Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In this story that recalls F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own alcoholic existence in Paris in the 1920’s, Charlie Wales learns how truly relative wealth is. In losing, for at least a while longer, the future that he hopes to share with Honoria, he is paying for his past.
Charlie recalls his earlier dissipated life and suddenly realizes the meaning of the word “dissipation”: to make nothing out of something. As Charlie sits alone in a bar at the end of the story, he seems left with nothing. He is not without wealth. He now makes through hard work as much money as he made through luck during the boom days of the stock market. The way of life that came with sudden fortune, however, destroyed his chance to enjoy things of more lasting value. He remembers the money frivolously thrown away on wild evenings of entertainment and knows that it was not given for nothing: “It had been given, even the most wildly squandered sum, as an offering to destiny that he might not remember the things most worth remembering, the things that now he would always remember—his child taken from his control, his wife escaped to a grave in Vermont.” Just when he hopes to get Honoria back and establish a future with her, his past intrudes, and he is unfairly kept from doing so. The ill-timed appearance of Duncan and Lorraine convinces him of the impossibility of ever outliving his past.
Charlie is alone and frustrated at the end, but he is not defeated. He has learned...
(The entire section is 340 words.)
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Change and Transformation
In "Babylon Revisited,'' a father tries to regain custody of his daughter after the death of his wife, financial disaster in the stock market crash of 1929, and his own battle with alcoholism. A central theme of the story is Charlie's struggle to convince himself and others that he has abandoned the "dissipated'' ways of his pre-crash life in Paris. Through telling details, Fitzgerald shows the reader that Charlie has largely reformed, while hinting that his problems may not be entirely behind him.
Throughout the story Charlie is presented with temptations to return to the "utter irresponsibility'' of his previous life, which he must overcome to prove he truly understands that personal character is the "eternally valuable element." In the story's opening scene, Charlie appears to demonstrate his new self-discipline by refusing the bartender's offer of a drink. But he then undercuts the reader's confidence by giving him the Peters's address to pass on to Duncan Schaeffer, a one-time drinking partner. Moreover, the fact that Charlie has found himself in a bar as soon as he reaches Paris, and proceeds to ask the bartender the whereabouts of his old friends, introduces a doubt about Charlie's actual rehabilitation. Similarly, after Charlie's first visit to the warm domesticity of the Peters's home, he avoids returning to his hotel in favor of taking in Paris's decadent nightlife. At the restaurant with Honoria...
(The entire section is 1642 words.)