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 to “trust in character again as the eternally valuable element” and he has faith in his own reformed character. He knows that he has much to offer Honoria: a home, love, and values. He is disillusioned, but in his new strength, he will not slip back into the destructive habits of his past. For the time being all that he can offer Honoria are things, and he knows how little value there is in the things that money can buy.