" (Fitzgerald, 61) Also, the way in which Charles checks himself when he starts bragging about his business in front on Lincoln reveals the same weariness and desperation: "Really extremely well,' he declared...'There's a lot of business there that isn't moving at all, but we're doing even better than ever. In fact, damn well...My income last year was bigger than it was when I had money. You see, the Czechs -- " (Fitzgerald, 63) the text thus revolves around the question of money and what it meant in the twenties. Fitzgerald's message comes from the way in which he pitches the economical matters against the spiritual ones. Charles now longs only for somebody to love, that is, his child, tired will all the excess of a wasted life: "He woke up feeling happy. The door of the world was open again. He made plans, vistas, futures for Honoria and himself, but suddenly he grew sad, remembering all the plans he and Helen had made. She had not planned to die. The present was the thing -- work to do and someone to love."(Fitzgerald, 64) During the twenties making and spending money were in a way the only coordinates of life. As money took control over the peoples' life, there was less and less room for anything else besides buying and selling. Fitzgerald endeavors to show that the spirit of the age was broken because of the general debauchery. Thus, the twenties were the core of the modernist movement, and contributed immensely to new attitudes and new philosophies for life. Freedom and human rights were emphasized by democracy, the importance of the individual and of the psyche was revolutionized by psychoanalysis and so on. Still, it was the economical boom that left the strongest mark on the lives of people, changing it to the highest degree. While the exuberance of the age was depicted by Fitzgerald in the Great Gatsby, the negative and alienating effects are cogently contained in Babylon Revisited.
One of the most important passages in the story that proves Fitzgerald's stance with respect to the Jazz age is the conversation that takes place towards the end of the story between Charles and one of the men at the hotel, named Paul. Thus, apparently the two merely exchange brief remarks about the economical disaster and the way in which it had changed everybody's life for the worst. Charles however implies, without actually making his interlocutor understand his point, that he has had a lot more to lose during the economical boom, referring obviously to his wife and child:
It's a great change,' he said sadly. 'We do about half the business we did. So many fellows I hear about back in the States lost everything, maybe not in the first crash, but then in the second. Your friend George Hardt lost every cent, I hear. Are you back in the States?'
No, I'm in business in Prague.' heard that you lost a lot in the crash.' did,' and he added grimly, 'but I lost everything I wanted in the boom.'
Something like that.'"(Fitzgerald, 71)
The view that Fitzgerald expresses symbolically in his short story is also something he stated directly in one of his obituaries. Thus, the writer felt that the Jazz Age, in spite of its splendor was also an age of waste and excess that only seems romantic through a comparison with the present: "Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth. Sometimes, though, there is a ghostly rumble among the drums, an asthmatic whisper in the trombones that swings me back into the early twenties when we drank wood alcohol and every day in every way grew better and better, and there was a first abortive shortening of the skirts, and girls all looked alike in sweater dresses...and it all seems rosy and romantic to us who were young then, because we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings any more." ("Echoes of the Jazz Age")
The same perspective is described by Charles in the story. The Jazz Age seems now a "nightmare" because of the excess: the endless parties, held with all kinds of people, mostly strangers, the alcohol and the drug abuse and many other things: "Again the memory of those days swept over him like a nightmare -- the people they had met traveling; then people who couldn't add a row of figures or speak a coherent sentence. The little man Helen had consented to dance with at the ship's party, who had insulted her ten feet from the table; the women and girls carried screaming with drink or drugs out of public places..."(Fitzgerald, 71) There epoch thus certainly had its charm, but it also proved dangerous in many ways. As Fitzgerald describes it, the decade of the twenties seemed to have had a certain air of artificiality about it: the material excess obviously encumbered the people's spiritual life. The full force of this aspect of the age is felt in the brief remark made by Charles in one of his efforts to escape culpability for the death of his wife. Thus, he tries to deceive himself into believing that his act of locking her away in the snow was not real since during the twenties the money was so powerful it could simply fulfill any wish and change things in what one wanted them to be: "The men who locked their wives out in the snow, because the snow of twenty-nine wasn't real snow. If you didn't want it to be snow, you just paid some money."(Fitzgerald, 71)
The life of the main character in the story has thus been destroyed not by the Depression but actually by the economical boom. When faced with his powerlessness in getting his child back, Charles reverts to money once more, concluding that the only connection he can have with the little girl is by giving her money and buying her things: "There wasn't much he could do now except send Honoria some things; he would send her a lot of things tomorrow. He thought rather angrily that this was just money -- he had given so many people money..."(Fitzgerald, 72)
Thus, Fitzgerald insists in his story on the destructive effects of the materialist attitude propelled by the Roaring Twenties and the economical boom. As Robert Edenbaum pointed out, and as already noted, the tragedy described by the story comes from an autobiographical source, first of all being influenced by the author's own experience with the economical fluctuations and then by his own marriage troubles with Zelda: "A story that the author often later mentioned as having been intended as a tribute to his daughter, the 'lovely little girl of nine,' masks his guilt for what he insisted was his role in his wife's illness. The detail in the story that might have indicated Charlie Wales' unconscious self-destructive impulse indicates instead F. Scott Fitzgerald's through the medium of Charles Wales."(Edenbaum, 29) Charles's feelings are obviously Fitzgerald's own. Thus, the end of the story hints at money again, but this time only symbolically. Charles tries to encourage himself, saying that they cannot make him "pay forever," obviously with a double meaning of the word "pay": "What do I owe you?" He would come back some day; they couldn't make him pay forever..."(Fitzgerald, 72).
Thus, Babylon Revisited is an important modernist text, dealing with the negative side of the economic boom during the American twenties. The story thus reflects the events and the spirit of the age of the same time.
Edenbaum, Robert I. 'Babylon Revisited': A Psychological Note on F. Scott Fitzgerald," in Literature and Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1968, pp. 27-9.
Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. "Babylon Revisited" in Collected Short Stories. New York: The Modern Library, 1975
Gallo, Rose Adrienne. "Fable to Fantasy: The Short Fiction," in F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1978, pp. 82-105
The 1920s: Era Overview." DISCovering U.S. History. Online ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center - Gold. Gale. http://find.galegroup.com/ips/start.do?prodId=IPS.