What is the main idea of "Babylon Revisited"?

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Babylon Revisited” tells the story of Charlie Wales. Charlie spends the story working diligently to make up for the sins of his past so that he can have custody of his daughter. The novel deals with the concept of loss—in particular, the loss that Charlie feels at not having his family.

One of the comparisons made at the end of the story contrasts the loss of things in the stock market crash with the loss of family during the Jazz Age. Charlie and his wife, Helen, lived a raucous party lifestyle during the 1920s. complete with dancing, money, and booze. However, Helen died as a result of their lifestyle, and her sister Marion blames Charlie for the death. She withholds their daughter, Honoria, from him because she doesn’t trust that he has changed. Charlie sums up his loss in comparison to the depression in a conversation with a bartender:

"I heard that you lost a lot in the crash."
"I did," and he added grimly, "but I lost everything I wanted in the boom."
"Selling short."
"Something like that."

One of the main ideas of the text is how the value of things in life changes with perspective. Charlie, at one point, saw the value of his life as parties and fun, but he has since grown. The stock market crash happened—but the cost of losing every penny hurts him less than the loss of his family. He realizes that he lost much more than just his money and things: he sold short the love of his family and didn’t realize its worth until it was too late. The main idea of the story is that things that “cost” the least can be the most important things in our lives. For Charlie, it's his daughter and family.

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One way to interpret the main idea or theme of the story is in the title itself. The reference to "Babylon" is to the biblical city that was known for sin and debauchery. This refers to Charles's previous life in which his alcoholism contributed to his irresponsible and self-destructive behavior, as well as the tragedy of his wife's accidental death.

The idea of "revisiting" the location and conditions of his previous life of decadence and bad behavior is a structural element of the story that allows the reader to witness Charles's deep grief, regret and self-doubt as he reflects upon his past misdeeds, and speculates about his future. One idea that comes through is that a person can really never leave their past behind, and judgments made about us can linger a lifetime, even if our behavior has changed. Charles's desire to have full custody if his daughter is compromised when he is seen in the company of old friends who were once part of the social circle that characterized his downfall.

The end of the story sees Charles contemplating ordering a second drink at the bar, even though he has specifically said he only has one drink i order to show he has control over his addiction. This suggests Charles's despondent state may in fact lead him to backslide into his earlier behavior. The takeaway could be that people trying to transform their lives cannot escape the opinions or perspectives of others, and that these opinions can affect an individual's ability to move forward, despite their best efforts.

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The central idea of this short story is that of transformation and change. The basic premise of the tale is that a father has returned to Paris to try and regain custody o fhis daughter after his financial ruin, the death of his wife and his own struggles with alcoholism. Charlie is a character who is desperately trying to present an image to those around him of somebody who has transformed his character, but the overall change in his character is somewhat undercut by the various details that Fitzgerald gives that suggest that this reform is not entirely completed.

These hints are made through various temptations that Charlie experiences to return to the "utter irresponsibility" of his previous life. On the one hand, the story begins with Charlie resolutely refusing a drink from the bartender and proudly saying that he has "stuck to it for over a year and a half now." On the other hand, we see how straight after this he makes us doubt his resolute nature by giving the bartender the address of the Peters so that he can pass it on to Duncan Schaeffer, who was an old drinking partner of Charlie's. These kind of examples abound throughout the text and again and again we are made to think that the transformation of Charlie from a dissipated alcoholic to a fine upstanding individual in business is not entirely complete yet.

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