Study Guide

Babylon Revisited Transformation

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Transformation

"And where's Mr. Campbell?" Charlie asked. (1.1)

Fitzgerald opens the story with Charlie in his old bar in Paris, having a drink, looking for his old drinking buddies. We should be suspect of his claim that he has totally reformed, and we should continue to doubt this claim throughout the story. Something tells us at least part of Charlie is still in love with the glamour and destruction of his old life.

"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)

This is a very important moment in "Babylon Revisited," but we don't know that until we get to the end of the text. Later, when Duncan and Lorraine show up at the Lincolns, Charlie can't figure out how they found him. The reader knows something Charlie doesn't, and should remember this moment at the start of the text. That he doesn't remember it suggests that his self-destruction is actually subconscious. Perhaps this subconscious impulse stems from Charlie's guilt over his wife's death – he's subconsciously trying to punish himself while consciously seeking forgiveness from others (like Marion).

"We think Honoria's a great little girl too." (1.37)

This is the first time we hear Charlie's daughter's name. Because of the word "honor," we see that Charlie's attempts to get his daughter back might be symbolic of a greater struggle on his part to restore the honor he lost during his destructive, wasteful years in Paris. Honoria is the goal of his trip to Paris, but honor might be the goal of his reformation.

He left soon after dinner, but not to go home. He was curious to see Paris by night with clearer and more judicious eyes than those of other days. (1.52)

This suggests another reason for Charlie's return to Paris. He's there to reclaim Honoria, yes, but also to look back at his past, to re-evaluate, to re-examine his past lifestyle now that he feels he is a safe distant from it. "Seeing with new eyes" is indeed a part of his return to "Babylon."

"And who are you, please?" he persisted, and she accepted a role immediately: "Honoria Wales, Rue Palatine, Paris."

"Married or single?"

"No, not married. Single." (2.21-23)

Charlie pretends that he and Honoria are out on a date together as adults. In a way, he is metaphorically courting his daughter, in that he needs to get her to choose to live with him rather than with her aunt and uncle.

Somehow, an unwelcome encounter. They liked him because he was functioning, because he was serious; they wanted to see him, because he was stronger than they were now, because they wanted to draw a certain sustenance from his strength. (2.57)

This is pretty powerful characterization. Fitzgerald makes Duncan and Lorraine seem almost parasitic, without explicitly saying anything negative about them. We fear for Charlie because this makes it sound as though the pair want to take something from him. They don't just want his company – they want to feed off of his new-found resolve.

He knew that now he would have to take a beating. It would last an hour or two hours, and it would be difficult, but if he modulated his inevitable resentment to the chastened attitude of the reformed sinner, he might win his point in the end. (3.11)

This is an interesting passage, because it almost sounds as though Charlie is play-acting. Is he pretending to be a reformed sinner so that he can get Honoria back? And if so, what is his real attitude with regard to his own reformation? It is lines like this one that complicate our understanding of Charlie's character and our reading of "Babylon Revisited."

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. But not to love too much, for he knew the injury that a father can do to a daughter or a mother to a son by attaching them too closely: afterward, out in the world, the child would seek in the marriage partner the same blind tenderness and, failing probably to find it, turn against love and life. (4.1)

This passage suggests that Charlie does have a good understanding of what it means to be a parent, and would indeed be a good father to Honoria.

He would come back some day; they couldn't make him pay forever. But he wanted his child, and nothing was much good now, beside that fact. He wasn't young any more, with a lot of nice thoughts and dreams to have by himself. He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone. (5.17)

This story would be a lot easier for us to read if Fitzgerald explicitly told us what to think of Charlie. If we knew for sure that he didn't deserve Honoria, and that he was getting his just desserts for his former behavior, the tale would be pretty straightforward. Conversely, if we were firmly on Charlie's side – if we truly believed he had reformed and knew for sure that he deserved his daughter – we would have similar closure. But Fitzgerald doesn't allow us either one of these.

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