How does "Babylon Revisited" reflect modernist ideas, and who is the protagonist and conflict?

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The narrator, Charlie Wales, returns to Paris after six years. He meets up with his old friends at the Hotel Crillon and discusses his desire to reclaim his daughter, Honoria. When he finds out that Honoria is living in a convent school in Switzerland, he decides to return home to New York and pursue this goal.

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The conflict in "Babylon Revisited" would seem to be between the protagonist , Charlie—who wants to regain custody of his daughter, Honoria—and his sister-in-law, Marion, who doesn't trust him. But really the conflict is between Charlie and his past, which is represented in the story by his friends...

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Lorraine and Duncan and also by Paris itself, which was the scene of Charlie's dissipation and alcoholism in the 20s. It was also the scene of the incident that led to the death of his wife, Helen. By returning to Paris, Charlie is trying, in effect, to erase the past.

One way to think about the story's connection to modernist ideals is to think about Charlie's reinvention of himself, as a businessman and a responsible father, as a kind of progress. Charlie's embrace of middle-class values and work ethic can be seen as a kind of corrective measure, a way to make himself "new," but it's clear that Marion is right to be suspicious of him: his decision to only take one drink a day is meant to be a show of willpower, but it can also be seen as an unwillingness to truly let go of the days when he was rich and idle.

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Fitzgerald wrote Babylon Revisited in 1930, a time in between  the two World Wars and the Great Depression, but just after a period of economic prosperity and decadence known as the Roaring Twenties, a period that profited Charlie Wales, the protagonist and his wife Helen.  

Charlie's internal conflict is defined by his grief and guilt over the loss of his wife, who died as a result of getting a terrible chill from walking to her sister's apartment when Charlie locked her out because he was angry at her.  He feels responsible for Helen's death which is attributed to a failed heart.  He is also battling his own disease, alcoholism. 

His external conflicts are with Marion Peters his sister-in-law, who has legal custody of Honoria, his daughter, and his old friends in Paris, like Lorraine Quarreles.

Charlie has returned to Paris to get his daughter back from Marion, but she is not easily convinced that he is in the right circumstances either physically, emotionally or financially to take care of Honoria. Charlie tries to convince Marion that he is ready.

".... I  worked hard for ten years, you know—until I got lucky in the market, like so many people. Terribly lucky. It didn't seem any use working any more, so I quit. It won't happen again." In Marion's mind, Charlie's responsibility for Helen's death is inseparable from his financial success: he should feel guilt for both.

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 How does Fitzgerald demonstrate the ideas of the modernist period in his story "Babylon Revisited"? 

Considering "Babylon Revisted" as one of his chefs d' oeuvres,F. Scott Fitzgerald declared to a friend :

You see, I not only announced the birth of my young illusions in This Side of Paradise, but pretty much the death of them in some of my last [Saturday EveningPost  (a magazine for which he wrote) stories like "Babylon Revisited."

Certainly, the story's title is a metaphor for the city of Paris where Charlie Waites returns in the hope of regaining his child, Honoria.  Much like Babylon, Paris in the early twentieth century setting of this story encapsulates the luxury, sensualness, debauchery, wickedness, and multilingualism of the ancient city. Moreover, the narrative manifests many of the ideas of Modernism, a period in which the great thinkers of :

  • The "Unreal City" 

This term given to London in T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land, characterizes the form of experience of Modernism in which people were disillusioned, ambiguous, and aimless. Having had the cornerstones of his culture broken apart by the great thinkers of the era, Marx, Nietzche, Darwin, and Freud, man became what Charles Baudelaire termed the flaneur, one who walks the city streets aimlessly with no meaning to his life. Paris, Charlie's Babylon of dissipation, is an "unreal city" when he returns to it in the hope of regaining custody of his daughter, Honoria. There he feels disassociated, ambiguous about resuming former relatioships with former friends, his daughter, and his sister-in-law.

In Paris, Charlie is defeated by a past--his antagonist--that he cannot shed as Lorraine Quarrles seeks him out and destroys his chances of convincing Marion he is no longer drinking and is responsible enough to be Honoria's parent and guardian.

...they [the Quarrleses] wanted to see him, because he was stronger than they were now, because they wanted to draw a certain sustenance from his strength.''

  • Subjective Consciousness

Throughout the narrative, there is the disturbed interior monologue of the protagonist, Charlie Waites who vacillates from indecision and guilt to confidence and back again. Regarding his child at their reunion, he engages in self-debate,

He thought he knew what to do for her.  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.

Later, as the past overwhelms him, Charlie resorts to critical sentiment as he realizes his dissipation as his waste of structure in his life has left him with a dead wife and a child he has had taken from him.

  • Allusions, Alienation, and Ambiguity 

For Charlie, the past continually intrudes upon the present, leaving him without meaning as he cannot overcome its sordid events.  Haunted by the reappearance of Lorraine and her husband, Charlie's credibility as a sober and responsible father is lost. The allusions to his dead wife amd his behavior in the past also act as impediments to Charlie's success in attaining Honoria. These shards of the past leave Charlie damaged and alienated, searching for some guiding structure by which he can prove himself. In the typical ambiguous ending, Charlie sits in the Ritz and ponders,

He would come back....they couldn't make him pay forever.  But, he wanted his child, and nothing was much good now....He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone.

With this modernist aesthetic of alienation, there is a fragmentation to the narrative of "Babylon Revisited."

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