Babylon Revisited Analysis
“Babylon Revisited” is a heart felt, beautifully delicate exploration of success, failure and redemption. F. Scott Fitzgerald uses his main character Charlie Wales’ past, present, and desired future to paint a portrait of the things that he feels are the most important in life.
Success is examined through the actions of Charlie and his wife during the height of their wealth and the strain that it can cause. Failure is unfolded in Charlie’s loss of wealth and family and finally, redemption is explored through Charlie’s desire to raise his daughter and control his apparent alcoholism.
Charlie Wales was wealthy. While he lost some money in the stock market crash (232), he became very wealthy in the subsequent market boom. He was described as “…not even working toward the end, and getting richer and richer”(228). Charlie ran all over Paris, often times with his wife, spending money recklessly.
He recalled “thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing a single number” (219). However, extreme wealth is not without its downsides as Charlie alluded to when he described the gradual breakdown of his and Helen’s marriage.
It seemed that they were so in love, but that they began to hurt one another without reason and grew further and further apart until Helen kissed another man (227). Charlie was childish and allowed his success to warp his judgment. Ironically, it was Charlie’s success and wealth that lead to his greatest failure.
Fitzgerald wanted his reader to understand that Charlie’s failure was not about the loss of his wealth due to short selling in the market, but rather his lack of maturity and self-control during the height of his wealth.
These character flaws are revealed in numerous examples of Charlie behaving immaturely. One such example is when Charlie recalled an incident where he stole a tricycle and pedaled Lorraine Quarrles around Etoile (229). Also of note is that Charlie began drinking heavily after becoming wealthy and ceasing work (224). The drinking is interesting because a footnote in the text describes Fitzgerald as an alcoholic; one can’t help but to draw parallels between Fitzgerald and Charlie (215). The Charlie’s greatest failure though was the tragic, childish mistake he made when he locked Helen out in the snow.
After that incident, Charlie drinks his way into a sanitarium and gives away guardianship of his daughter Honoria to his sister-in-law Marion in attempt to bring some peace to Helen (225). It was those series of events that caused Charlie to later lament “…but I lost everything I wanted in the boom. “(232) Living decadently and wildly did not work out for Charlie. He lost his wife, his daughter, and his wealth. Even so, Fitzgerald wanted his readers to realize that Charlie wasn’t without hope; he could be saved.
Charlie pulled himself out of the gutter and did his best to break ties with his past.
He went to work in Prague and was clear to point out “they don’t know about me down there” (216) which seems to be a clear indication that Charlie wanted to separate himself from places and people from his old life. He also broke the control alcohol had on him and limited himself to one drink a day as he explained to Lincoln (218). The reader gets the sense that Charlie really wanted to change and had changed when he did his best to keep his old friends from interfering with his time out and about with Honoria. He even declined to sit with Lorraine and Duncan, making the point that his “own rhythm was different now” (222).
Perhaps the one thing that Charlie really needs for his story of redemption to be complete is to reclaim what remains of his family.
Charlie’s love for Honoria and his desire to be reunited with her leaves the reader wanting Charlie to succeed. Charlie had matured and prepared himself for some of the abuse that he would suffer when he tried to reclaim Honoria, but in the end his past ruined his opportunity. The anger and disdain was palpable when Lorraine and Duncan intruded into Charlie’s new life and cost him his desired reunion and redemption. F.
Scott Fitzgerald seemed to be telling his own story through Charlie in “Babylon Revisited”.
Fitzgerald explored success and its trappings through Charlie and Helen’s decadent lifestyle. He illustrates the attitude and complacency that tore Charlie and Helen’s relationship apart and in many ways attributes that to Charlie’s success. As Charlie’s story was unfolded, Fitzgerald exposed his failures. Charlie is depicted as childish, immature, and as an alcoholic. His failure to keep his family together though is shown as his greatest failure and the strongest catalyst for his redemption.
The manner in which redemption is addressed is delicate and beautiful.
Rather than Charlie getting everything he wants and being a “reformed” man, Fitzgerald showed him struggling to make adjustments to his life, to accept his failures, and when faced with the fact that he would not be taking Honoria out of Paris, an understanding that his road back to his family and the life he wanted would not be easy. Fitzgerald wielded those elements and his own experience to make “Babylon Revisited” a heart-felt, beautifully delicate exploration of success, failure and redemption.