Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Contrast plays a major part in Fitzgerald’s technique as he presents both Charlie and Paris as they were before the crash of 1929 and as they are at the time of the story. The language of the stock market adds a note of irony as Charlie applies it to the rise and fall of his fortune—both his monetary fortune and his fate in general.
On his return, the reformed Charlie sees Paris through new eyes. With the majority of the wealthy Americans gone, Paris is indeed a changed city, but even what remains unchanged looks different to Charlie when seen with the clarity of sobriety rather than through a drunken haze. He sees his former outlandish behavior from a more serious point of view and shies away from contact with his friends, who seem never to have changed. He can even see his old self as he must have appeared to the Peters, who did not share in the wealth that seemed to come to him so easily. Helen’s death is presented from two different perspectives—Charlie’s and Marion’s. Her obvious jealousy and his remorse shift the balance in favor of support for Charlie and belief in his version of the story.
Charlie sees the error of his former ways and the ephemeral nature of his life prior to 1929. He recalls the snowstorm that almost caused Helen’s death and the fantasy world that surrounded the incident: “The snow of twenty-nine wasn’t real snow. If you didn’t want it to be snow, you just paid some money.” Money was not a...
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The Modern Era Arrives
In 1930, the year Fitzgerald wrote "Babylon Revisited,'' the world was in the midst of profound political, cultural, and economic changes. Political despotism seemed to be on the rise everywhere: the dictatorships of Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union and Benito Mussolini in Italy, both founded in the mid-1920s, were firmly entrenched by 1930; the collapse of Germany's Grand Coalition in March signaled the death of the fragile democratic Weimar Republic; and in September, 1930, Adolf Hitler's Nationalist Socialist Workers Party enjoyed its most dramatic election victory, moving Hitler closer to the complete dictatorial control of Germany he would assume in 1933. In America, Prohibition—which outlawed the manufacture, transportation, and sale of liquor—was entering its eleventh year, and a violent gangster class had emerged to feed the national demand for booze. In 1930, radio entered its golden age, the "talking picture" began to replace the silent film, and experimental television broadcasts made in the United States and the Soviet Union. In March, construction began in New York City on the Empire State Building; by the end of the year, the number of paid passengers on commercial airlines had increased 300 percent over 1929, and in December, Germany established a rocket program to develop military missiles.
Overshadowing all these events, however, was the...
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Setting and Symbolism
The setting of "Babylon Revisited'' is Paris France circa 1930, a year after the U.S. stock market crash that ruined the fortunes of many Americans. In the story's title, Paris is compared to the ancient biblical city of Babylon (on the Euphrates River, near present-day Baghdad, Iraq), which was famous as a hotbed of sin and vice. Like the Babylonian Jews of the Bible who surrendered their Mosaic law to worship Babylon's pagan idols, in his former life Charlie had been corrupted by Paris's licentious ways and had lost touch with his traditional American values. For Charlie, Paris is a beautiful but dangerous place. The Place de la Concorde retains its "pink majesty," and the facade of the Paris opera house remains "magnificent," but the busy allure Paris had when the Americans of the twenties ruled its nightlife is now gone. Paris, like the famous Ritz Hotel where the story begins and ends, "had gone back into France," and Charlie no longer feels "as if he owned it." Seeing Paris with "clearer and more judicious eyes," Charlie is struck by its "provincial," even "bleak and sinister'' quality. "Vice and waste'' are catered to on an "utterly childish scale," and grim tourist traps snare travelers who are leery of the decadence of Paris's nude revues and prowling prostitutes.
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Compare and Contrast
1930s: On October 28, 1929, the stock market loses 12.8 percent of its value. The event, dubbed "Black Thursday'' results in widespread panic, numerous bank failures, and precipitates the great depression, which lasts throughout the 1930s.
1997: On October 27, the stock market loses 7.2 percent of its value, with the biggest one-day point loss in history. Computers automatically shut down the market to prevent panic. Despite the shocking decline, caused by unstable Asian markets, the New York Stock Exchange rebounds significantly in the next day of trading.
1930s: Alcoholism is not a well-understood disease. Individuals deal with the condition to the best of their own ability. Alcoholics Anonymous, the first substantial effort to address the problem, is organized by Bill Wilson in New York City in 1935. The program is a self-help fellowship designed to empower alcoholics to control their drinking habits.
1990s: Alcoholics Anonymous has more than 30,000 local groups in 90 countries and has an estimated membership of more than one million. Spiritual values are emphasized as a means to recovery.
1930s: Josephine Baker is the toast of Paris. After leaving the United States for what she says is a more hospitable culture, she becomes one of the most popular entertainers in France. After starring in the Folies Bergere, she opens her...
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Topics for Further Study
Research the lives of the American expatriate literary community in Europe in the 1920s, focusing on such figures as Ezra Pound Ernest Hemingway F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Explore the factors that compelled these American writers to live overseas.
On a map of Paris, trace Charlie's travels through Paris in "Babylon Revisited.'' Try to locate such Parisian landmarks as the Hotel Ritz, Montmar-tre, the Place de la Concorde, the Place Blanche, the Etoile, and the Left Bank as well as such thoroughfares as the rue Palatine, boulevard des Capucines, rue Pigalle, rue Saint-Honore, avenue de l'Opera, and rue Bonaparte.
Research the history of the boom years of the American stock market in the 1920s and the crash of October, 1929. Explore the causes and effects of the crash and explain why such a crash could or could not occur again.
Explore the concept of legal guardianship of children and the laws surrounding child custody. Explore the factors courts weigh when deciding to award or strip parents of legal custody of a child.
In "Babylon Revisited'' Fitzgerald uses several French words and phrases to create a sense of place for the story's setting in Paris. Three of these words, chasseur, bistro and brasserie,...
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"Babylon Revisited" was adapted as the film The Last Time I Saw Paris by director Richard Brooks, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson, Walter Pidgeon, Donna Reed, Eva Gabor, and Roger Moore, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1954; available from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
"Babylon Revisited" was produced as an audio book, Babylon Revisited and Other Stories, read by Alexander Scourby, Listening Library, 1985; distributed by Newman Communications Corporation.
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What Do I Read Next?
Among the many Fitzgerald biographies, Matthew J. Bruccoli's Some Sort of Epic Grandeur (1981) remains the definitive treatment of the author's life. Bruccoli argues that it was Fitzgerald's conflicted attitudes, most notably his love/ hate relationship with the rich, as much as his heavy drinking and marriage troubles that prevented him from devoting more of his creative energies to his work.
The Great Gatsby (1925) has proved to be Fitzgerald's most popular novel, and some critics have claimed that it may well be the finest American novel ever written. In it, Fitzgerald lyrically recounts the story of bootlegger and idealist Jay Gatsby's dream of rekindling his relationship with Daisy Fay, his former flame, and the tragic consequences of an automobile accident for which Gatsby takes the blame.
In his posthumously published memoir A Moveable Feast (1964), novelist Ernest Hemingway describes his experiences among the American literary expatriates in Paris during the early 1920s, including Gertrude Stein Ezra Pound Ford Madox Ford, and Fitzgerald. The volume paints a vivid and impressionistic image of the...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Baker, Carlos. "When the Story Ends: 'Babylon Revisited.'" In The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 269-77. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982.
Bruccoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981, pp. 308-09.
Eble, Kenneth E. "Touches of Disaster: Alcoholism and Mental Illness in Fitzgerald's Short Stories," in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, University of Wisconsin Press, 1982, pp. 39- 52.
Galbraith, John Kenneth. The Great Crash: 1929, Houghton Mifflin, 1961.
Toor, David. "Guilt and Retribution in 'Babylon Revisited.'" In Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1973, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and C. E. Frazer Clark, Jr., pp. 155-64. Washington, D.C.: Microcard Editions Books, 1974.
Gallo, Rose Adrienne. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Modern Literature Monographs, Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1978, pp. 101-5.
Gallo argues that Fitzgerald hints that Charlie has not completely rejected his past alcoholic life and praises Fitzgerald's "brilliant evocation of place."
Lehan, Richard. ‘‘The Romantic Self and the Uses of Place in the Stories of
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.
Berman, Ronald. “The Great Gatsby” and Fitzgerald’s World of Ideas. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Jay Gatsby. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.
Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. New Essays on “The Great Gatsby.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.
Curnutt, Kirk, ed. A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Eble, Kenneth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1977.
Gale, Robert L. An F. Scott Fitzgerald Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Gross, Dalton, and MaryJean Gross. Understanding “The Great Gatsby”: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Kuehl, John. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991.
Lee, A. Robert, ed. Scott Fitzgerald: The Promises of Life....
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