott Fitzgerald dedicated himself into his writings, both literally and figuratively, and this is obviously the case for Babylon Revisited; very few studies of his life find it possible to ignore the story as being something representative of Fitzgerald or his times. The great impact on Fitzgerald works had the beginning of modernist movement during those times and the effects of it can be seen in most of his works including this magnificent story that gives a reader a link between the past and modern times. Any biographical study, then, serves in itself as background material for an understanding of Babylon Revisited. The intention here is to recognize those elements from Fitzgerald's life that had the most direct bearing in the composition of Babylon Revisited, without overburdening the study with those more general biographical aspects that have been treated in depth elsewhere. Composed in 1931 and published in 1935, Babylon Revisited is the story of a man whose failure to understand the tyranny of time and the subversive properties of money results in a tragic defeat (Cowart 27). The storys main character, Charlie Wales, attempts to get back on track with the American Dream after his wifes death, the stock market crash of 1929, and a difficult battle with alcoholism.
He becomes a businessman in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and returns to Paris in an attempt to regain custody of his daughter, Honoria. Honoria is Charlies last hope of re-establishing his family life, for she is still forgiving and trusting at the innocent age of nine. However, the child is under the legal guardianship of Charlies sister-in-law, Marion Peters, who rigidly holds Charlies past against him, and her husband, Lincoln. Rather unluckily, some former drinking companions burst in as final arrangements are being made, and at the end it is clear that Charlie will have to wait a while longer before he recovers Honoria and his honor. Here we see the influence of modernist movement on the events that go along the story because Charlie is looking for his dream to be fulfilled. This story becomes clearer when we see how Fitzgeralds own life experiences provided material for his fiction.
Fitzgeralds unsteady financial situation paralleled Charlies. Even in 1931, two years after the stock market crash and well into the Great Depression, Fitzgeralds writing earned nearly $ 40, 000. However, his royalties totaled only $ 33 in 1939 and not a single one of his books was in print the year after (McMichael 135). Other experiences Fitzgerald shared with Charlie include their battles with alcoholism and their days in Paris. Fitzgeralds own dreams had begun to fade too, but he had less control over his drinking than Charlie Wales.
After touching bottom in 1935 and 1936, a process vividly described in the Crack-Up essays, he finally began to master the demon of alcohol (Donaldson 4). Fitzgerald's own opinion of the story is recorded in a boastful note to his daughter Scottie in a letter dated January 25, 1940. He wrote, You have earned some money for me this week because I sold Babylon Revisited, in which you are a character, to the pictures (the sum received wasnt worthy of the magnificent story -- neither of you nor of me- however, I am accepting it. ) (Letters to his daughter par 4). Human loss also greatly influenced Fitzgeralds life and is perhaps the most striking theme in his fiction.
Tragedy struck before Scott (Fitzgerald) was born when his two sisters, ages one and three, died in an epidemic. His parents did not record their feelings, but he would later associate the event with his future career: Well, three months before I was born, my mother lost her other two children and I think that came first of all although I dont know how it worked exactly. I think I started then to be a writer (Donaldson 20). A third baby died in 1900, but in July 1901, his sister Annabel was born. The locales of Paris cited in Babylon Revisited were places with which Fitzgerald was most assuredly familiar, and many are briefly noted in his Ledger. The most noteworthy, of course, is the bar at the Ritz, which frames Babylon Revisited.
Andrew Turnbull, youthful friend and later biographer of Fitzgerald, noted that Fitzgerald liked a constant flow of people through his life, and a favorite place for attaching them was the Ritz bar with its predominantly American clientele (185). There is also an abundance of symbolism in the storys title, which testifies to Charlies exile. The image that Babylon creates is one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. This gate of God was a religious center and place of exile for the Hebrews but then became a capitol of luxury and evil (McMichael 270). Charlie unsuccessfully searches for his freedom as he tries to shed his bad reputation. He is caught between his hopes for a decent life for his child and the carefree Parisian lifestyle that caters to every vice.
It is interesting to note that the story opens and closes in the Ritz bar, symbolizing perhaps that nothing has changed for Charlie. As Cowart notes, That Charlies struggle begins and ends in the Ritz bar is an example of the kind of irony that is one of the basic features of tragedy, for a bar is a notorious surrogate for the home he has striven for and lost (Donaldson 20). He seems to be caught in a prison-like state. Marion, however, doesnt realize this and thinks Charlie goes to the bars for the sole purpose of drinking.
No matter how hard he tries, he cant please her. Not even a dramatic turn would impress her because she is so sick and tired of all these wild drunken Parisians. Marian never really liked Charlie from the start but has held a grudge ever since the time when she and Lincoln took Honoria into their care because of Charlies drunken rages. The title holds significance in the short story of Babylon Revisited, as Babylon is a city from the worlds innocence.
Moreover, Paris was a place of innocence for them once upon a time. Before the Blitz, before Charlies and Helens fighting. They were young, and rich, and thought that the world was theirs. Now, he is visiting it after the fall, and it is not the same.
It is not that happy carefree place anymore, he does not know anyone, and the ones that he does do not fill him with the same joy they once did. This then suggests that the reference to Babylon is more than the place, but his old life. In this story, all of the characters seemed to have names, unlike many other stories, have countless nameless characters. The main characters name is changed throughout the story from Charlie to Charles Wales. The name Charles means strong. In addition, the name Charlie is given to many celebrities, which gives a hint of his past, life that is more glamorous.
The new Charles is far more serious than the old Charlie is. While the name, Marion, is a derivative of the name Mary, which means bitter. This is show by her bitterness towards Charles, blaming him for her sisters death, as well as her own jealousy. Helen means bright one or light, and during Charles dream, she is described as wandering in the snow in slippers.
Throughout this novel, Charlie seemed to be battling with the demons of his past. He claims to be a recovered alcoholic. The appearances of Lorraine and Duncan are also reminders and representations of his past that he so desperately wants to prove is behind him. It seems that he constantly boasting to Lincoln and Marion that he is now financially stable now and only drinks one drink every afternoon, which is an indication that under the surface there are still problems. (Gross) Lorraine and Duncan are demons he was battling with.
First, they appear during his outing with Honoria, at the Empire, and then later during a meeting with Marion and Lincoln. This shows that Charlie has not quite won the fight yet. In the first encounter with Lorraine and Duncan, they are referred to as sudden ghosts out of the past. When invited to lunch or dinner, Charlie quickly replies, Im not free. Give me your address and let me call you.
This appears to be like someone who knows what is right and wrong for himself at this point, but cannot speak up and say so. It is almost like peer pressure, and he is the victim, too afraid to say no. He just talked his way out of meeting with them. He seems like a person torn between the past and present, not a person who has totally left the past in the past. When Lorraine and Duncan offered him a drink at the Empire, his response was All right, but not at the bar. Well take a table.
I believe truly recovered alcoholic would have said no. He tells Lincoln on another occasion, I take one drink every afternoon, and no more. Drinking alcohol, every afternoon is definitely a problem! He might be drinking far less than before, but a drink a day is a strong indication that he still possesses a drinking problem, which is also another demon of his past. Towards the end of the short story, where Marion encounters Lorraine and Duncan barging into their home uninvited shows that Lorraine and Duncan are symbols of not only Charlies past, but also the worldly life, in general. Marion's reaction to them is very vivid.
According to the story, she had drawn back a step toward the fire, her little girl stood beside her, and Marion put an arm about her shoulder. Her reaction is that of a protective mother, shielding her child from potential harm. Again, Charlie does not have the power to say no to their invitation, and instead says, Tell me where youll be and Ill phone you in half an hour. However, I think, he has been unknowingly sabotaging himself from the beginning. His first act of unconscious sabotage is when he leaves the address where he will be staying with the bartender for his old friend Duncan. (Why would he do this? ) He is an alcoholic, but continues to take one drink a day (flirting with disaster? ). He spends time with a prostitute (even though he just buys her a meal at questionable company).
When he is out with Honoria he tells Lorraine and Duncan that they are going to the theater (knowing full-well they could follow). His motives are not clear, but what is clear is that there is some subconscious desire not to succeed in his mission to get Honoria. He may still be infatuated with his old lifestyle (read the way he describes it to Marion on his first visit to the Peters home). Or that he may not have forgiven himself for what happened to his wife and for losing custody of Honoria. With these events, Charlie has proven, unknowingly, to Marion that his demons have truly not left his life as of yet. I sincerely believe that there were no perfect characters in this story besides Honoria.
Every single character is trying to manipulate each others life, trying to trap the other, while unconsciously they are trapping themselves. Everything they do is subtle, yet hinting that they cannot let go of the past, as Marion always puts Helens death as an excuse, when she is still trying to struggle with the jealousy of Charlies past life. Charlie also yearns for his true nature, which was his past, but trying his hardest to restrain it. These two struggles with each other, while also reaching for Honoria, symbolizing their yearning for the present, reality, rather then being stuck in memory of the past. Babylon Revisited sprang from F. Scott Fitzgeralds own emotions and experiences.
Clearly Fitzgerald himself, Zelda, their daughter Scottie, and in-laws Rosalind and Newman Smith all emerge in Charlie, Helen, Honoria, Marion and Lincoln, respectively. The turmoil that Fitzgerald went through in 1930 - with Zelda breaking down, his separation from not only Zelda but also Scottie, and Rosalinds suggestion that Scottie reside with the Smiths, along with his own alcoholic tendencies- suggested for Fitzgerald the story he would tell (Milford). The historical criticism in Babylon Revisited, discusses the social and cultural context. By setting his story in 1929, on the heels of the stock market crash, Fitzgerald connects Charlies fate with that of the American economy.
In a larger sense, we see that Charlie represents American values and as thus allows Fitzgerald to condemn certain American vices and show their effects. And Marion and Lincoln, having escaped America to adopt a modest life in France, seem best suited to raise Charlies daughter because they have avoided his reckless ways. So even though Charlie has reformed, Fitzgerald suggests that you cannot change history. Like the nation during the Roaring Twenties, Charlie was always headed for disaster. But Charlies dilemma reflects larger patterns of national life. At the beginning, he finds that the Ritz bar, once his hangout, no longer possesses the same flamboyance and excess that he had associated with it.
Interestingly, he relates this change to the United States by remarking it was not an American bar any more-he felt polite in it, and not as if he owned it (Cowart 147). By referring to the bars prior ambiance as American, Fitzgerald implicitly relates the errors of Charlies younger days. He becomes an alcoholic, his wife ultimately dies (partly as a result of his thoughtlessness), and he loses possession of his daughter. The story depicts him long after his emotional and financial recovery, but his attraction to gaiety lingers. Sadly, even though he has reformed, his mistakes are irreparable. Regaining custody of his daughter proves difficult, and aspects of his past, personified by his drunken friends, haunt him and produce even more grief as with life in the U.
S. during the Jazz Age. Charlie indeed goes to excess. The unsteady financial burdens, the human loss, and the alcoholism all parallel the main character Charlie.
So after reading about the life of Fitzgerald and the economic times it easy to make a comparison between that of his life and the short story Babylon Revisited. Bibliography: Fitzgerald F. S. Babylon Revisited, Vintage Books, 3 rd Edition, 1986. Cowart Q. Controversies of Babylon Revisited, New York: Viking Press, 1995.
McMichael D. F. Scott Fitzgeralds Works and Critique, Oxford University Press, 2000. Donaldson W. Charlie Whales Relationships, Ontario Press, 1992. Milford D.
Modernism of Babylon Revisited, From National Reviewer Magazine, Issue April 2000.
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