Babylon Revisited Symbols Essay

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited Essay

Everyone makes mistakes in their lifetimes and whether they are big or small, the mistakes people make and the ways that they atone for those mistakes define who they truly are. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited”, Fitzgerald proves using symbolism, point-of-view, and tone, that no matter how hard one tries to hide them, the mistakes one make in the past stay with them forever, setting the tone for the future.
The past is symbolized by several elements within the story, primarily by people, places and things. Early in the story, Charlie brings up an old acquaintance, Claude Fessenden, while talking to Alix the bartender. According to Alix, Claude Fessenden has run up a bill of over thirty thousand francs at the Ritz, gave a bad check to pay his debt, and is no longer welcome to return to the bar. Charlie knew Claude from his rambunctious days during the bull market, but now he’s “all bloated up” (BABYLON), bereft by the crash. The next day, during lunch with his daughter, Honoria, two more figures from Charlie’s past come into play - Lorraine and Duncan, who are old friends of “a crowd who had helped them make months into days in the lavish times of three years ago” (BABYLON). They are instantly drawn to Charlie, and force him to remember the years he so vehemently tries to forget; questioning in amazement the sober man standing before them. Charlie shoos the two along as best as he can without insult, as he knows these people are not good for him or his daughter to be around. They are the living embodiment of the events of his past, and in order to be a new person, his old friends cannot be a part of his life. Charlie’s daughter Honoria is nine years old, practically an adult in Charlie’s eyes. He missed out on the last three years of her life, and feels an urge to engrain some of himself into his child, but as Charlie put it, “It was hopeless to try to know her in so short a time” (BABYLON). Honoria is a constant reminder of his actions, how he made Paris his own personal playground while abandoning his daughter for more entertaining things, namely alcohol and hijinks.
Certain places seem to hit a nerve in Charlie, provoking memories that he’d rather forget. Prague is an example of this. He has avoided going back to America after his whirlwind around Paris, and has started up business again where his reputation is far less controversial, where “They don’t know about me” (BABYLON). The Ritz bar, where Charlie begins and ends the story is also a reminder of his past. In the days of years before, the bar had been overrun with Americans, newly rich and drunk on French wine; however, when Charlie visits the bar again, it seemed almost a different place, quiet and dignified. “It had gone back to France” (BABYLON). The stark contrast of then and now gives a sobering perspective to a once drunk and lavish hangout. All around the city, Charlie comes across memories of his past he sees a homey, casual restaurant selling a five...

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The Inescapability of the Past

Even though Charlie’s wilder days have long since passed, he’ll never be able to truly escape them. Although he actively tries to avoid reminders of the Paris he used to know, they nevertheless follow him everywhere. When he goes to lunch with Honoria, for example, he can find only one restaurant that doesn’t remind him of drunken meals that lasted for hours. When he walks through Montmartre, old haunts surround him. Even the things that have changed remind him of his past, simply because the newness of them strikes him as odd. The scared tourists heading into cafés are pale imitations of the partiers he and his friends once were, and the once-bustling places that these tourists frequent are now nearly empty. Charlie would like to put his failed marriage behind him, but he cannot. Marion constantly reminds him of his mistakes, which she clings to almost obsessively. The past informs the present: because of what Charlie did to Helen, he is prevented from living with Honoria. Perhaps the most ominous figures from the past are Duncan and Lorraine, living reminders of the bad old days, who still try to follow him wherever he goes.

If Charlie wants to shake off the past, however, some part of him simultaneously can’t let it go. He asks his cabbie to drive to the Avenue de l’Opera, he goes to Montmartre and visits the places he used to frequent, and he begins and ends the story in the familiar Ritz bar. While these incidents suggest that the past still haunts Charlie, we can’t help thinking that Charlie is actually looking to be haunted. He must know, consciously or subconsciously, that visiting the scenes of his former life will fill him with regret and possibly even longing. Perhaps most damning of all is the fact that Charlie gives Lincoln and Marion’s address to Alix, asking him to pass it along to Duncan. He later ignores Lorraine and refuses to give his hotel address to them, but his protestations mean nothing because he’s already told them where they can find him. We know that some part of him must want the debauchery of the old days back in his life, thereby planting the seeds of his own failure.

The Purity of Paternal Love

Fitzgerald characterizes the love that fathers and daughters feel for each other as the only pure, unadulterated kind of love in the world. Other types of love, however passionate or intense they may be, are always complicated by dislike or mistrust. Charlie and Helen loved each other, for example, but they tormented and abused each other: Helen kissed other men, they fought, and Charlie locked her out in a snowstorm. Lincoln and Marion demonstrate another type of marital love, one that’s genuine but strained by financial and familial difficulties. To some degree, Charlie loves Lincoln and Marion, whom he still considers family. At the same time, however, he thinks of them as adversaries, and their mutual distrust of each other makes their love less than pure. Only Honoria and Charlie love each other in an unadulterated way. They often speak of their love for each other, and she asks him whether he loves her more than anyone in the world. Marital and familial love may fall apart with regularity, but the love between children and parents is the most pure.

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