Babylon Revisited
by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

course5-book This is generally considered Fitzgerald’s finest short story and a superb study in characterization. Characters are beautifully drawn; conflicting desires, personalities, and motivations—rather than plot—drive the story forward.

This is also a story in which the past intrudes on the present, and neither characters nor readers seem able to put the past behind them. Although we identify with Charles Wales, we are unsure whether his past alcoholism will recur and whether he is justified in wanting custody of Honoria. Perhaps the flinty Marion is right to protect Honoria (if, in fact, that’s what she’s doing).

While Charles and Marion are fully developed characters, Lorraine and Duncan (“ghosts out of the past”) are almost stock characters—rich wastrels. They function as symbols of a past that continues to haunt the present.

1. As Charles returns to his old stomping grounds in Paris, notice how empty and desolate the bars and nightclubs seem, compared with how he remembers them—as former scenes of gaiety and dissipation. The previous decadence has passed, but a new type of decadence—forlorn, even desolate—has taken hold. What might that atmosphere suggest about the state of Charles’ soul?

2. Marion clearly dislikes Charles, holding him responsible for her sister’s death. She also believes he can’t be trusted with the care of Honoria, no matter how sober he appears at the moment. But then Marion has her own ax to grind: we begin to see her dislike as resentment borne of jealousy. Why is she jealous?

3. Honoria is precocious child. Compare her maturity with her father’s immaturity in his young adult years—especially the time he and Lorraine stole the butcher’s tricycle and pedaled around Paris.

4. Think about the symbolic nature of the name “Honoria.” Although Charles is intent on reclaiming his honor, is it possible to do so after the years of dissipation and “utter irresponsibility”?

5. Think about Babylon of the title—a Biblical city notoriously corrupt. Is Fitzgerald asking whether a society (as well as an individual) bent on self-indulgence ultimately self-destructs? Can the soul, its honor and clarity of vision—whether of a culture or a person—ever be regained?

6. Questions are unresolved at the end: how responsible is Charles for Helen’s death; will he maintain sobriety; will Marion relent and allow Honoria to live with her father?

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