Charlie goes directly from the Peters’ house to the Ritz bar. Furious, he thinks he might find Lorraine and Duncan, but when they’re not there he realizes there’s nothing he could do anyway. He orders a drink, not having had a chance to touch the whisky he’d asked for at the Peters’. Paul, the head barman, comes over to talk to Charlie and says he hears he lost everything in the crash. Charlie says he did, but he lost everything he wanted in the boom.
Charlie’s comment to Paul about losing everything he wanted in the crash is the clearest expression of loss and remorse that Charlie makes in the story. It demonstrates the fullness of his awareness that his wealth and alcohol abuse made him blind to the sources of real value in his life. Although he seems to have believed, until this point in the story, that he would be able to win his daughter back, his comment to Paul seems to be an acknowledgement that what he has lost may never be regained.
Again, Charlie’s thoughts drift back to the boom years, and he remembers them—and the people he met—like a nightmare. Along with the detestable people he met, he thinks of himself locking Helen 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.”
Here, Charlie seems to acknowledge that he had been aware, on some level, of what he was doing when he locked Helen out of their home, despite having made it sound in his earlier account that he had been oblivious. The idea that he could pay for snow not to be snow is of course ridiculous, but it demonstrates his awareness of the ridiculousness of the feeling of infallibility he told Marion he felt during the boom years. His remark about the snow is also a recognition of guilt, in the sense that he sees that the pain he has caused others is real—and that he can’t pay to make it disappear.
Charlie calls Lincoln to ask if Marion has said anything, and Lincoln responds that Marion is sick, and that he’s afraid they’ll “have to let it slide for six months” before deciding anything. Then Lincoln apologizes. Charlie goes back to the bar and declines Alix’s offer of another drink. Charlie thinks about how tomorrow he’ll try to help the situation by sending Honoria some toys, but it makes him angry that all he can do is give his daughter material possessions.
The fact that Charlie returns to the Ritz bar and orders a drink immediately after the incident at the Peters’ home is worrisome because it raises the question of whether he will revert to his old patterns of alcohol abuse in coping with the pain he’s experiencing. It’s reassuring, then, that he declines when the barman offers him another drink. Charlie’s frustration that his only way of feeling close to Honoria is to buy her things demonstrates his main insight of the story: that while he “lost a lot in the crash,” he lost everything of real value to him—his family—in the boom years through his immoderate behavior.
Another waiter offers Charlie a drink, and he declines again, asking “What do I owe you?” He thinks that he’ll come back some day, and that the Peters can’t “make him pay forever.” It seems that the only thing that matters to him now is getting Honoria back. He’s not young anymore, and he’s sure Helen wouldn’t have wanted him to be so alone.
Despite having recovered from the crash financially, Charlie’s loneliness at the end of the story is a type of emotional poverty. In other words, his recklessness during the boom years has left him with a debt he cannot seem to pay. Through Charlie’s story, Fitzgerald seems to be making a moral argument that, whether it’s alcohol or money, all forms of recklessness and immoderation lead to ruin, and no one is above having to pay their debts if they hope to win redemption.