Depiction Of Life Struggles During The Great Depression In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Short Story Babylon Revisited
In History, we learn The Great Depression followed the stock market crash of 1929 and the main topic was the impact of such a huge financial blow. In the short story, “Babylon Revisited”, F. Scott Fitzgerald does an amazing job showing us how the past can come affect our present or future, the different viewpoints of how the crash affected an individual’s life, and the relationship between emotional regulation and depression.
In the narrative, we can see many instances how one can be haunted by their past regardless of their attempt to make amends. The main character, Charles J. Wales, comes back to Paris with the sole purpose of getting his daughter, Honoria. When Charles’ late wife, Helen, was still ill, she had him sign over legal guardianship of Honoria to her sister, Marion, while he was in a sanitarium. When Charles had gone over to his in-laws home to plead his case, Marion couldn’t help herself but to use his past against him with the first thing she said being, “How long are you going to stay sober, Charlie?” (Fitzgerald 391).
Shortly thereafter saying, “Frankly, from the night you did that terrible thing you haven’t really existed for me. I can’t help that. She was my sister.” (Fitzgerald 392). Marion blamed Charlie and his alcoholism for the death of her sister which is why she held such animosity toward him. Which isn’t entirely fair due to the fact that he has been bettering his life since the incident regarding Helen. When Charlie was having a conversation with Lincoln, Marion’s husband, he says, “She’s forgotten how hard I worked for seven years there, she only remembers one night.” (Fitzgerald 395). Even with Charles giving Marion all the evidence to support him claiming he had turned his life around, she, yet again, brings up something from Charles’ past. Marion said, “I suppose you can give her more luxuries that we can. When you were throwing away money we were living along watching every ten francs…I suppose you’ll start doing it again.” (Fitzgerald 393).
Referring to when Charles and Helen lived extremely lavishly before the stock market crash. Everything from bar hopping, five course meals, and throwing a large sum of money at the band for a playing only one song (Fitzgerald 384, 387). Marion was clearly envious of their previous lifestyle. When Marion finally agreed to let Charles take Honoria, a couple of old friends of Charles’ came by the house unannounced and drunk, giving Marion a flashback of the past, which sent her overboard. She demanded that the agreement be pushed back another six months. One can argue that Marion had similar symptoms of those diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In the article, “Sometimes Less is More: Establishing the Core Symptoms of PTSD” by Jessica L. Walton, et al., she defines PTSD as, “a mental condition characterized by a constellation of symptoms that occur following exposure to a traumatic event.” (254). Following Helen’s death, Marion was never the same. She became angry, panicky, and overprotective, in fear that Charlie might revert back to his old ways and hurt Honoria. Marion displayed many signs of the criterion for post-traumatic stress disorder such as:
Re-experiencing: flashbacks-repeated daytime images related to an event now perceived as having threated someone’s wellbeing, experienced as recurring in the present and accompanied by marked fear or horror, Avoidance: internal avoidance-efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, conversations, or internal reminders associated with re-experienced event(s), Hyperarousal: exaggerated startle response, Duration: disturbance is more than one month, and Impairment: the disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. (Walton 255)
It seemed like no matter how hard Charlie tried to make amends, she found ways to use his past against him. In “’The Crash!: Writing the Great Depression in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Babylon Revisited,’ ‘Emotional Bankruptcy,’ and ‘Crazy Sunday.” by Heather L.N. Hess, she describes “Babylon Revisited” as the initial example of awareness of the “Depression” in Fitzgerald’s work (Hess 83). “Babylon Revisited” paints us a picture of how the Great Depression affected the life of Charles J. Wales. When the stock market crashed, people started living in this numb state where most people suppressed how they were feeling with alcohol. It was the party era. People became reckless and irresponsible. Throwing money here and there, “…as an offering to destiny that he might not remember the things worth remembering.” (Fitzgerald 387). This exact behavior is what got Charles in the situation of losing his wife and his daughter. Hess describes how F. Scott Fitzgerald takes a different approach in interpreting The Great Depression. In her article she explains:
Rather than abandoning a glowing fixation on romantic possibilities for the sort of harsh, economic realism practiced by contemporaries like Hemingway and Steinbeck, Fitzgerald opts to remain invested in humans’ emotions, rather than their finances. He maintains a deeper interest in people’s souls than in their stomachs, though the change in his prose manifests itself in the exchange of soaring, ethereal images for financial metaphors. (Hess 83)
While many prefer the traditional economic standpoint, Fitzgerald offered a perspective that was insightful. Many families lost a lot financially but some lost their families in the midst of all the craziness. Some even lost themselves. In Dorothy Rompalske’s, “From Dazzle to Despair: The Short, Brilliant Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald,” she mentions, “Scott’s heavy drinking made him difficult for most others to tolerate.” (108). Divulging that Fitzgerald had first-hand experience in the angle he conveyed. He also wrote other works that shared a similar outlook, such as the novel, The Beautiful and the Damned, “about a promising young couple destroyed by their dissolute lifestyle.” (Rompalske 108). Fitzgerald having experienced these relatable situations himself, gave him a better understanding on how to share with others a different perspective.
With the previous examples from Hess’s article and Fitzgerald’s short story, we can see the relation of emotional regulation in depression. We can also see examples of this in Jutta Joormann and Catherine D’Avanzato’s article, “Emotion Regulation in Depression: Examining the Role of Cognitive Processes.” In the article it states, “An emotion regulation strategy that may alleviate negative mood in the short term but may have long-term detrimental effects is thought suppression.” (Joormann and D’Avanzato 918). In “Babylon Revisited”, we see exactly that in Charles’ situation.
When he was masking his depression with alcohol, he made thoughtless decisions, which eventually led him to lose guardianship of his daughter. Joormann and D’Avanzato explain, “When experiencing an unpleasant mood state, people may attempt to regulate their mood by retrieving pleasant thoughts and memories, thereby reducing or even reversing a negative mood-congruency effect.” (918). An example of this is at the end of the short story, when Marion retreats back into her skittishness about the situation and refuses to let Charles take Honoria, Charles ends up at a bar. Instead of reverting back to his old alcoholic ways, he chooses to think of Honoria. He is willing to go back to Prague, continue to work hard, and revisit guardianship with Marion in six months.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of greatest American writers, illustrates for us instances where one’s past can affect one’s present or future, his interpretation of the Great Depression, and the relation of emotional regulation in depression in his short story, “Babylon Revisited”.
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