“Babylon Revisited” by F Scott Fitzgerald F. Scott Fitzgerald is known as the spokesman of the “Lost Generation” of Americans in the 1920s. The phrase, “Lost Generation,” was coined by Gertrude Stein “to describe the young men who had served in World War I and were forced to grow up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken” (Charters 489). Fitzgerald exemplified the generation that Stein defined. His family, with help from an aunt, put him through preparatory school and then through Princeton University (Charters 489).
Fitzgerald’s family hoped that he would stop “wasting his time scribbling” and would be serious about his studies (Charters 489). However, he left college before graduating and accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Regular Army during World War I (Charters 489). During his military service, he spent most of his time writing his first novel, This Side of Paradise (Charters 489). The peak of Fitzgerald’s fame as a writer came with the publication of The Great Gatsby, in 1925 (Charters 489).
Fitzgerald, writing in the third person, reflected back fondly on the Jazz Age because “it bore him up, flattered him, and gave him more money than he had dreamed of, simply for telling people that he felt as they did, that something had to be done with all the nervous energy stored up and unexpended in the War” (Charters 489). In the years of the 1930s and the Great Depression, Fitzgerald saw his own physical and emotional world collapse with the decline of his literary reputation and the failure of his marriage.
Fitzgerald’s last years as a writer “were truly lost . . . writing Hollywood screenplays and struggling to finish his novel The Last Tycoon” (Charters 489). Fitzgerald wrote approximately 160 stories during his career (Charters 489). “Babylon Revisited,” written in 1931, is one of his later works. It is considered “more complicated emotionally” than his earlier works because he shows “less regret for the past and more dignity in the face of real sorrow” (Charters 489). “Babylon Revisited” focuses on Charlie Wales, a man who returns to
Paris to retrieve his daughter and begin his life anew as a family with her. The title is appropriate because Charlie returns to Paris where, before the Depression hit, he and his wife lived a life of endless partying and spending of money, where everything had a price that he could afford to pay. Charlie begins his “revisit to Babylon” by stopping at the Ritz bar that he used to frequent. Before too many details are given, Charlie gives the bartender the address of his in-laws in case any of his old friends happen to stop in and wish to locate him.
This act proves to destroy his plans for family by the end of the story. As he begins to look around his old stomping grounds, he finds that now, every thing seems dark, alienated, and alone – similar to how he feels. Walking through the bar, Charlie hears “a single, bored voice” (Fitzgerald 490). When asked if he would like a drink, Charlie states he is “going slow these days” (Fitzgerald 490). While the bartender continues his friendly discussion, Charlie states that he now lives in Prague because “they don’t know about me down there” (Fitzgerald 490).
Charlie initially escaped Paris to start life over and has become lonely and feels alienated. When he returns to the establishment of his “good ol’ days,” he hopes to find the old friendly faces he remembers, but even this world has become a slow, lonely existence. Upon leaving the bar, Charlie walks down the street and hears the song “La Plus que Lente – Slower than Slow” being played (Fitzgerald 491). Having revisited his old haunts, Charlie goes to his in-law’s house to see his daughter and begin the necessary proceedings to bring her home with him – to start his new life.
Charlie tells the reader how “he believed in character; [how] he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element” (Fitzgerald 493). This statement foreshadows the end of the story. Charlie’s sister-in-law, who also believes in character, does not see Charlie as someone who has the proper character to raise her sister’s daughter and therefore alters Charlie’s plans for a new life. After his initial visit with his in-laws, Charlie again revisits some of the old nightspots he used to frequent.
He observes that one would “have to be damn drunk” to find these places enticing (Fitzgerald 493). Seeing these old places, he comes to “the meaning of the word dissipate – to dissipate into thin air; to make nothing out of something” (Fitzgerald 493). This is what Charlie has done with his life thus far — a dead wife and lost child. With section II of the story, we see Charlie launch out to begin his new life with his daughter. He feels he must “introduce” himself to her, wishing to “not shut any of her out of communication” (Fitzgerald 494).
Though Charlie is looking to rebuild his family and wishes to completely disassociate himself with his old life because “his own rhythm [is] different now,” “sudden ghosts from the past” interrupt this new beginning with his daughter (Fitzgerald 495). When Charlie and his daughter go to the vaudeville show, he observes that she is “already an individual with a code of her own” (Fitzgerald 496). He begins to realize that he may not ever truly know his daughter as his own.
This section of the story closes with Charlie “waiting in the dark street until [his daughter] appeared, all warm and glowing” (Fitzgerald 497). Charlie is in the dark, alone, and his daughter represents for him a new beginning filled with hoep for the future. In section III, the reader is brought in to the troubles that have surrounded Charlie and his past. The whole world of Charlie and his sister-in-law Marion changed the night that Charlie closed the door on his wife and “locked her out” which eventually led to her death (Fitzgerald 498).
This is where Charlie’s own alienation begins. In his search for meaning by reestablishing a close family life, he expresses to Marion his fear of losing his daughter’s “childhood” and his “chance for a home” – he has already lost much of his life (Fitzgerald 498). For Marion, Charlie represents “the discouragement of ill health and adverse circumstances” (Fitzgerald 499). She has linked Charlie and these events into a “tangible villain” that she can never trust – she feels that Charlie’s true character will never ultimately change (Fitzgerald 499).
Section IV begins with Charlie reflecting on his hopes for his new life with his daughter. These thoughts are saddened as he feels he should be making these plans with his dead wife. He vows “not to love [his daughter] too much” because he doesn’t wish for her to experience the same loneliness he has which would led her to “turn against love and life. ” Charlie has not “turned against love and life” yet, and he is hopeful for another chance to find meaning in love and life with his daughter (Fitzgerald 500).
Before leaving his hotel, Charlie receives a telegram from Lorraine wishing to continue the drunken good times she remembers with him. Charlie recalls these “good times” as a nightmare. He also recalls his memory of Lorraine from the day before as “trite, blurred, worn away,” and this defines how Charlie also wishes to remember his past (Fitzgerald 501). Charlie disregards the telegram and goes to discuss the transition of his daughter into his household. When he enters his in-law’s house, he admires the family by the fire and feels that now, this image will soon be his.
But Charlie’s “ghosts from the past” – Lorraine – soon disrupt this image, and his effort to introduce his past life with his hopeful, new life proves to be disastrous. By the end of “Babylon Revisited,” the reader sees that Charlie’s hopes have been destroyed by his past. Marion chooses to keep his daughter having not been convinced that his true character has changed. Charlie ends the story where he began, in the bar at the Ritz. Having lost sight of what was truly important when he had been affluent, Charlie lost his family and was now forced to live alone because of his actions. He had given so many people money. . . they couldn’t make him pay forever” (Fitzgerald 505). Charlie now understood that money wasn’t the key to happiness, but, being alone and searching for meaning, he did not yet know how he should pay for his past sins. “He was. . . sure [his wife] wouldn’t have wanted him to be so alone” (Fitzgerald 505). The irony of this last line being that he had locked her out. The reader could assume that now, his wife’s ghost, would want him locked out from happiness as well. Works Cited
Cengage, Gale. “Babylon Revisited F. Scott Fitzgerald- Introduction. ” Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna Sheets Nesbitt. Vol. 31. 1999. Web. 2006. 27 Jan, 2011. Charters, Ann. “F. Scott Fitzgerald. ” The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 1999. 489. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Babylon Revisited. ” Charters 490-505. Magill, Frank N. Short Story Writers. Vol. 1. Pasadena, Calif. u. a. : Salem, 1997. Print May, Charles E. Masterplots II. Vol. 1. Pasadena, CA: Salem, 2004. Print.