Babylon struggle a character faces against an outside force”.

Babylon Revisited is a short story written by F. Scott
Fitzgerald. It is set in the year after the stock market crash of 1929, simply
after what Fitzgerald called the Jazz Age. This short story shows several
references to the Great Depression, and how Charlie Wales, the main character,
had to adapt his entire life to it. Although the focus of the story seems to
surround our main character Charlie, much of it, rests on the author’s own
experiences alongside his struggles with internal and external conflicts.  According to literary devices.net, “In
fiction, ‘internal conflict’ refers to a
character’s internal struggle. A character might struggle with an
emotional problem such as fear of intimacy or abandonment. However, external
conflict is the struggle a character faces against an outside force”. Babylon
Revisited will be analyzed with the lens of New Historicism. It is a form
of literary theory whose goal is to understand intellectual history
through literature, and literature through its cultural context hence allowing
us to recognize the meaning of these particular conflicts as it helps us
understand the real outcome of the story and how Charles reflects Fitzgerald’s
in every way.  

Charlie Wales, the
main character in “Babylon Revisited,” is an image of Fitzgerald and
the life that he lived in the roaring twenties, but the sympathy that
Fitzgerald’s writing seems to presume is as shallow as Charlie’s giving up
alcohol. The bond between Fitzgerald and Charlie Wales, however, is not as
shallow as the contempt that Fitzgerald holds for the life that both he and
Charlie experienced: both Charlie and Fitzgerald experience financial success,
suffering marriages, and alcoholism. Through the narration of Charlie’s past
and his conversations with various characters in “Babylon Revisited,”
it is explained that Charlie became somewhat wealthy in the boom of the 1920s
and spent it frivolously. Charlie and Helen Wales enjoyed a carefree life full
of parties, plays, and other functions of high society in which they paid exorbitant
amounts of money to every person that they dealt with, where Charlie remembers
“thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing a single number,
hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman for calling a cab.” Charlie and
Helen enjoyed their wealth in an extremely materialistic way, not paying regard
to the things that really matter to them. According to Shmoop.com, Similarly, “M.J.
Bruccoli writes that “Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald did spend money faster
than he earned it” and that Fitzgerald was “unable to manage his own
finances.” Lacking concern that Charlie and Fitzgerald have over their own
financial estates creates an evident bond between the two”. In “Babylon
Revisited,” the night that Charlie locked Helen out of the house he had
left in a rage because Helen had been flirting with and kissed another man at
the event they were at. Whether or not his storming out is justified, the
flirting and the kiss shows a strain in the Wales’ marriage and it can be
fairly presumed that the kiss was not the first time that Helen had acted in
that way. During one of the Fitzgerald’s stays in France over the summer and
fall of 1924, their marriage was “damaged by Zelda’s involvement with a
French naval aviator,” according to Matthew Bruccoli, American
professor of English at the University of South Carolina

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again,
showing that Charlie and Fitzgerald suffered similar situations. 

Further, creating an undeniable connection between Charlie
and Fitzgerald is Charlie’s past drinking problem that continues to haunt him
and his regaining of his daughter Honoria by constantly reminding him of his
previous way of life. In the course of Charlie’s attainment of wealth, both he
and Helen would opt to get drunk at parties, bars, clubs, and the likes on a
more than regular basis. The strain that their marriage suffered can be
inferred to have been caused by their drinking. However, Fitzgerald never lost
his wife, Zelda, or his child – Franklin Scott Fitzgerald, born in 1921.
However, Fitzgerald earned a “reputation as a drinker” and there were
“frequent domestic rows” between F.S. Fitzgerald and Zelda
Fitzgerald, “usually triggered by drinking bouts,” according to
Bruccoli, “How can Fitzgerald, not be directly transferring his own life into
the life of his character Charlie Wales, with this evidence? Even though
Charlie is the man that Fitzgerald was, the connection halts once their
histories have been explained. Fitzgerald’s story is bursting with contempt for
Charlie’s past way of life and basically condemning Charlie to always be
missing something in his life in this case, his wife, Helen, and child, Honoria”. 

We can conclude that the story is written as though the
reader is experiencing the situation through the mind of a drunk man.  The transitions are smooth and flowing, but
there is a subtle disorganization in the structure of the story. In the first
section, Charlie is conversing with Alix and then abruptly outside summoning a
taxi, but there is no finality in their conversation. Also, according to
Harrison, “when Charlie and Lincoln Peters first meet in the story, Lincoln
“rested his hand for a moment on Charlie’s shoulder,” but the
sentence of dialogue – “You’re looking well” or “I’m glad to see
you so composed” – that the reader is expecting never comes. There is no
emotion, almost as if the story is expressing existentialism as a key to life,
and it goes along with Charlie’s demeanor and the criticism of his character by
Fitzgerald”. Charlie’s drinking problem controls him, even once he has
shed the major problem, and Fitzgerald sees and portrays that as a weakness.
James M. Harrison writes in his essay “Fitzgerald’s ‘Babylon
Revisited'” that the “central symbol of the story is Charlie’s one
drink a day: he wants to give up the old way of life almost,” but he
cannot bring himself to let go. Charlie ends up losing his daughter to Marion
because he must be admitted into a sanitarium because of his grief and his
drinking problem, and in “Babylon Revisited” he is striving to get
Honoria back, but will not take that final step to stop drinking altogether. Schmoop.com
states that “Marion obviously holds it against Charlie, and her character can
be seen as Fitzgerald’s own voice in how she will not accept Charlie’s persona.
She feels that it is all a guise, especially when Duncan and Lorraine show up
randomly at their home, drunk and looking for Charlie. Lincoln may seem more
open and reasonable, but he also puts more trust in Charlie than Marion by
thinking that Charlie will not relapse into his stupor. This is the main
vehicle of Fitzgerald’s critiquing Charlie: Marion’s refusal to allow Charlie
the legal guardianship over Honoria”.

         Charlie
also is self-destructive, at least on a subconscious level, because it was he
who inadvertently allowed for Duncan and Lorraine to find Lincoln’s home.
Harrison’s statement that “in a passage placed for emphasis at the very
opening of the story, Charlie plants the seed of his own destruction”
proves that Charlie is not meant to attain Honoria and that his life is still
missing something. His one drink daily and his other inabilities to let go of
and forget his past halt his progress to beginning a new life. Nobody knows
that Duncan and Lorraine are coming to Lincoln’s home beforehand, and the
surprise jolts Marion back into reasoning that Charlie is not worthy to raise
his own daughter. When Charlie is at the brunt end of Marion’s outburst over
Helen’s death, he stands there and takes it without putting up a fight at all.
Marion “saw him plainly and she knew he had somehow arrived at control
over the situation.” The lack of a responsive outburst from Charlie, the
metered and controlled counter to Marion’s claims, make Charlie seem automatic
in a way, but more that his nature is resigned and that he is not fit to raise
Honoria. Even though Marion is the person who is keeping Honoria from Charlie,
she says that “She’s your child, I’m not the person to stand in your
way”. The counterbalance of Marion’s extreme emotional state with
Charlie’s disturbingly controlled manner deepens the New Historic criticism of
Charlie by Fitzgerald. Due to Charlie’s lack of understanding the situation
completely and his closed-minded view that he is blameless emphasizes that
Fitzgerald is not caught up in Charlie’s resemblance in character to Fitzgerald
himself. According to what we have gathered from the characters specially from
both Fitzgerald and Charlie, Babylon Revisited is about balance, balance in
Honoria’s life, balance of finances, balance of responsibility. We understand
that Charlie’s life is completely out of balance because Helen died and that he
cannot replace her and he has lost his daughter, the only person alive that
means anything to him anymore. Duncan and Lorraine return into Charlie’s life
like “ghosts out of the past” and fully assimilate Marion’s
perception of Charlie’s imbalanced life. Which brings us to the meaning behind
the title. According to Smoop.com “Babylon is a term taken from The Book of
Revelation in the Bible. The Biblical Babylon is a city characterized by
extravagance, debauchery, and sin, but it is really taken as a symbol rather
than an actual place. (In a famous passage, Babylon is actually represented as
a woman, the so-called “Whore of Babylon.”) The consequence is that
we can understand “Babylon” on several levels in the context of
Fitzgerald’s story. To interpret Babylon as a literal city means that we’re
looking at Paris as the place of sin and indulgence. Charlie
is revisiting Paris, so in this sense he is returning to revisit “Babylon.”
But Charlie isn’t just revisiting a place; he’s revisiting an entire lifestyle
that he’s left behind, and entire state of mind to which he prescribed for a
decade. “Babylon” isn’t just Paris; it is Charlie’s former life”. Here
New Historicism ties in because it is a form of
literary theory whose goal is to understand intellectual history
through literature, and the title itself is a representation of how religious
history of the title can help us better understand the story.

 

          Fitzgerald
has transposed an image of himself in Charlie, and that Fitzgerald meant for
the character to act as a means for Fitzgerald to escape his lifestyle. The
scorn that Fitzgerald holds for Charlie, however, is very subtle and must be
taken in from a third person viewpoint that is not focused so much on Charlie’s
mind. It is evident that in “Babylon Revisited” Fitzgerald is
condemning the carefree and irresponsible actions of the elite society that
came about from the stock market boom in the 1920s in both America and in Europe.
According to James Harrison, “The influences of alcohol, strained marriage, and
aspiration are stressed within the story because Fitzgerald had to deal with
them intensely and severely in his own life, even while he was writing
“Babylon Revisited”‘. Fitzgerald’s not only demonstrates internal
conflicts but also external conflicts surrounding his struggles with alcoholism,
with his estranged wife through her affair with a French naval aviator
contributed almost the entire outcome to the storyline from which Fitzgerald
created Charlie and the whole short story of Babylon Revisited