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What is the significance of F. Scott Fitzgerald's naming his short story "Babylon...

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magnotta | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted November 20, 2010 at 2:58 AM via web

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What is the significance of F. Scott Fitzgerald's naming his short story "Babylon Revisited"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 20, 2010 at 3:29 AM (Answer #1)

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The title of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited" is significant in its denotation and its connotation as it becomes a metaphor for Paris and Charlie's return to it. 

1.  Babylon was the capital of Babylonian, a city renowned for its materialism, luxury, sensualness; it has become a metaphor for wickedness.  Fitzgerald suggests, then, that the city of Paris is much like Babylon in the twenties as wealthy expatriates came there to engage in much excess of drinking and debauchery:

He [Charlie] remembered thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing a single number, hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman for calling a cab.

In a letter to Charlie, Lorraine recalls their excessive behavior:

....We did have such good times that crazy spring, like the night you and I stole the butcher's tricycle, and the time we tried to call on the president and you had the old derby rim and wire cane....

2.  Babylon, albeit a city of great power, came crashing down just as Paris and its American residents suffered economic losses when the Stock Market in the United States crashed in 1929, and many Americans had to return to the United States.  Certainly, Charlie and all his decadent friends in Paris suffered from this crash.  This failure in the U.S. is mirrored in the characterization of Claude Fessenden about whom Charlie asks the bartender Alix:

Alix lowered his voice confidentially:  "He's in Paris, but he doesn't come here any more.  Paul doesn't allow it.  He ran up a bill of thirty thousand francs, charging all his drinks and his lunches, and usally his dinner, for more than a year.  And when Paul finally told him he had to pay, he gave him a bad check."

3.  By Charlie's return to Paris--Babylon revisited--Fitzgerald provides a more in-depth insight into the meaning of his visit and the characterization of Charlie.  When Charlie enters the same bar where he drank years ago, he revisits the place where money was thrown around and now there is the suggestion of something unsound, his irresponsibility.  Charlie calls for dice and "shook with Alix for the drink."

Revisiting Babylon is unsound as it is a return to the place of downfall.  But, Charlie has hopes,

...he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element.  Everything wore out.

Unfortunately, Charlie yet retains his delusions.  For instance, he believes that he can drink just one drink a day and not be an alcoholic.  He deludes himself in entering the customary bar in Paris where he encounters people from his decadent past who prove to be his nemesis when they arrive at the home of his sister-in-law who has custody of his daughter Honoria.  And, just as he failed when he and his wife Helen lived in Paris, Charlie again fails in his attempts to regain custody of his little daughter.  Yet deluded, he concludes, "...they couldn't make him pay forever."

 

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