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Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited” Short Story Essay

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Updated: Jun 12th, 2021

Introduction

The majority of American people know about F. Scott Fitzgerald as The Great Gatsby‘s narrator – a classic book, omnipresent in English classes at high school. However, the author has also written some short stories, including “Babylon Revisited.” The term “Babylon” refers specifically to Paris, which, in the early 1900s after World War I, was considered to be the hub of fun, glamour, and luxury. The story starts with Charlie Wales’s relaxed return to the city after the stock market crash and to the custody of his daughter. Even though this work of Fitzgerald does not obey the traditional canons of the genre, “Babylon Revisited” is considered “the classics” of the short story nowadays; hence, this work belongs in the American literature canon.

Themes, Motives, and Plot

One of the essential functions of artistic culture is to incorporate the so-called “spirit of the time” into images, symbols, and metaphors. Also, the “spirit of the time,” or the elusively loose fragment of mentality in special time-spatial, and national-ethnic coordinates, remains much more reliable in the aesthetic codes and depths of the work than indirect speech. Such a dominant ideology, perceived as the dream-goal for the majority of the US citizens in the 1920s, was a special modification of the “American dream” in the era of post-war economic “prosperity.” Even though “Babylon Revisited” takes place in Paris, it contains elements of the “American dream.” For example, Fitzgerald demonstrated how Charlie made misguided attempts to attain a perfect life and failed to rekindle his relationships with his daughter. As stated by Charlie, “There wasn’t much he could do now except send Honoria some things; he thought rather angrily that this was just money – he had given so many people money…” (Fitzgerald 2157). Additionally, each of the main characters sought to identify typologically, even a kind of archetypal features of the “heroes” of their time, embodying the positive aspects of the national dream (utopia).

As “Babylon Revisited” is based on the story of the period when Fitzgerald was alive, the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929, the author used his personal experiences, which made this work unique. With the history that unfolds around him, Fitzgerald painted the picture of a man and a generation grappling with past deeds and possible despair. Fitzgerald’s biography contained an awkward conflict between wealth and class. He adroitly combined these two factors in his prose to represent a cast of characters. The extravagance, the decline, the dissipation, and the attempt at expiation take place on both a personal and a large scale in “Babylon Revisited”. Just as Charlie wondered how long he would have to pay for his crimes, so Fitzgerald himself wondered how long the 1930’s recession would continue. Thus, the short story combines autobiographical elements with real historical events, what makes “Babylon Revisited “stand out among the most prominent short stories in American literature.

It might be claimed that the vector of Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited” is aimed at the egoism and depravity of the financial and industrial elite, who refused to use the opportunities provided to them. In addition, the fates of ordinary citizens who succumbed to the charm of the swamp lights of the era of fleeting prosperity become the object of satirical and lyrical reflection on the writer. The protagonist of “Babylon Revisited”, who failed to stay together with his wife and daughter in “the world’s most expensive orgy”, says that he lost the most valuable things due to the boom (Fitzgerald 2157). As stated by the author, “He would come back someday; they couldn’t make him pay forever” (Fitzgerald 2156). Charlie not only wondered how much money he owed the waiter for his bill, but he was curious about how much more he had to pay before he had been forgiven from past errors. This is also a relevant statement about what was happening in America at the moment.

The Roosevelt’s reforms were addressed to limit the egoistic aspirations of the financial and industrial elite, to democratize socio-political and economic life, to free the country from the illusions of national superiority and boundless prosperity. Thus, Fitzgerald saw the accident as a punishment for the 1920s ‘ needless extravagance. How long are Americans going to have to pay for their errors? Thus, the short story contains a deep insight into the current situation in the United States, what makes “Babylon Revisited even more unique.

Conclusion

“Babylon Revisited” is a masterpiece concentrated not so much on plot or genre fiction standards, but on characters and themes. Fitzgerald’s moral and aesthetic reflection on the symptomatic manifestations of the crisis state of American society was not so comprehensive, but in the aspect he chose was quite deep and accurate. America found the strength in itself to safely cope with its acute period. However, the reforms and the mentality of the nation at that time were not included in the short story. Nevertheless, “Babylon Revisited” should be considered as an American literature canon for a college survey course of American writers.

Work Cited

Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. “Babylon Revisited”. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym, Norton & Company, 2003, pp. 2143–2157.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited” Short Story." June 12, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/fitzgeralds-babylon-revisited-short-story/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited” Short Story'. 12 June.

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