Study Guide

Babylon Revisited Drugs and Alcohol

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Drugs and Alcohol

"If you see Mr. Schaeffer, give him this," he said. "It's my brother-in-law's address. I haven't settled on a hotel yet." (1.8)

Charlie's decision to leave Tom's address for Duncan at the Ritz bar ultimately leads to his downfall at the end of the story. It seems like Charlie's destruction is his own fault and is actually there from the very beginning of the story, suggesting that he is, in a way, doomed from the beginning.

"No, no more," Charlie said, "I'm going slow these days."

Alix congratulated him: "You were going pretty strong a couple of years ago." (1.11-12)

And so was Fitzgerald. Zelda wrote to him of his debauchery: "You were literally eternally drunk" (Source: Sally Cline. Zelda Fitzgerald. Arcade Publishing, 2004). The biographical connections with Fitzgerald's own life jump out at the reader from the start of "Babylon Revisited."

"I haven't been to America for months. I'm in business in Prague, representing a couple of concerns there. They don't know about me down there." (1.15)

Notice how Fitzgerald hints at Charlie's debauched past. It takes almost the entire story for us to get the full background on our protagonist. But we get the idea of Charlie's history – the mood of his back story – in the very beginning.

Alix lowered his voice confidentially: "He's in Paris, but he doesn't come here any more. Paul doesn't allow it. He ran up a bill of thirty thousand francs, charging all his drinks and his lunches, and usually his dinner, for more than a year. And when Paul finally told him he had to pay, he gave him a bad check."

Alix shook his head sadly.

"I don't understand it, such a dandy fellow. Now he's all bloated up – " He made a plump apple of his hands. (1.18-20)

Here we start to see that "Babylon Revisited" is not just about Charlie's decline, but the decline of an entire country. Claude's downfall represents the financial crash that affected all the people in Charlie's world.

After an hour he left and strolled toward Montmartre, up the Rue Pigalle into the Place Blanche. The rain had stopped and there were a few people in evening clothes disembarking from taxis in front of cabarets, and cocottes prowling singly or in pairs, and many N****es. He passed a lighted door from which issued music, and stopped with the sense of familiarity; it was Bricktop's, where he had parted with so many hours and so much money. A few doors farther on he found another ancient rendezvous and incautiously put his head inside. Immediately an eager orchestra burst into sound, a pair of professional dancers leaped to their feet and a maître d'hôtel swooped toward him, crying, "Crowd just arriving, sir!" But he withdrew quickly.

"You have to be damn drunk," he thought. (1.55-56)

Charlie purposefully tempts himself with his former life of drunkenness and extravagance. If he were truly reformed, we suspect he would avoid these old haunts.

"Can't do it." He was glad for an excuse. As always, he felt Lorraine's passionate, provocative attraction, but his own rhythm was different now. (2.44)

Lorraine and Duncan represent the temptation for Charlie to return to his old ways. Here he calls it "attraction," and we see that our protagonist is still indeed feeling the pull of his former lifestyle. Had Honoria not been there, would Charlie have gone off with his friends? Fitzgerald writes that Charlie is "glad for an excuse," but does he mean an excuse for his friends, or an excuse for himself?

There was a long silence. All of them felt their nerves straining, and for the first time in a year Charlie wanted a drink. (3.40)

Again Fitzgerald forces us to question the permanence of Charlie's new and improved self. If he's still drinking every day, and he still wants a drink under times of stress, is he really a recovered alcoholic?

He went back to his table. His whisky glass was empty, but he shook his head when Alix looked at it questioningly. (5.15)

Because Charlie doesn't go back to drinking after losing Honoria, we have to reconsider his motives for not drinking in the first place. Perhaps it wasn't just to get his daughter back. We suspect that his transformation is more deeply rooted in the loss of his wife, his fortune, and his entire way of living. It also might be that Charlie holds on to his hope of getting Honoria back – he's thinking of the future, despite his claim that he's now too old to have nice thoughts and dreams.

He would come back some day; they couldn't make him pay forever. (5.17)

Given the religious allusion imposed on the story by its title, we can think of Charlie as waiting in a sort of purgatory. Purgatory is a Christian term for the place where souls go before heaven. In purgatory, one pays for one's sins and is purified; it is after passing through purgatory that one can go on to heaven. Charlie is very much in a similar state. Here, in this line, he wonders how long he'll have to wait in limbo before he finishes atoning for his former sins.