What are the character strengths and weaknesses of Charlie Wales in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited?"
In "Babylon Revisited," by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charlie Wales demonstrates a character with two very different sides.
Early on, before he loses everything in the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Charlie takes his family to Europe where he spends money lavishly, and falls victim to the perils such a lifestyle offers: he becomes an abusive alcoholic who is corrupted by all that he has. Through his "sickness," he emerges from a sanatorium, into which he had admitted himself, to find that he has no monetary assets; he ends up losing custody of his daughter (Helen signed over custody to her sister and her husband)—and she died, something Charlie will continually feel guilty for.
The positive side of Charlie is that he starts over again with the intent of getting his daughter back. He can be honest about his past:
As they rolled on to the Left Bank and he felt its sudden provincialism, he thought, "I spoiled this city for myself. I didn't realize it, but the days came along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone."
He is aware that pampering Honoria too much could be her undoing, noting that a life of excess destroyed him. He wants to do the "right thing."
When there had been her mother and a French nurse he had been inclined to be strict; now he extended himself, reached out for a new tolerance; he must be both parents to her and not shut any of her out of communication.
However, as much as he is aware of these things, the old Charlie is still alive and well. He knows just what to do and say to win his daughter back.
"Now at least you can go into a store without their assuming you're a millionaire. We've suffered like everybody, but on the whole it's a good deal pleasanter."
"But it was nice while it lasted," Charlie said. "We were a sort of royalty, almost infallible, with a sort of magic around us. In the bar this afternoon"--he stumbled, seeing his mistake--"there wasn't a man I knew."
[Marion] looked at him keenly. "I should think you'd have had enough of bars."
"I only stayed a minute. I take one drink every afternoon, and no more."
"Don't you want a cocktail before dinner?" Lincoln asked.
"I take only one drink every afternoon, and I've had that."
"I hope you keep to it," said Marion.
Charlie continues to visit the places in Paris where the trouble had initially started. He is generous, which might be perceived as a positive character trait, but this may allude to his excessive nature. He sees old friends, but tries to avoid becoming involved with them and his former way of living. Witnessed by his in-laws, it is not clear if he will get Honoria back from them.
Perhaps the thing that is most reassuring about this man, who seems still to be a work-in-progress, is his enduring hope that he may still be able to "fix" himself. Remembering his dead wife, he notes:
He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone.
Charlie is not perfect, but he is aware of his short-comings and what he believes he needs to truly be happy.
Charlie Wales is a competent, talented man who can make a career success by virtue of his skill, whether in America or Czechoslovakia. This success of his stems at least in part from his arrogant self-assurance. The way he deliberately walks into the bar in the opening passages put this image prominently before the reader's attention:
When he turned into the bar he travelled the twenty feet of green carpet with his eyes fixed straight ahead by old habit; and then, with his foot firmly on the rail, he turned and surveyed the room,....
It is this arrogance and self-assurance that have contributed to his moral, personal, and financial downfall, as it seems to have turned to his disadvantage by becoming a weakness instead of remaining a strength as in his business life. His arrogance and self-assurance would have beguiled him into not regarding the havoc he was creating of Helen's life, Honoria's, and his life.
Yet, he is a devoted man who loved Helen and dearly loves his daughter. He is also a moralistically feeling man as, though he remains arrogant and self-assured, he profoundly feels the error of his earlier choices and the consequences of his former degradation.Therefore, he will hope in and rely on "character" ("trust in character again as the eternally valuable element") to gain Honoria back from Marion's custody:
[he realized] some of [Marion's] distrust would be irrevocably implanted in Honoria. But he pulled his temper down out of his face and shut it up inside him;