Scott Fitzgerald, historical and moderism annalysis of "Babylon Revisited"
History and Modernism in Babylon Revisited
Francis Scott Fitzgerald is one of the most prominent modernist writers. His life and career as a writer span two of the most tumultuous economical periods of the United States: the incredible economic boom of the twenties, followed by the tremendous economic crash during the Depression. Born in 1986 is Minnesota, Fitzgerald lived through the time that would later be called "The Roaring Twenties," or, according to the name he himself gave it, "The Jazz Age." The twenties were probably one of the most spectacular decades in the history of the United States. The period is best known perhaps for its economic inconsistency: the economic boom was fallowed by dramatic stock market crashes, which obviously affected the lives of all the people. In Babylon Revisited Fitzgerald comments on the wildness and the excess of the age and shows how the lives of the Americans had revolved around the money and material gain. The story recalls the gist of the Roaring Twenties, through its emphasis on what this decade actually represented. Thus, as Fitzgerald's works profusely show it, the economic boom commanded a certain wild lifestyle that transformed everything else. The money represented much more than mere economical power; they represented the compelling power of fulfilling every desire and literally turning everything into gold. However, in spite of the glamour of the age, Fitzgerald's view of the Roaring Twenties is actually grim. As his story symbolizes it, the economic boom had its own destructive power in the life of the people, just as or more so than the stock market crash which occurred in 1929. The modernism of the story is obvious in its subject matter, as well as in its style that focuses on the psychological implications of the events.
Fitzgerald himself was at the center of all these events and thus managed to capture the spirit of the age in his novels and short stories. Babylon Revisited draws upon many autobiographical experiences, just like the rest of his work. Fitzgerald earned over $400,000 between 1919 and 1934, but he and Zelda lived so expensively that they barely managed to cover their bills. Zelda had been permanently hospitalized in the sanitarium in 1934 and afterwards Fitzgerald's own descent became obvious: his increasing alcoholism and physical illness. The protagonist of the story is Charles Wales is, like the author himself, a man who has had a life of excess and overindulgence. Charles had been directly affected by the economical boom, as well as by the subsequent crash. The excess of money had obviously determined an abuse of spending money, of alcohol and other pleasures, to the detriment of his family and his social life. Charles' dead wife, Helen, is obviously a reflection of Fitzgerald's own wife, Zelda Sayre who suffered from a lifetime mental illness marked by severe crises that required her being hospitalized. The story is set in Paris, where Charles returns a few years after the stock market crash in 1929, as a repentant sinner who wants to start a new life with his daughter, Honoria. The story is thus drafted almost to perfection: its perfect roundness (the story begins and ends in the same American hotel in Paris), its autobiographical and historical allusions and its symbolism being flawlessly intertwined. Charles and his family are thus seen as some of the victims made by the immense economical fluctuations of the 1920's in America. Money is thus a key element in the structure of the story. Due to their wild life together, Charles and his wife had destroyed their love for each other. During one of her quarrels, Charles, who also had a drinking problem, locks his wife outside the house unknowingly, leaving her at the mercy of the wild weather. His wife catches pneumonia and then slowly her health begins to deteriorate more and more and she dies. Charles returns to Paris to take his daughter from the custody of her aunt and uncle, where the little nine-year-old had been left after these dramatic experiences. The plot has obvious historical imports: although the key event seems to be only the stock crash, Fitzgerald actually criticizes precisely the luxurious and Roaring Twenties. The story thus provides the reader with an interpretation of the economical events of the twenties. Although a time of prosperity and happiness as such, Fitzgerald hints in his story at the destructive power of money and at the immense role it played during this precise period of American history. The story is fraught with specific symbolism with respect to the problems of the age.
Thus, first of all, the American hotel of Paris is the main sign of decline that we encounter. The effects of the stock exchange crash on the lives of the people are obvious from the beginning, as the story opens with Charles questioning someone in the once familiar Ritz hotel about the long list of people he once new. The great majority of them are gone now, either to Europe or back to America after having lost all their money in the stock exchange misfortune. Thus, Fitzgerald starts off by showing the negative and depressive effects of the economical disaster: "He was not really disappointed to find Paris was so empty. But the stillness in the Ritz bar was strange and portentous. It was not an American bar any more -- he felt polite in it, and not as if he owned it. It had gone back into France."(Fitzgerald, 56) the Americans are thus no longer the tycoons that can buy anything, and symbolically, the bar has regained its French air now that it no longer bears of marks of excess. Charles himself is an expatriate, like other Americans, who started his business anew in Prague because of the dreadful situation in the United Stated. While this economical aspect of the age is certainly dramatic, it is obvious that Fitzgerald insists much more on some of the terrible effects of the Jazz Age, in spite of the economical plenty. To this point the plot of the story is very symbolic: Charles, like most of his compatriots, had lost everything in 1929. Nevertheless, with some luck, at the time of the story he has amassed an important fortune once more. It is evident thus that the loss of money is not the actual disaster. Fitzgerald's purpose is to show precisely how the economical instability of the age affected the people not only materially but also psychologically.
Thus, Fitzgerald implies that during the Jazz Age, money and economical power had become so important that they were used as a means for compensating other gaps in the lives of people. It is obvious thus that the author's commentary on the age includes some of the most important ways in which the American lifestyle was affected during that time. The first symbol in the text which implies the devastating effect of money and of the entire Jazz Age, is as critic Rose Adrienne Gallo suggests, the very title of the story. As it is well-known, Babylon was the sinful biblical city, known for its excess and depravity: In Babylon Revisited Fitzgerald draws on a biblical source for his title. The inhabitants of the Old Testament city of Babylon were notorious for their licentiousness. Many of the Jews -- held captive in Babylon for seventy years -- were seduced by the sinful allure of Babylon, and turned from the observance of the Mosaic law to the worship of Babylonian idols."(Gallo, 76) Thus, Babylon becomes a symbol for the Roaring Twenties. Furthermore, Charles' own psychology seems to be affected by money to the greatest extent. Although it can be said that he is truly reformed and that he want to start his life responsibly with his child, there are obvious reminiscences and ghosts from the past that haunt him. Thus, for example, the first thing he does when he sees his little girl is to take her to a toy shop, where he can buy her anything she wants. Through this trope, Fitzgerald alludes to the absolute power of money during the Jazz Age and to the American psychology that believed in buying everything.
Fitzgerald's critical eye on the Roaring Twenties is also obvious in other respects. Charles has thus great difficulties in coping with his past and his true losses: not the money, but his wife and his baby daughter. Money thus has become for him a sort of drug, that is meant to help him deal with his ghosts and dull his memory: "He remembered thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing a single number, hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman for calling a cab. But it hadn't been given for nothing. 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…