Babylon Revisited and the Deep Introspection of the Plot

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Since all writers and artists are heavily influenced by the society around them, different eras in history have different literary periods; Modernism is one of those periods. “Modernism is defined as extending from 1880 to 1945, giving “priority to the prewar years” or “postwar years” while others claim that it extends from 1890 to 1945 until the end of the Second World War” (Drobot, 2017). Either one of those given time periods shows that Modernist literature was greatly influenced by war; it was a sadder time than the Romantic period and Victorian periods that came before. While Romantic writers wrote about nature, Modernist wrote about the more negative aspects of civilization, such as isolation and not being able to communicate with others. Both of those themes of Modernism were used by F. Scott Fitzgerald in his tale Babylon Revisited, which was published in 1931. By analyzing the economy of the time period, Fitzgerald’s biography and the different characters in Babylon Revisited, we can see the different aspects of isolation and the inability to communicate come into play and see how the elements relate to what was going on in the war-influenced society, as well as provide lessons to the readers.

First, it is important to note that modern works showed more of the darker sides of society – such as addiction, money problems, and families being torn apart. The economy of that time period is a segment of the short story. “… Paul, the manager, and Charles Wales reflect on the changes wrought by the stock market crash of 1929 and the economic depression that followed” (Eby, 1995). That crash is a real-life event, and Fitzgerald would have known how it impacted people. It is an example of how the Modernists drew from the negative of world around them as they wrote. Unlike the Romantics, they focused on what can be seen as harsh realities. Fitzgerald took it as an opportunity to show how people see events in different lights since they are impacted differently. “Paul conceives the crash and the depression purely in economic terms, while Charles is haunted by the dissipated lifestyle of the boom years that ended with his wife’s death, his daughter Honoria’s adoption by his sister-in-law, and his own stint in a sanitarium for alcoholics” (Eby, 1995). Even when millions of people are impacted by a major crisis, they are still impacted in different ways due to their own experiences and choices. That explains this passage that took place in the Ritz bar: ‘It’s a great change,’ he said sadly. ‘We do about half the business we did. So many fellows I hear about back in the States lost everything, maybe not in the first crash, but then in the second. Your friend George Hardt lost every cent, I hear. Are you back in the States?’ ‘No, I’m in business in Prague.’ ‘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” (Fitzgerald, 1931). Charles and Paul meant drastically different things in regard to “selling short.” Paul meant in regard to stocks and other such financial aspects. Charles meant that he lost his family; money no longer was what he wanted now that it was all he had. By “selling short,” he meant that his alcoholism had cost him everything he wanted. That parallel can also be seen in Fitzgerald’s life.

To fully understand the elements of Babylon Revisited, it is essential to examine F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life because Charlie Wales, one of the main characters of the tale, can be compared to Fitzgerald, especially in regard to a troublesome marriage and addiction. “Already in that summer of 1923, the antics of Scott and Zelda [his wife] were notorious—often entertaining, sometimes embarrassing, intermittently worse. Both were inclined to melodramatic excesses” (Rell, 2015). That can easily be compared to the marriage of his fictional characters, Charles and Helen. “Scott and Zelda seemed to compete at theatrical self-display. Zelda performed strip-tease dances at parties” (Rell, 2015). On the night Helen was locked out, she had behaved inappropriately at a party; both her and Charles were drunk, which is part of what led to her death. Charles and Helen had a love of alcohol that often negatively influenced the love they had for each other, which is the same as Fitzgerald’s reality; he died at 44 because of alcoholism. “Of course, they fought frequently, “terrible 4-day rows,” Scott reported, “that always start with a drinking party but we’re still enormously in love.” Fitzgerald called himself an alcoholic and Charles is called one by his sister-in-law, Marion. Though he says he is now recovered, by only drinking one a day so it does not become too large and overwhelming in his mind, alcohol is still harming his life. The economy also affected his life, just like it did the life of the writer who invented him. A Modernist theme in this tale is isolation, both forced and chosen.

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Charles learns that the reckless past actions have changed the city for him. “I spoiled this city for myself. I didn’t realize it, but the days came along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone”” (Fitzgerald, 1931). He also is tormented by the fact that his past has caused him to become isolated from his wife and daughter – whom he deeply loved. It was only as time passed that he realized what he once had, which is very much a part of human nature. Now, he’d do and give anything to just have them back; no amount of money was worth losing Helen and Honoria. Before the stock market crash, people with money saw themselves as having everything. Afterwards, they saw what was truly important. “It had been given, even the most wildly squandered sum, as an offering to destiny that he might not remember the things most worth remembering, the things that now he would always remember—his child taken from his control, his wife escaped to a grave in Vermont” (Fitzgerald, 1931). The use of “escaped” in that last sentence is important. While he escaped his demons through getting help, she escaped through death. She escaped a life and a marriage that was disastrous. Charles sought help because of what happened to Helen. It is probable that if she’d never been locked out in the snow and died as a cause that they would have stayed in that lifestyle, no knowing how to communicate with one another.

Another Modernist theme implemented by Fitzgerald is the inability to communicate with others in society. This is first shown when Charles is talking to his brother-in-law. “His boasting was for a specific purpose; but after a moment, seeing a faint restiveness in Lincoln’s eye, he changed the subject” (Fitzgerald, 1931). Charles is trying to start off to explain how his life has become stabilized to the point he feels he can properly care for Honoria. It would seem that money is not something he could talk to Lincoln about, just like the past and Helen are not topics he can talk to Marion about. ““You know I never did drink heavily until I gave up business and came over here with nothing to do. Then Helen and I began to run around with—”… “Please leave Helen out of it. I can’t bear to hear you talk about her like that” (Fitzgerald, 1931). It is ironic for her to say since she and her sister did not ever get along; there was quite a bit of jealousy. However, it also seems that she feels guilty and does not want to speak or hear ill of her sister now; she is still trapped by the past, making it hard for her to talk to Charles. That is also shown in the passage that says, “This was more difficult than he expected; he wanted to launch out into a long expostulation and explanation, but he only said: “The night I locked her out—” and she interrupted, “I don’t feel up to going over that again” (Fitzgerald, 1931). Marion wants to bring up her sister when it is convenient to her but does not want to hear his side of events; she is still bitter about what happened. She does not want to forgive him since that would mean forgiving herself as well. Lack to communication is later seen in the passage stating, “… I’m functioning, I’m behaving damn well, so far as—”… “Please don’t swear at me,” Marion said…. Lincoln realized the absurdity of Marion’s remark and asked her lightly since when she had objected to the word “damn.”” (Fitzgerald, 1931). Instead of Marion saying why she did not want to have the conversation, she pretended to be against his language.

She could not be honest, making Charles and the reader need to think deeper about what she was saying. It is essential for readers to think deeper about what characters are saying as opposed to taking the words at face value. Critical thinking not only sheds more light on the tale, but also on the time period. In this case, Marion and Charles can both be examples of everyday in people in the society after the stock market crash and negative effects of war impacted them. Charles was trying to improve his life and have hope for the future, while Marion was too stuck in the past to move on. Even though Fitzgerald drank himself into an early death, he could have been providing a choice to his readers. They could either be like Charles and get help and do what they could to rebuild their lives. Or, they could be like Marion and stay stuck in the past, filled with guilt. That choice was extremely relevant to Fitzgerald’s original readers and his still significant to his modern readers. There will always be negative in the world – what people choose to do with the negative is what is truly important.

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