F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “Babylon Revisited,” a short story for the Saturday Evening Post in 1931. The story is divided into five parts, and it unravels the past that has led to the present deplorable state of the central character, Charlie Wales. It poignantly deals with the issues of alcoholism, parenting, responsibility, martial and familial relationships, and the monetary fluctuations that led to the downfall of Europe in the World War I era. Charlie’s stance of a flamboyant and affluent American in Paris has drastically changed to that of a lonely widower struggling to make ends meet. The story revolves around his attempts to retrieve the guardian rights of his daughter, Honoria, from his sister-in-law. It would seem like most of Fitzgerald’s stories, this too based on his life. The title refers to the ancient city and once prosperous city of Babylon that now lies in ruins. In the author’s perspective, Paris, akin to Babylon, was once glorious with it parties and people, but now, without the American bars and restaurants and the rich Americans, it was hardly a resemblance to the past.
The story begins with showing Charlie’s current situation; he is in Paris after a long time and seeking out friends and acquaintances in his former hangouts. The friends he does run into later, such as Lorraine, do not appeal him with the same “fun” spirit of the past. This event shows how lonely he truly is, for although he does not seek the flamboyant company of the past, he does feels the need to have a friend and confidant. The only true connection he seems to have is with his daughter. However, he cannot remain with her as has lost the rights to be her guardian because of his stay at the sanatorium and his wife’s death. His sister-in-law, Marion, is perhaps affectionate toward her foster-child, but is determined to seek revenge for the unfair behaviour of her late sister and brother-in-law—that is, when they had ignored her poverty in their affluent days. While she realizes that Charlie has the ability to take care of Honoria, she uses every excuse to exercise her fears for Honoria’s safety and the angst her sister’s lifestyle caused her.
Marion’s embittered attitude and Charlie’s love for his daughter and his resentment are depicted with great precision and are symbolic of human behaviour. Charlie and his wife, Helen’s, excessive indulgence in a “fun” lifestyle not only contributed to their economic downfall and breakdown of their marriage but also the eventual death of Helen. The importance of sobriety and responsibility toward family and society are highlighted here. While Europe was spiralled into an economic crisis after the World War I, Paris had become a haven for the Americans, as the exchange rate made even the middle-class American rich in Paris. Poets and artists from America flocked the city and turned it into their party ground. The references to this fact are shown in Charlie’s reminisces about his earlier days in Paris. However, three years later, this changed, and as is shown Marion’s words about the change in the attitude towards Americans in Paris: “Now at least you can go into a store without their assuming you’re a millionaire” (Babylon Revisited and Other Stories 215). The basic theme of the story seems to state that one cannot run away from one’s past, and thus, it is important to be make decisions with due consideration of the consequences.
Babylon Revisited and Other Stories. Ed. West, James. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.