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Babylon Revisited

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Babylon Revisited

If one is to successfully rebuild the shattered existence that results from a life without meaning, one must confront those past demons that were responsible for their undoing. In Babylon Revisited, F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays a man whose extravagant lifestyle has taken all meaning and substance from his life. The story follows the path of Charlie Wales, who has returned to the city of his undoing to seek liberation from the damaged life that resulted from his behavior there. During Charlie’s journey through his past, Fitzgerald lays out two very evident steps Charlie uses to successfully confront his past. Charlie first seeks to confront the physical and mental demons that led to his demise. These demons are the negative influences that led him to lead the life that he seeks to put behind him. Once his past problems had been confronted, Charlie seeks to pick up the shattered pieces of his life that such problems had forced him to leave behind. In Charlie’s successes and failures, Fitzgerald seems to parody the progress his society has made in rediscovering itself in way. With his depiction of the steps taken by Charlie, Fitzgerald conveys a message to society about the progression of their own desire to rebuild a shattered image.

The scene of Babylon Revisited is set in post-depression Paris. The city had once been a bastion for newly rich Americans to live extravagant and careless lives. The tables have now turned though, and the same unpredictable market that had brought good fortune to such people had crashed and dragged them all back to reality. Paris is no longer lively with the careless American spirit, but rather is quiet as ever. Charlie’s wealth had turned excess into the only source of meaning in his life, and upon its destruction so too went any value he had in living. After reaching the brink of insanity, Charlie retreats from Paris to attempt to rebuild his life. “I’m in business in Prague, representing a couple of concerns there. They don’t know about me down there.” (p270) Here Charlie expresses his initial desire to hide from the demons that ruled his life in Paris. Obviously, his relocation has not aided in completely rebuilding his life, which results in his return to Paris. This return is the first milestone in Charlie’s rebirth. He looks upon Paris with a different frame of mind:

“He was not really disappointed to find Paris empty.

But the stillness in the Ritz bar was strange and port-

tentous. It was not an American bar anymore-- he

felt polite in it, and not as if he owned it .” (p270)

By looking upon his former city in a humble manor, Charlie is proving his own growth as an individual. Paris itself is the first physical demon that Charlie encounters. He has matured to the point that he can associate Paris with different values than had previously been engrained in his mind. If Charlie had continued to hide in Prague, his image of Paris would have never been changed, and had continually remained in his mind as evidence of his sins. Now that he has returned to Paris, he changes his perception of the city continue on in his mind as evidence of the progress he has made, all the while giving Charlie added confidence in his reformation.

Charlie’s confidence is born not through his confrontations with those physical influences that had affected his life, but in those within his own mind. The first influence that Charlie is forced to confront is that of alcoholism. “As I told you, I haven’t had more than a drink a day for over a year, and I take that drink deliberately, so that the idea of alcohol won’t get too big in my imagination.” (p276) The root of Charlie’s problems was a lack of control when it came to alcohol consumption. Charlie has chosen to not hide from alcohol completely, because that only leaves the possibility of it returning in the future to once again rule his life. Taking a daily drink gives Charlie the sense of having control. He does not need to hide from such a bad part of his life if he has it properly confined. Confining this problem allows Charlie to confront other influences from his Parisian life.

“They liked him because he was functioning,

because he was serious; they wanted to see

him, because he was stronger than they were

now, because they wanted to draw a certain

sustenance from his strength.” (p275)

Here Charlie is reacting to meeting two of his past friends, Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarles. The three had spent many lavish months together, and Charlie seems to be the only one who has been able to drag him out of it. Lorraine’s name “Quarles” seems to be a direct reflection of the conflicts Charlie has had between his previous lifestyle, and that which he is currently living. In this quote, Charlie does not look upon them and reflect on their decline, but rather his own rise. By viewing himself as stronger than the two, he is subconsciously ridding himself of any possibility that they will be able to manipulate him. This allows Charlie to further build his confidence in achieving his goal in Paris.

Charlie’s goal upon returning to Paris was not only confront issues from his past life in Paris, but also pick up those pieces of his life that he left behind. For him to build a meaningful

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