Babylon Revisited is a short story written by F. ScottFitzgerald. It is set in the year after the stock market crash of 1929, simplyafter what Fitzgerald called the Jazz Age. This short story shows severalreferences to the Great Depression, and how Charlie Wales, the main character,had to adapt his entire life to it. Although the focus of the story seems tosurround our main character Charlie, much of it, rests on the author’s ownexperiences alongside his struggles with internal and external conflicts. According to literary devices.
net, “Infiction, ‘internal conflict’ refers to acharacter’s internal struggle. A character might struggle with anemotional problem such as fear of intimacy or abandonment. However, externalconflict is the struggle a character faces against an outside force”. BabylonRevisited will be analyzed with the lens of New Historicism.
It is a formof literary theory whose goal is to understand intellectual historythrough literature, and literature through its cultural context hence allowingus to recognize the meaning of these particular conflicts as it helps usunderstand the real outcome of the story and how Charles reflects Fitzgerald’sin every way. Charlie Wales, themain character in “Babylon Revisited,” is an image of Fitzgerald andthe life that he lived in the roaring twenties, but the sympathy thatFitzgerald’s writing seems to presume is as shallow as Charlie’s giving upalcohol. The bond between Fitzgerald and Charlie Wales, however, is not asshallow as the contempt that Fitzgerald holds for the life that both he andCharlie experienced: both Charlie and Fitzgerald experience financial success,suffering marriages, and alcoholism. Through the narration of Charlie’s pastand his conversations with various characters in “Babylon Revisited,”it is explained that Charlie became somewhat wealthy in the boom of the 1920sand spent it frivolously. Charlie and Helen Wales enjoyed a carefree life fullof parties, plays, and other functions of high society in which they paid exorbitantamounts of money to every person that they dealt with, where Charlie remembers”thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing a single number,hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman for calling a cab.” Charlie andHelen enjoyed their wealth in an extremely materialistic way, not paying regardto the things that really matter to them.
According to Shmoop.com, Similarly, “M.J.Bruccoli writes that “Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald did spend money fasterthan he earned it” and that Fitzgerald was “unable to manage his ownfinances.
” Lacking concern that Charlie and Fitzgerald have over their ownfinancial estates creates an evident bond between the two”. In “BabylonRevisited,” the night that Charlie locked Helen out of the house he hadleft in a rage because Helen had been flirting with and kissed another man atthe event they were at. Whether or not his storming out is justified, theflirting and the kiss shows a strain in the Wales’ marriage and it can befairly presumed that the kiss was not the first time that Helen had acted inthat way. During one of the Fitzgerald’s stays in France over the summer andfall of 1924, their marriage was “damaged by Zelda’s involvement with aFrench naval aviator,” according to Matthew Bruccoli, Americanprofessor of English at the University of South Carolinaagain,showing that Charlie and Fitzgerald suffered similar situations. Further, creating an undeniable connection between Charlieand Fitzgerald is Charlie’s past drinking problem that continues to haunt himand his regaining of his daughter Honoria by constantly reminding him of hisprevious way of life. In the course of Charlie’s attainment of wealth, both heand Helen would opt to get drunk at parties, bars, clubs, and the likes on amore than regular basis. The strain that their marriage suffered can beinferred to have been caused by their drinking. However, Fitzgerald never losthis wife, Zelda, or his child – Franklin Scott Fitzgerald, born in 1921.
However, Fitzgerald earned a “reputation as a drinker” and there were”frequent domestic rows” between F.S. Fitzgerald and ZeldaFitzgerald, “usually triggered by drinking bouts,” according toBruccoli, “How can Fitzgerald, not be directly transferring his own life intothe life of his character Charlie Wales, with this evidence? Even thoughCharlie is the man that Fitzgerald was, the connection halts once theirhistories have been explained. Fitzgerald’s story is bursting with contempt forCharlie’s past way of life and basically condemning Charlie to always bemissing something in his life in this case, his wife, Helen, and child, Honoria”.
We can conclude that the story is written as though thereader is experiencing the situation through the mind of a drunk man. The transitions are smooth and flowing, butthere is a subtle disorganization in the structure of the story. In the firstsection, Charlie is conversing with Alix and then abruptly outside summoning ataxi, but there is no finality in their conversation. Also, according toHarrison, “when Charlie and Lincoln Peters first meet in the story, Lincoln”rested his hand for a moment on Charlie’s shoulder,” but thesentence of dialogue – “You’re looking well” or “I’m glad to seeyou so composed” – that the reader is expecting never comes. There is noemotion, almost as if the story is expressing existentialism as a key to life,and it goes along with Charlie’s demeanor and the criticism of his character byFitzgerald”.
Charlie’s drinking problem controls him, even once he hasshed the major problem, and Fitzgerald sees and portrays that as a weakness.James M. Harrison writes in his essay “Fitzgerald’s ‘BabylonRevisited'” that the “central symbol of the story is Charlie’s onedrink a day: he wants to give up the old way of life almost,” but hecannot bring himself to let go. Charlie ends up losing his daughter to Marionbecause he must be admitted into a sanitarium because of his grief and hisdrinking problem, and in “Babylon Revisited” he is striving to getHonoria back, but will not take that final step to stop drinking altogether. Schmoop.comstates that “Marion obviously holds it against Charlie, and her character canbe seen as Fitzgerald’s own voice in how she will not accept Charlie’s persona.She feels that it is all a guise, especially when Duncan and Lorraine show uprandomly at their home, drunk and looking for Charlie.
Lincoln may seem moreopen and reasonable, but he also puts more trust in Charlie than Marion bythinking that Charlie will not relapse into his stupor. This is the mainvehicle of Fitzgerald’s critiquing Charlie: Marion’s refusal to allow Charliethe legal guardianship over Honoria”. Charliealso is self-destructive, at least on a subconscious level, because it was hewho inadvertently allowed for Duncan and Lorraine to find Lincoln’s home.Harrison’s statement that “in a passage placed for emphasis at the veryopening of the story, Charlie plants the seed of his own destruction”proves that Charlie is not meant to attain Honoria and that his life is stillmissing something.
His one drink daily and his other inabilities to let go ofand forget his past halt his progress to beginning a new life. Nobody knowsthat Duncan and Lorraine are coming to Lincoln’s home beforehand, and thesurprise jolts Marion back into reasoning that Charlie is not worthy to raisehis own daughter. When Charlie is at the brunt end of Marion’s outburst overHelen’s death, he stands there and takes it without putting up a fight at all.Marion “saw him plainly and she knew he had somehow arrived at controlover the situation.” The lack of a responsive outburst from Charlie, themetered and controlled counter to Marion’s claims, make Charlie seem automaticin a way, but more that his nature is resigned and that he is not fit to raiseHonoria. Even though Marion is the person who is keeping Honoria from Charlie,she says that “She’s your child, I’m not the person to stand in yourway”. The counterbalance of Marion’s extreme emotional state withCharlie’s disturbingly controlled manner deepens the New Historic criticism ofCharlie by Fitzgerald.
Due to Charlie’s lack of understanding the situationcompletely and his closed-minded view that he is blameless emphasizes thatFitzgerald is not caught up in Charlie’s resemblance in character to Fitzgeraldhimself. According to what we have gathered from the characters specially fromboth Fitzgerald and Charlie, Babylon Revisited is about balance, balance inHonoria’s life, balance of finances, balance of responsibility. We understandthat Charlie’s life is completely out of balance because Helen died and that hecannot replace her and he has lost his daughter, the only person alive thatmeans anything to him anymore. Duncan and Lorraine return into Charlie’s lifelike “ghosts out of the past” and fully assimilate Marion’sperception of Charlie’s imbalanced life. Which brings us to the meaning behindthe title. According to Smoop.com “Babylon is a term taken from The Book ofRevelation in the Bible. The Biblical Babylon is a city characterized byextravagance, debauchery, and sin, but it is really taken as a symbol ratherthan an actual place.
(In a famous passage, Babylon is actually represented asa woman, the so-called “Whore of Babylon.”) The consequence is thatwe can understand “Babylon” on several levels in the context ofFitzgerald’s story. To interpret Babylon as a literal city means that we’relooking at Paris as the place of sin and indulgence. Charlieis revisiting Paris, so in this sense he is returning to revisit “Babylon.
“But Charlie isn’t just revisiting a place; he’s revisiting an entire lifestylethat he’s left behind, and entire state of mind to which he prescribed for adecade. “Babylon” isn’t just Paris; it is Charlie’s former life”. HereNew Historicism ties in because it is a form ofliterary theory whose goal is to understand intellectual historythrough literature, and the title itself is a representation of how religioushistory of the title can help us better understand the story. Fitzgeraldhas transposed an image of himself in Charlie, and that Fitzgerald meant forthe character to act as a means for Fitzgerald to escape his lifestyle. Thescorn that Fitzgerald holds for Charlie, however, is very subtle and must betaken in from a third person viewpoint that is not focused so much on Charlie’smind.
It is evident that in “Babylon Revisited” Fitzgerald iscondemning the carefree and irresponsible actions of the elite society thatcame about from the stock market boom in the 1920s in both America and in Europe.According to James Harrison, “The influences of alcohol, strained marriage, andaspiration are stressed within the story because Fitzgerald had to deal withthem intensely and severely in his own life, even while he was writing”Babylon Revisited”‘. Fitzgerald’s not only demonstrates internalconflicts but also external conflicts surrounding his struggles with alcoholism,with his estranged wife through her affair with a French naval aviatorcontributed almost the entire outcome to the storyline from which Fitzgeraldcreated Charlie and the whole short story of Babylon Revisited