The Timeless Conflict with the Past in Babylon Revisited

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We should be reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited”. It’s a story about a man struggling with his past and having to face the consequences of his mistakes. It touches upon the transition between two important periods in American history, that being the transition between the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, it uses that transition to tell an emotional story about past mistakes and regret, and it refreshingly has nothing to do with race relations, which would give this course some much needed variety after repeatedly using that theme as repeated subject-matter. The main character is Charlie Wales, a former frequent drinker and party-goer who goes to Paris shortly after the 1929 stock market crash, both sober and determined to pull his life together. His goal is to reclaim his daughter, Honoria, currently under the care of Marion, his wife’s sister, and Lincoln, her husband. The story slowly reveals Charlie's past as it progresses, including his troubled marriage with his wife, Helen, and her death. Fitzgerald wrote the story at the end of the 1920s or, as he called it, the Jazz Age, and the beginning of the Great Depression after the aforementioned stock crash. The story takes basis from that financial crisis. The story looks back at the era of general recklessness and irresponsibility that had come to an abrupt fall. He shows these mistakes did not only have an effect on our economy, how they brought about widespread bankruptcy and unemployment, but also their more personal consequences. Their consequences for people’s relationships with others, and how this recklessness brought about distrust and ended relationships.

But while based in that particular period, “Babylon Revisited” is also timeless in its themes of the inevitability of guilt and of past mistakes. Charlie has tried to turn his life around after the stock market crash, even only allowing himself a drink per day. His recklessness has cost him both his money and his family, but he is trying to redeem himself. While he does observe the various parts of Paris with slight nostalgia for his party days, he also sees how much of a negative impact those party days had on his life. As he is no longer living extravagantly like in the 1920s, he sees the world in a different light now, and he sees that the mistakes that he made in the past are what resulted in him losing custody of his daughter to Marion and Lincoln. He has to face those past mistakes, atone for them, and seriously change his lifestyle. But his desire for a life with her comes into conflict with his past, which comes back to ruin that chance in various ways. As for one example, when Charlie comes to ask for the return of Honoria to him, he realizes Marion is bitter toward him. Not only did he and Helen waste so much money on frivolous extravagance while she and Lincoln were in poverty, she also blames him and his behavior for her sister’s death. So she constantly views him as irresponsible, and as a bad person and reminds him of his mistakes, ranging from inadvertently doing so by a contemptuous look, to doing so on purpose by confronting him with it. So Charlie tries to show her that his partying and drinking are a thing of the past and that he is indeed capable of being a good father for Honoria. In doing this, he hopes that he can make up for all the years that he missed of Honoria’s childhood by taking her in again.

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“The Timeless Conflict with the Past in Babylon Revisited.” WritingBros, 14 Dec. 2020,
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