Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Throughout the 1930s, Fitzgerald suffered guilt by association for his early identification with the "flappers and philosophers'' of the so-called Jazz Age. In the years of the Great Depression Fitzgerald's identification with the comparatively carefree 1920s rendered him irrelevant in the opinion of readers who were now enduring rather hardscrabble lives. Moreover, with "The Crack-up," a series of essays published in Esquire magazine in the mid-1930s, readers who were accustomed to seeing Fitzgerald's cleverly phrased romantic entertainments in the "slick" magazines now discovered a writer who bluntly described himself as a "cracked plate," an alcoholic has-been whose best days were behind him. With his move to the glitzy, superficial world of Hollywood in the late 1930s, Fitzgerald's critical reputation reached its low tide, and it was not until the decade after his death that his work was seriously reevaluated. From the beginning of the Fitzgerald "revival" in the 1950s, "Babylon Revisited" was regarded among Fitzgerald's best short stories, and the first critics to analyze it at length focused on the problem of Charlie's character. Some argued that Charlie's failure to regain custody of Honoria was a direct result of his decision to leave the Peters's address with the Ritz bartender. Others maintained that throughout the story, Charlie demonstrated a convincing and even heroic self-mastery and that his ultimate loss of Honoria was therefore the fault of the external world and the unwillingness of Marion, Duncan, and Lorraine to believe that Charlie had truly left his irresponsible past behind.

In more recent criticism, the story's ambiguity has been interpreted as the story's central theme and strength. Recent critics have also begun to more fully explore the story's sophisticated structure. Fitzgerald, for example, successfully used the image of the pendulum and the swing, as well as repeated shifts between present-tense action and references to Charlie's past, to create a sense of back-and-forth movement that perfectly reflects Charlie's own constantly rising and falling hopes. The story's heightened sense of tension or ambiguity and its multiple potential meanings, combined with the sheer emotional pull of Fitzgerald's characters and plot, may account for the critics' s continued fascination with "Babylon Revisited."

In spite of the disagreements over Charlie's character or the themes or structure of the story, virtually all critics have regarded "Babylon Revisited" among Fitzgerald's finest stories. While a few critics have noted traces of pop fiction melodrama in the story, as well as flaws in its structure and point of view, more have described it as nearly perfect, and one has even labeled it "among finest short stories of the twentieth century." Among the aspects of the story that have received the most praise are Fitzgerald's dramatization of the father-daughter relationship; his evocation of Paris as the story's setting and major metaphor; and his deft use of such metaphors and images as the swing and pendulum and doors, locks, and bars (in both senses). Above all, Fitzgerald has been praised for balancing depth of theme with economy of plot, creating a richly evocative atmosphere and realistic dialogue, and sustaining a measured tone of restraint and ambiguity.

Many elements of "Babylon Revisited" were drawn from Fitzgerald's own life: his knowledge of Paris from his several trips...

(The entire section is 1405 words.)