Student Question

What does the snow symbolize in "Babylon Revisited" by Fitzgerald?

Quick answer:

The snow is a symbol of the harshness of life and the limits to men's powers, especially Charlie Wilson's.

Expert Answers

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Charlie returns to Paris after a long absence, and his return there brings back a flood of memories. One bad memory involves the time in 1929 when, after a fight, he locked his wife Helen out in the snow because he caught her kissing another man. As he recalls,

When he arrived home alone he turned the key in the lock in wild anger. 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?

Although Helen survives the pneumonia she contracts wandering in the snow, Marion, Helen sister, still holds Charlie responsible for Helen's weakened state and later death.

A much more reflective Charlie, who has weathered the Great Depression and his own struggles with alcohol, is sobered in more ways than one. He realizes now that the snow symbolizes life's harshness and the limits to the powers of men like himself. Up until the stock market crash, they thought that they and all the people around them were omnipotent. They thought their money could shield them from any danger. The snow and its power to harm helps Charlie to understand the need to be humble:

The men who locked their wives out in the snow, because the snow of twenty-nine wasn't real snow. If you didn't want it to be snow, you just paid some money.

Money, however, doesn't protect Helen from Charlie's unloving act, and in the end, money, which disappears, provides no protection against the snow, which is real and symbolizes life's harshness.

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