"Babylon Revisited," a short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is set against the backdrop of Europe during the 1930s and recounts the story of Charlie Wales, a father removed from his daughter due to the wild, self destructive days of his past. Following the death of Charlie’s wife, his daughter, Honoria, was placed under the custody of his sister-in-law and her husband—Marion and Lincoln Peters. The details of Charlie’s past suggest that he was struggling with alcoholism, which ultimately affects the relationships of each person he interacts with throughout the story. Since then, Charlie has reestablished himself as a successful businessman in Prague. As the story opens, he returns to Paris to reclaim his daughter but must first prove to Marion that he has reformed. Marion’s envious and resentful attitude towards Charlie, coupled with her assumption that his irresponsibility is to blame for her sister's death, makes Marion suspicious of Charlie's reformation. She reluctantly agrees to return Honoria to him, until her suspicions are confirmed when two unrepentant friends from Charlie's past, drunkenly descend upon Charlie while he is at the Peters’ home. The story ends as Charlie resolves to try later to regain his daughter, believing that "they couldn't make him pay forever," and that "Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone” (Fitzgerald 230). Throughout the story Charlie is presented with temptations to return to the "utter irresponsibility" of his previous life, which he must overcome to prove he truly understands that personal character is the "eternally valuable element" (Fitzgerald 216). Although Charlie commits to better parenting and responsibility, there are instances that cause one to second guess the authenticity of his transformation, including Marion’s distrust for him. The complication of "Babylon Revisited" is that there is doubt in the reliability and permanence of Charlie's transformation. He still drinks, in moderation, and reveals a tinge of longing for his former lifestyle. Charlie’s strong desire to reform himself from a foolish man to a responsible father centralizes transformation as a theme throughout the story. Despite his intentions, Charlie’s behavior accentuates the powerlessness to truly transform one’s self, due to the inescapable past. Charlie’s inability to transform also assists in creating his character and develops conflict between himself and characters around him. The division between the honest desire to change and the ability to actually to do so is centralized throughout this story. Since the narrator communicates the feelings and thoughts of Charlie, there is an understanding that he realizes the error of his old ways and desires to transform into a better father. Charlie’s distaste in seeing his old friends and the cringe-worthy reflections of the last interactions with his wife suggest that he sees the faults of his past. At the same time, he cannot help but look at that part of his life with a strange sort of wonder. After receiving a note from Lorraine the speaker states: “His first feeling was one of awe that he had actually, in his mature years, stolen a tricycle and pedaled Lorraine all over the Etoile between the small hours of dawn. In retrospect it was a nightmare. Locking out Helen didn’t fit in with any other act in his life, but the tricycle incident did--- it was one of many” (Fitzgerald 225). There is a sense that Charlie reminisces wistfully, even though he fully understands the immaturity of his past. Even when Charlie describes walking the streets of Paris or recalls the past, he does so in a dreamlike, idealized manner. Glimpses into the mind of Charlie also suggest that he has not completely freed himself from his precedent habits. The Ritz Bar, an old scene for Charlie, is the first place he stops when he returns to Paris. This action, along with the decision to drink and inquire to the whereabouts of old friends, emphasizes the idea that he is struggling with turning away from his former life and friends and moving toward a more accountable, parental lifestyle. Despite Charlie’s claims of avoiding his old lifestyle, he leaves his brother-in-law’s address for Duncan Schaeffer at the bar. That decision, which later comes back to haunt him, shows a certain unconscious desire for the care free days of the past and an inability to escape his careless behavior. The fault lies not simply in his carelessness, but in the fact that he later refuses to acknowledge his mistake and take responsibility for the consequences. After Lorraine and Duncan intrude into the Peters’ home, Charlie responds angrily, “What an outrage!’ Charlie broke out. ‘What an absolute outrage!’ Neither of them answered. Charlie dropped in an armchair, picked up his drink, set it down again and said: ‘People I haven’t seen for two years having the colossal nerve---” (Fitzgerald 228). Since Charlie acknowledges that Lorraine and Duncan’s visit has ruined his reputation in the eyes of Marion, he becomes angry with them for the loss of Honoria instead of realizing his own fault in leaving the address with Duncan in the first place. His first reaction to pick up a drink also suggests that Charlie unconsciously feels that alcohol can relieve his anger or somehow help his circumstances. This undermines the idea that his daily drink assists in recovering from alcoholism and his old lifestyle. Charlie's behavior shows certain weaknesses of personality and a tendency to flirt with old vices better left behind. He unnecessarily taunts himself with alcohol, one of the culprits to his corrupt past. Even though he believes his strategy to have one drink a day is helpful towards his transformation, he exposes himself to temptation more often than is wise. This routine allows Marion to question the responsibility of his behavior. Another incident in which Charlie gives in to temptation is in his interaction with Honoria. Despite his claims of more modest spending, his first instincts are to spoil Honoria by buying her things with the money he admits to not having. When he offers to buy her a new toy she initially refuses saying, “’Well, you bought me this doll.’ She had it with her. ‘And I’ve got lots of things. And we’re not rich any more, are we?’ ‘We never were. But today you are to have anything you want’ ‘All right,’ she agreed resignedly” (Fitzgerald 216). This unnecessary spending mirrors the reckless spending patterns of his past. After Charlie learns that his attempts to gain custody of Honoria failed, he plans to improve the situation by simply buying her more things. The speaker states, “There wasn’t much he could do now except send Honoria some things; he would send her a lot of things tomorrow.” This statement reflects his memories of throwing away hundred-franc notes to orchestras and doormen and suggests that in his rambunctious days Charlie treated issues with money, reflective of the way he now treats his daughter. He believes he can provide Honoria with gifts in order to compensate for his little involvement in her life. This behavior confirms that his transformation is not as realistic as he would like himself and those around him to believe. The absence of Charlie’s desired transformation plays an essential role throughout “Babylon Revisted.” Despite the arguments Charlie makes to convince his sister in law of his reformation, the attempt to gain custody of his daughter fails. This failure is due to the struggles Charlie faces to escape the mistakes of his past. The inability to transform himself from his old careless ways derives from the struggle he faces with alcohol and his almost romanticized idea of the past. Since he cannot shake the past he faces the consequence of losing more time with his daughter. The idea that Charlie has not transformed is further developed by the way he faces the consequences of losing Honoria. He responds initially by deciding to buy Honoria more things to compensate for his now extended absence in her life, which also reflects the ways of his former lifestyle. In spite of the strong aspiration to make a transformation, Charlie’s uncontrolled past overweighs his attempts to be a better father. This unsuccessful transformation is central to the story as it develops Charlie’s character and introduces the main conflict throughout the story.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Babylon Revisited.” Babylon Revisited and Other Short Stories. New York: Scribner’s, 2003. 210-230. Print.