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 problem during two dazzling, extravagant years in Paris: “He remembered thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing a single number, hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman for calling a cab.” Having too much money, ironically, was the source of Charlie’s greatest losses. As he sits in a bar realizing that he has once again lost Honoria, at least for a time, the bartender offers his regrets for a different loss: “I heard you lost a lot in the crash.” Charlie responds, “I did” and adds, “but I lost everything I wanted in the boom.”
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.
Short-lived Prosperity Overshadowing all these events, however, was the economic devastation that followed the New York Stock Exchange crash of October, 1929. An investment boom that had begun...
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in late 1924 had by 1927 spiraled into a full-fledged bull market. It was a boom, however, fueled by unprecedented levels of purely speculative money and "margin'' stock purchases, in which investors could take out loans to buy stocks for as little as ten percent down. In June, 1929, in what economist John Kenneth Galbraith has called a "mass escape from reality,'' the ceiling came off the U.S. stock market, and stock prices rose by leaps and bounds to unheard-of levels. "Never before or since,'' Galbraith wrote, "have so many become so wondrously, so effortlessly, and so quickly rich." Then in September, 1929, the wildly overvalued stocks, the widespread indebtedness caused by banks' loans to speculating investors, and the weaknesses in the U.S. economy set off an extended freefall in stock prices that cleaned out novice and veteran, low-income and well-to-do investors alike. As panicked investors rushed to sell their stocks before their value dropped to zero, the market surrendered, in Galbraith's words, "to blind, relentless fear." The worst carnage was suffered on October 29, 1929, but after a brief stabilization in June of 1930, Wall Street began a further slide that lasted until June, 1932. One thousand U.S. banks closed in 1930 alone, and by the end of the year three million Americans were out of work, and the savings of hundreds of thousands of people had disappeared. By 1933 the U.S. gross national product was fully a third smaller than in 1929, and only the onset of the massive military buildup for World War II managed to pull the world economy out of what came to be called the Great Depression.
From the beginning of his career, Fitzgerald identified himself closely with the American experience. He was fascinated and deeply moved by American history and wove it into the plots and themes of his major works. Although he himself had not experienced the overnight riches-to-rags experiences of other Americans in the fall of 1929, he immediately understood its significance and incorporated it into his writing. In his entry for the year 1930 in his personal ledger, for example, he wrote, "The Crash! Zelda + America." While Fitzgerald identified the "crash" of his own life—his wife Zelda's first nervous breakdown—with the unraveling of the U.S. economy, he was of two minds about the meaning of the great change in American's fortunes before and after the stock-market crash. On the one hand, he wrote that "it is the custom now to look back on ourselves of the boom days with a disapproval that approaches horror. But it had its virtues, that old boom: Life was a good deal larger and gayer for most people.... There were so many good things." On the other hand, in the mid-1930s he wrote that the 1920s were "the most expensive orgy in history'' and that the youthful happiness he felt during that decade was as "unnatural as the Boom; and my recent experience parallels the wave of despair that swept the nation when the Boom was over."
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.
Charlie's attitude toward Paris reflected Fitzgerald's own. In 1927 Fitzgerald wrote, "The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American.... France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older— intelligence and good manners." By 1931, however, Fitzgerald saw something alarming in the waves of newly rich Americans who had descended on France before the crash: "With each new shipment of Americans spewed up by the boom the quality fell off, until toward the end there was something sinister about the crazy boatloads." For Fitzgerald, France became merely "a land'' while "the best of America was the best of the world." America's "simple pa and ma and son and daughter," he wrote, was "infinitely superior in their qualities of kindness and curiosity to the corresponding class in Europe." Fitzgerald's biographer Matthew J. Bruccoli underscores Fitzgerald's alienation from Paris and France as a whole: he "remained a tourist," Bruccoli maintained, "never felt at home in France," and "found that France intensified his identification with his native land." Moreover, in Fitzgerald's fiction France is depicted, in Bruccoli's words, as "a place where Americans deteriorate or sometimes demonstrate their superiority over the natives." In "Babylon Revisited" Charlie does both: he is briefly part of an infallible "royalty," but he eventually descends into nightmarish "dissipation."
Point of View Although Charlie does not narrate the story directly, it is through his vantage point that the actions of "Babylon Revisited'' are described. The narrator separates himself from Charlie, however, by occasionally telling the reader things that Charlie cannot know or does not himself believe. The narrator, for example, tells readers that Marion Peters ‘‘once possessed a fresh American loveliness" but then adds that "Charlie had never been sensitive to it and was always surprised when people spoke of how pretty she had been." Similarly, when Charlie tries to convince Marion that he deserves another chance as Honoria's father, the narrator again separates himself from Charlie by relating Marion's point of view: "part of her saw that Charlie's feet were planted on the earth now, and her own maternal feeling recognized the naturalness of his desire; but she had lived for a long time with a prejudice—a prejudice founded on a curious disbelief in her sister's happiness, and which, in the shock of that one terrible night, had turned to hatred for him. It had all happened at a point in her life where the discouragement of ill health and adverse circumstances made it necessary for her to believe in tangible villainy and a tangible villain."
Throughout "Babylon Revisited," the point of view the narrator adopts is almost always Charlie's. Charlie perceives Paris as a dangerous, decadent place, rather than one of the world's most beautiful cities, and the final judgment about whether Charlie has truly escaped his alcoholic past depends largely on whether readers believe what he tells them about himself. Occasionally, Charlie even seems to turn directly to the reader to plead his case through the narrator. Recalling the night Charlie locked Helen out in the snow, the narrator asks, "How could he know she would arrive an hour later alone, that there would be a snowstorm in which she wandered about in slippers, too confused to find a taxi?" In several passages in the story, the narrator's voice and Charlie's thoughts seem indistinguishable, and the story's narration becomes almost like an interior monologue: "He had never eaten at a really cheap restaurant in Paris. Five-course dinner, four francs fifty, eighteen cents, wine included. For some odd reason he wished that he had"; "He believed in character; he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element. Everything else wore out"; or, "He would come back some day; they couldn't make him pay forever. But he wanted his child, and nothing was much good now, beside that fact.... He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone." In passages like these, the third-person narrator and Charlie himself seem to become almost the same voice.
Structure The structure of a work of fiction is the general organization of the scenes or events that make up the story. In its broadest outline, "Babylon Revisited" is divided into five sections. The first and last sections take place in the same location, the bar at the Hotel Ritz in Paris, and thus frame the story. In section 1, Charlie tells the Ritz bartender that he will be spending "four or five days'' in Paris, and each section of the story narrates the events of each of these days. Only in the story's fifth and last section does Fitzgerald break this pattern, moving not to Charlie's fifth day in Paris, but to the evening of the fourth day, which began in the previous section.
Many critics have praised the structure of' "Babylon Revisited." One critic has argued that the story's plot is more minimal than it appears: there is only one real scene—the intrusion of Lorraine and Duncan at the Peters's on the night Charlie hopes to regain custody of his daughter. The rest of the story merely develops or builds up to this moment. Other critics have argued that Fitzgerald unconventionally structured the story with two climaxes: one in section 3 when Charlie learns that Marion will grant him custody of Honoria, and one in section 4, when Lorraine and Duncan's sudden appearance changes Marion's mind. Several critics have also noted that the structure of the story consists of alternating scenes, an exterior-interior movement that reflects the struggles occurring in Charlie's mind. Thus, according to one critic, Fitzgerald alternates between interior scenes (the Ritz bar, a restaurant with Honoria, the Peters's home) and exterior scenes (Paris at night) to create the backdrop of "Babylonian" corruption against which the story of a man's quest to regain his daughter is played out. This same back-and-forth structure can be seen in the alternation between Charlie's struggles in the real world to regain custody of Honoria and his internal, mental struggle to deal with his past, his sense of guilt, and his confidence in his own rehabilitation and honor.
Other Symbols Two of the most important symbols in "Babylon Revisited'' are the swing or pendulum and the door. The image of the swing first appears when Helen appears to Charlie in a dream on the night he seems to have finally regained custody of Honoria. Helen appears on a swing, "swinging faster and faster all the time'' and speaking reassuring words until her motion prevents Charlie from making out what she says. Later, after Lorraine and Duncan's appearance at the Peters's has sabotaged Charlie's plans, he turns to see Lincoln Peters "swinging Honoria back and forth like a pendulum from side to side." As symbols, the swing and pendulum not only serve to link Helen and Honoria as the two loves in Charlie's life, they also point to the importance of time in the story. The motion of the swing and the pendulum reflects the quickening movements of the story itself, in which the events of the plot seem to unfold faster and faster. In the span of one day, for example, Charlie's fourth in Paris, he goes from feeling "happy," with "the door of the world'' open before him, to unexpected defeat after which he is left alone in a hotel bar to contemplate his guilt and loneliness. As symbols of time, the swing and pendulum also represent the struggle in the story between Charlie's alcoholic past—with its "ghosts" and "nightmare" scenes—and the uncertain present in which he tries to secure a future of happiness, honor, and self-mastery.
Doors appear as symbols of both hope and menace in "Babylon Revisited.'' Early in the story, Fitzgerald uses doors to symbolize the devouring "mouths" of Paris's decadent nightclubs. After his first visit with the Peters in section 1, Charlie revisits the old haunts of his pre-crash Paris life: "He passed a lighted door from which issued music, and stopped with the sense of familiarity.... A few doors farther on he found another rendezvous and incautiously put his head inside.... The Poet's Cave had disappeared but the two great mouths of the Cafe of Heaven and the Cafe of Hell still yawned—even devoured, as he watched, the meager contents of a tourist bus." In these scenes the doors of Paris' s clubs are virtually the doors of hell, beckoning tourists ‘‘with frightened eyes’’ to squander their money on "drink or drugs'' and surrender themselves to the "dissipation" of Paris' temptations. Later, Lorraine, a "ghost " from Charlie's past, will remind him of another similar door, opened to feed his need for alcohol: ‘‘I remember once when you hammered on my door at four A.M. I was enough of a good sport to give you a drink.''
The principal door image in the story, however, is the door Charlie locked behind him a year and a half before the story starts, stranding his wife in the snow and perhaps contributing to her death from heart failure. As Charlie admits, it was the most uncharacteristic act of his life: "Locking out Helen didn't fit in with any other act of his life.’’ The closing of that door signaled the death of his marriage and the death, he now hopes, of his self-indulgent alcoholic life in the days before the crash. Fitzgerald also uses door imagery to represent a metaphorical entranceway to Charlie's hopeful new future with Honoria. The very first door encountered in the story, in fact, opens to reveal "a lovely little girl of nine’’—Honoria—who shrieks with joy as she leaps into Charlie's arms. The door as symbol of Charlie's possible future with Honoria is then repeated the morning after Charlie learns that Marion will consent to his regaining custody of his daughter: "He woke up feeling happy. The door of the world was open again.’’
But the next door to open admits Lorraine and Duncan Schaeffer into the Peters' s home, shattering Marion's confidence in Charlie's new image: "The door opened upon another long ring, and then voices, and the three in the salon looked up expectantly.... the voices developed under the light into Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarrles." Although their appearance separates Charlie from Honoria once again, the last door image of the story returns to the door as a positive symbol, like the open "door of the world" that Charlie first glimpsed when he was reunited with Honoria for the first time in section 1: "Then he opened the door of the dining room and said in a strange voice, 'Good night, children.' Honoria rose and ran around the table to hug him."
Perhaps the most obvious symbol in the story, however, is Honoria. Charlie's reason for being in Paris is to regain his honor, which is manifest in his daughter, Honoria.
Lost Generation Fitzgerald has often been associated with a school of American writers born near the beginning of the twentieth century and who reached maturity around World War I and, in many cases, lived as expatriates in Europe during the 1920s. Besides Fitzgerald Gertrude Stein Ernest Hemingway poet Hart Crane, and critic Malcolm Cowley are associated with this group of writers rebelling against the no-longer-viable rules of the past. According to Hemingway, the term Lost Generation derived from a remark Stein overheard an auto mechanic make to his younger colleagues as they bungled their attempts to fix Stein's car: "You are all a lost generation." After Hemingway used the remark as the motto for his famous novel The Sun Also Rises (1926), the term began to be used to describe his generation's loss of faith in traditional values following the carnage they witnessed in World War I. "Babylon Revisited" is also in some ways an analysis of the consequences of losing touch with these traditional (American) values. Marion and Lincoln Peters represent the sober, prudent, family-oriented values of an earlier America, and the "haunted" Charlie represents the by-product of ignoring these values by surrendering to the temptations of unearned wealth and self-indulgent, immoral behavior. The notion that Charlie's (and Fitzgerald's) generation had perhaps fallen away from the solid values of its predecessors is echoed in the story in Charlie's assertion that "he believed in character; he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element. Everything else wore out."
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 own nightclub and continues to perform until her death in 1974.
1990s: In 1991, Lynn Whitfield stars in the film The Josephine Baker Story, which outlines the legend's rise from her impoverished beginnings in St. Louis near the turn of the century to her rise to fame and her involvement with many issues, including children's welfare and the U.S. civil rights movement.
"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.
Sources 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.
Further Reading 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 F. Scott Fitzgerald,’’ in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, University of Wisconsin Press, 1982, pp. 3-21. Lehan emphasizes Fitzgerald's fusion of individual experience and the larger" spirit of the times" in the story. Charlie's dissipation is dramatized as being inseparable from the dissipation of his age, and the "note of loss" that surrounds Charlie's predicament at the story's conclusion reflects Fitzgerald's theme throughout his fiction that his protagonists' tragedies reflect the larger events of society around them.
Mangum, Bryant. "F. Scott Fitzgerald," in Critical Survey of Short Fiction, pp. 858-66. Mangum argues that in "Babylon Revisited'' Fitzgerald strikes a compromise between the reader's feeling that Marion unfairly persecuted Charlie and the reader's sense that Charlie should not escape the consequences of his pre-crash irresponsibility. Fitzgerald's compromise is to have Marion retain Honoria, but give Charlie the hope that at some point in the future he can make another attempt to regain custody of his daughter. Mangum sees the story as a workshop for Tender Is the Night, because it successfully dramatizes the father-daughter relationship and creates a "mythic level" in which everything conspires to drive Charlie into "exile" from the "fallen" city of Paris.
Prigozi, Ruth. "Fitzgerald's Short Stories and the Depression: An Artistic Crisis," in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, University of Wisconsin Press, 1982, pp. 111-26. Prigozi claims that "Babylon Revisited" showcases the "nuanced and elliptical" style of Fitzgerald's ''masterpieces,'' in which he employs a sophisticated approach to scene and atmosphere to explore the themes of struggle, responsibility for others, professionalism, and "above all ... that elusive trait, character."
Staley, Thomas F. "Time and Structure in Fitzgerald's 'Babylon Revisited.'" Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter, 1964-65, pp. 386-88. Analyzes the construction of the story.
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. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
Miller, James E., Jr. F. Scott Fitzgerald: His Art and His Technique. New York: New York University Press, 1964.
Stanley, Linda C. The Foreign Critical Reputation of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1980-2000: An Analysis and Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004.
Tate, Mary Jo. F. Scott Fitzgerald A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Taylor, Kendall. Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, A Marriage. New York: Ballantine, 2001.