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“Babylon Revisited” by Francis Scott Fitzgerald Research Paper


Introduction

“Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a short story that depicts the life of Charles J. Wales, an American who goes to Europe after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. After losing his wealth, the main character – known as Charlie – decides to start a new life abroad. Even though he becomes successful in doing business, he faces numerous challenges and hardships in his private life such as the death of his wife and the loss of custody over his only daughter. The power of this short story is not only in the beauty of portraying human beings but also in the way it scrutinizes attitudes to and perceptions of life, the present and the past, love for the homeland, family, wealth, parenthood, loss, and transformation. This paper will analyze the main themes in “Babylon Revisited” through a psychological lens, trying to understand how different challenges in life probe moral courage and affect the personality development of the story’s main character.

Relationships Between Parents and Children

Parenthood is one of the central themes in “Babylon Revisited.” It can be traced not only to the portrayal of the relationships between Charlie and his daughter but also in the transformation of Charlie’s perception of parenthood. Parenthood is closely connected to the themes of death and loss, as Charlie realizes the importance of becoming both mother and father to his child after losing his wife. Because his daughter Honoria is sometimes disobedient and docile, Charlie decides that he should be more patient to preserve his connection with his only child (Tachibana 44). In fact, “he extended himself, reached out for a new tolerance” (Fitzgerald), thus taking another step toward significant change in himself. Once harsh, strict, and careless, he manages to overcome his demons – alcohol, wastefulness, and obsession with money – and seek ways to become a better person.

The theme of parenthood is closely connected to the development of Charlie as a moral character. As Charlie says, “I’m anxious to have a home… And I want Honoria in it” (Fitzgerald), he signifies not only a change in his perception of parenthood and family-related responsibilities but also in his preferred way of life and his newfound desire to settle down and get to know his daughter (Tachibana 49). In this way, Fitzgerald hints at the subconscious striving for a family that all human beings share.

Past and Present

In this short story, the present is portrayed through the prism of the past. Charlie recalls major past events that shaped his personality and influenced the frame of his behavior. In this way, “Babylon Revisited” is a symbol of humans’ inability to escape from the past, as well as the strong influence of the past on the present and future. As Charlie visits the places he used to love when he lived in Paris, he notes that “Paris was so empty [and] not American any more” (Fitzgerald). He feels lonely without meeting Americans in Paris. However, this connection is not only evident when he visits traditionally American jazz bars in Paris; it is as well linked to drowning in memories, as Charlie commonly “found another ancient rendezvous and incautiously put his head inside” (Fitzgerald). In this way, the author depicts the very nature of human beings – choosing to become devoured by reminiscences instead of trying to recognize the beautiful details of the present.

Another example demonstrating the influence of the past on the future is Charlie’s attempt to have his daughter back in his life. In trying to regain custody over his only child, he shows up after several years of silence: “I didn’t realize it, but the days came along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone” (Fitzgerald). Nevertheless, because of his past mistakes, he cannot achieve his goal of reuniting with his daughter. Indeed, one line especially points to the inescapability from the past: “How can anybody count on that [Charlie staying sober]?” (Fitzgerald). This line emphasizes the need to take responsibility for one’s missteps and one’s own failure to secure moral redemption and return to mythical Babylon, the home one can never reach (Matsuura 88). Here it is imperative to note that there are two kinds of Babylon – spiritual and material – and even though restoring one’s financial status may be easy, returning to spiritual Babylon might be impossible.

Love for Homeland

Even though most events take place in Paris, France, the story is a recollection of American life and experience. To begin with, Charlie is an American expatriate. More than that, he belongs to the generation of the Jazz Age and those who live with the consequences of the Great Depression. In Paris, he visits bars and places that used to be American (Prochaska 98). Somehow, he notes that Paris feels empty without the Americans who by now have returned to the United States. More than that, Charlie believes that there are some details in people and places that look like America – like “warm and comfortably American” to describe homes (Fitzgerald) or “fresh American loveliness” (Fitzgerald) to speak about women. Altogether, these details enhance Charlie’s visions of America and point to his strong love for his homeland.

The Loss

In “Babylon Revisited,” loss is both financial and moral. The story describes Charlie, who has lost his wife and custody over his daughter, as well as his wealth, during the years of the Great Depression; it also traces how these many losses changed him. Seeing money as a determinant of himself, Charlie measures success from a financial perspective, hoping that everyone else does as well. He even believes that he is unable to take care of his daughter because he does not have enough money. Once he restores his financial position, he decides to seek custody over his child. However, Charlie is destined for another loss as his custody request is denied and he cannot have his daughter back (Fitzgerald).

Furthermore, there is a way to connect the title of the story to the theme of loss. Babylon, a city that was once wealthy but then failed, serves as a symbol for both the United States after the Great Depression and Charlie himself, who became a victim of the market shock (“Modernist Portraits” 23). Just like the citizens of Babylon, Charlie can never return to the starting point because his wife and daughter have been lost, leaving him with a bitter sense of perdition.

Transformation and Change

The theme of loss is interwoven with the themes of change and transformation. Charlie is a symbol of redemption and desire to change. Once wasteful and self-destructive, he manages to take back control over his life and even transforms himself into an icon of morality, showing trust in the character and spiritual values over material ones. Even the name of Charlie’s daughter, Honoria, can be interpreted within a psychological frame as a reflection of his honor – his desire to regain self-respect by becoming a responsible and tolerant father, changing his worldview, and turning into a better person. Here, it is essential again to center on the word “Babylon” in the title of the short story. Babylon is commonly connected to a return after exile and a search for redemption (Matsuura 88). In this way, the transformation of Charlie resembles the evolution of human personality, as he makes an effort to step away from wastefulness and carelessness and toward morality and trust.

There is another line, however, about transformation in an opposite way – the belief that people never change: “When you were throwing away money we were living along watching every ten francs…. I suppose you’ll start doing it again” (Fitzgerald). This is the reason for refusing to return custody of his daughter to Charlie. At the same time, it serves as further proof that the past is inescapable, continuing to affect one’s future so much that moral transformations are not possible unless others see and believe in them also (“Survival Stories”).

Conclusion

In conclusion, “Babylon Revisited” is a perfect portrayal of changing human nature. By including numerous themes in his short story, Fitzgerald teaches that one can never escape from his or her past missteps, as they determine the future. Nevertheless, these mistakes and the inescapability from the past can become a background for a better tomorrow and a reminder that morality and trust can change one’s life for the better, although this path is usually paved with failure. Indeed, Charlie is an icon of transformation, a role model for those who have gone astray, showing that everyone has a personal Babylon to seek. However, to find it, a person has to endure issues of loss, wealth, parenthood, and family responsibility.

Works Cited

Matsuura, Kazuhiro. “Morality and the Failure of Redemption: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Babylon Revisited’ and ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.’” Journal of the Graduate Schools of Letters, vol. 10, no. 1, 2015, pp. 87-94.

“Modernist Portraits.” Learner, n.d., Web.

Prochaska, Bernadette. “Temporality in Fitzgerald’s ‘Babylon Revisited.’” Analecta Husserliana, vol. 109, no. 1, 2012, pp. 97-102.

Tachibana, Sachiko. “The Power Relationship Between Father and Daughter: Fitzgerald’s ‘Babylon Revisited’ and ‘Lo, the Poor Peacock!’” Osaka Literary Review, vol. 41, no. 1, 2015, pp. 43-58.

“Survival Stories.” Liberal Arts, n.d., Web.

Fitzgerald, Scott F. “Babylon Revisited.” eBooks Adelaide. 2016. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020, September 14). "Babylon Revisited" by Francis Scott Fitzgerald. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/babylon-revisited-by-francis-scott-fitzgerald/

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""Babylon Revisited" by Francis Scott Fitzgerald." IvyPanda, 14 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/babylon-revisited-by-francis-scott-fitzgerald/.

1. IvyPanda. ""Babylon Revisited" by Francis Scott Fitzgerald." September 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/babylon-revisited-by-francis-scott-fitzgerald/.


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IvyPanda. ""Babylon Revisited" by Francis Scott Fitzgerald." September 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/babylon-revisited-by-francis-scott-fitzgerald/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. ""Babylon Revisited" by Francis Scott Fitzgerald." September 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/babylon-revisited-by-francis-scott-fitzgerald/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '"Babylon Revisited" by Francis Scott Fitzgerald'. 14 September.

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