Negative Views on Memory in “Babylon Revisited”

May 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited” and other works gave him a famous name in American literature. Fitzgerald was a prominent figure during the “Roaring Twenties” because of both his published works and his marriage to an Alabama woman by the name of Zelda Sayre. His writing brought the couple fortune and fame, and newspapers saw them as the perfect example of what America was supposed to be like during this prosperous time. However, despite their seemingly happy and wealthy lifestyle, the Fitzgeralds’ marriage failed due to the famous author’s alcohol addiction. Fitzgerald died from a heart attack in 1940, 30 years after his wife’s mental breakdown. Both his relationship with his wife and his alcoholic nature gave him a negative view on the roles played by memory and the past. While many famous writers claim that memory is a beautiful thing that brings cohesion and significance to people’s lives, Fitzgerald disagrees. He says that memories bring back sadness and dealing with things that have happened in the past can have a very undesirable effect on the human mind. It complicates life by making it extremely difficult to move on and start over when a mistake has been made. Fitzgerald’s short stories are often melancholy in this respect. In his short story “Babylon Revisited,” Fitzgerald shows his negative views of memory and the past by subjecting the protagonist, Charlie Wales, to an awakening of sobriety, harsh criticism, and finally, failure. “Babylon Revisited” begins in the streets of Paris during the early 1930’s. Charlie, newly sober, has come back to the town where all of his wrongdoings in the past took place, not to relive them, but to retrieve his daughter, Honoria, who is under the custody of Charlie’s brother and sister-in-law, Marion and Lincoln Peters. One day, Charlie takes his daughter to a vaudeville show and is forced to interact with two old friends. Fitzgerald says, “Sudden ghosts out of the past: Duncan Schaeffer, a friend from college. Lorraine Quarrles, a lovely, pale blonde of thirty; one of a crowd who had helped them make months into days in the lavish times of three years ago” (2206). Charlie is surprised yet happy to see the two, and he gives them Marion and Lincoln’s address in hopes of catching up with them later. However, as the conversation continues, Charlie realizes that his friends are still the same people that they were three years ago and that he has changed dramatically. His awakening becomes clear when Fitzgerald says, “As always, he [Charlie] felt Lorraine’s passionate, provocative attraction, but his own rhythm was different now.” Charlie’s awakening of sobriety from his irresponsible past has left him with a feeling of awkwardness around his old friends. He is to unwillingly forced to relive a memory from the past when Lorraine sends him a letter a few days later. Fitzgerald, in the words of Lorraine, says, “We did have such good times that crazy spring, like the night you and I stole the butcher’s tricycle, and the time we tried to call on the president and you had the old derby rim and wire cane. Everybody seems so old lately, but I don’t feel old a bit” (2212). Charlie’s recollections of these acts, which Lorraine describes as “good times,” are no longer good to him. In fact, Charlie sees his past as a nightmare – a nightmare that he can’t seem to run away from. Throughout the story, Charlie is being criticized constantly about the behavior he exhibited before his awakening took place. This is done strictly by Marion, who blames Charlie for her sister’s, Charlie’s wife’s, death. She is resentful towards Charlie for treating her sister, Helen, poorly during their reckless lifestyle together and also for Charlie’s financial superiority over her and Lincoln. An example of Charlie’s harsh behavior that sticks out in Marion’s mind is the night that Helen showed up at the Peters’ doorstep, shivering from the cold. Charlie had locked Helen out of the house earlier that evening, Marion states to Charlie, “How much you were responsible for Helen’s death, I don’t know. It’s something you’ll have to square with your own conscience” (2210). Her opinion towards the old Charlie overshadows his determination and promises towards her in the present. Though Charlie wants nothing but to be able to be with his daughter again, Marion refuses to believe he has changed. She is blunt about her opinion of Charlie and very skeptical about his sobriety. During a sit-down one day, Charlie, Lincoln, and Marion begin discussing the custody arrangement for Honoria. Lincoln is interrupted quite suddenly by his wife when she looks Charlie straight in the eyes and asks him, “How long are you going to stay sober, Charlie?” (2208). This direct blow against Charlie’s new life hurts him, and when he tries to defend himself, she brings back the memories of the past yet again, taunting him with the thoughts of his old life. The climax of this story takes place after Marion and Lincoln tentatively agree to give custody of Honoria back to Charlie. Charlie goes over to the Peters’ house and is brought face-to-face with his past in the form of Lorraine and Duncan. Fitzgerald says, “They were gay, they were hilarious, they were roaring with laughter” (2213). This is implying that the two are drunk, and this makes Charlie extremely nervous and angry. Duncan and Lorraine’s drunkenness is giving Marion and Lincoln the wrong impression about Charlie’s new life, and it worsens when Lorraine says to Charlie, “Come and dine. Sure your cousins won’ mine” (2214). This quote shows just how drunken Charlie’s old friends were. Marion and Lincoln are not Charlie’s cousins. Duncan and Lorraine’s inebriation is obvious to everyone in the room, and when Charlie sharply tells the two to leave, Lorraine retorts by saying, “All right, we’ll go. But I remember once when you hammered on my door at four a.m. I was enough of a good sport to give you a drink. Come on, Dunc” (2214). This remark breaks Marion’s already-fragile opinion about Charlie, and after Duncan and Lorraine leave, she takes back her blessing concerning Honoria. This devastates Charlie. The past has again defeated him, and at the end of the story, he is left alone in a bar at the Ritz, practically a broken man. Fitzgerald’s often-melancholy works sometimes suggest that memory is a living, breathing nightmare, and that the past is something terrible that cannot be changed and will stay with one forever. In the short story “Babylon Revisited,” Fitzgerald portrays the negative impacts of memory by causing Charlie Wales tremendous pain. Charlie’s drunken, reckless past brought him sadness even after he sobers up and turns his life around. His awakening may have matured him, but it shattered his dreams beyond repair. Memories and people of the past haunt his present day, and Marion Peters is unable to let go of her own memories to give Charlie another chance. During the climax of the story, Charlie’s old friends come back and ruin his chances of being reunited with his daughter, and he is forced to relive the nightmares of his past again and again. Fitzgerald’s personal woes created an unhappy alcoholic, twisting his opinion of memory’s impact on the human mind, a view that he entangled into his melancholy stories about life in the early 1900’s.

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