In the aftermath of his catastrophic recklessness during the market boom of the 1920s, Charlie has begun to rebuild his life. He’s no longer interested in the frivolous relationships that once amused him, for he realizes now that they come and go like money. His sole focus has become, instead, securing a home and a family for himself. As such, the central tension in “Babylon Revisited” is the question of whether Charlie Wales’ sister-in-law, Marion, will allow him to take his daughter back to Prague with him.
While at dinner with the Peters family, who have been looking after Charlie’s daughter Honoria, Charlie reflects that he believes that the “eternally valuable element” in life is character—which he seems to define as the quality of having moral integrity and strength. He expresses a desire to “jump back a whole generation and trust in character,” and observes that everything else seems to wear out, which suggests not only that he sees morality and integrity as essential ingredients for building a home and family, but that the absence of these qualities in him had led his own family to fall apart. In this way, Fitzgerald shows readers that Charlie doesn’t merely want to go back to how things were when he had a family and he was behaving recklessly. Rather, he wants to build a different kind of family, founded on this eternally valuable element: his newfound strength of character. Furthermore, after musing on character, Charlie wanders through the streets of the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, where “all the catering to vice and waste was on an utterly childish scale.” In contrast to the warmth and stability of the Peters’ home where he was just at dinner, the emptiness and desperation of the abandoned bars and clubs lead Charlie to ruminate on the meaning of the word “dissipate,” which he understands now to mean “to make nothing out of something.” This underscores Charlie’s dawning revelation that, like character, the bond of family abides, while other relationships and pleasures dissipate.
Despite Charlie’s newfound commitment to character and family, Marion Peters remains skeptical that he is any less of an irresponsible drunk than he had been two years ago, and her opinion is significant, because she has the power to decide against allowing Charlie to complete his family by taking Honoria with him to Prague. Marion is an embittered character who threatens to destroy Charlie’s dream of having a family, and yet she is the character most concerned with doing what is right for her family, including Honoria. She therefore not only embodies the familial bonds of dedication, love, and responsibility, but she also represents the moral standard to which Charlie must prove he can rise. She shows that family is a prize that is not straightforward or unambiguously pleasant, implying that unlike the pleasures of the ‘20s, the things worth having in life do not come easily. Fitzgerald gives evidence that Charlie understands this difficult truth, as he accepts Marion’s decision not to allow him to take Honoria to Prague. While it’s deeply disappointing for Charlie, he recognizes that this punishment is fair (even though Marion’s change of heart was brought about by factors outside of his control), which demonstrates that he’s willing to accept responsibility for his past actions and be patient and humble before Marion in order to regain his family.
Charlie speaks several times throughout the story of his desire to make a home, a concept he associates with having a family. Pleading with Lincoln Peters, Charlie at one point expresses his fear that he’ll “lose Honoria's childhood,” and with it his “chance for a home.” At the story’s conclusion, after Marion has changed her mind about allowing Charlie to take charge of Honoria, Charlie reflects sadly that “he wanted his child, and nothing was much good now, beside that fact.” Without a home and a family, Charlie believes, he has nothing of value. Fitzgerald’s message, then, could hardly be clearer: having lived through the glitz and glamor of the roaring ‘20s himself—and having seen it fade—“Babylon Revisited” is his proclamation that the only things of lasting value are the relationships people build and commitments they make to their loved ones.
Home and Family ThemeTracker
Home and Family Quotes in Babylon Revisited
“My income last year was bigger than it was when I had money. You see, the Czechs—”
His boasting was for a specific purpose; but after a moment, seeing a faint restiveness in Lincoln’s eyes, he changed the subject:
“Those are fine children of yours, well brought up, good manners.”
A great wave of protectiveness went over him. He thought he knew what to do for her. He believed in character; he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element. Everything wore out.
He remembered thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing a single number, hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman for calling a cab.
But it hadn't been given for nothing.
It had been given, even the most wildly squandered sum, as an offering to destiny that he might not remember the things most worth remembering, the things that now he would always remember—his child taken from his control, his wife escaped to a grave in Vermont.
"First, we're going to that toy store in the Rue Saint-Honoré and buy you anything you like. And then we're going to the vaudeville at the Empire."
She hesitated. "I like it about the vaudeville, but not the toy store."
"Well, you brought me this doll." She had it with her. "And I've got lots of things. And we're not rich any more, are we?"
"We never were. But today you are to have anything you want."
"All right," she agreed resignedly.
"Daddy, I want to come and live with you," she said suddenly.
His heart leaped; he had wanted it to come like this.
"Aren't you perfectly happy?"
"Yes, but I love you better than anybody. And you love me better than anybody, don't you, now that mummy's dead?"
"Of course I do. But you won't always like me best, honey. You'll grow up and meet somebody your own age and go marry him and forget you ever had a daddy."
"Yes, that's true," she agreed tranquilly.
"I don't blame Marion," Charlie said slowly, "but I think she can have entire confidence in me. I had a good record up to three years ago. Of course, it's within human possibilities I might go wrong any time. But if we wait much longer I'll lose Honoria's childhood and my chance for a home." He shook his head, "I'll simply lose her, don't you see?"
Marion shuddered suddenly; part of her saw that Charlie's feet were planted on the earth now, and her own maternal feeling recognized the naturalness of his desire; but she had lived for a long time with a prejudice—a prejudice founded on a curious disbelief in her sister's happiness, and which, in the shock of one terrible night, had turned to hatred for him. It had all happened at a point in her life where the discouragement of ill health and adverse circumstances made it necessary for her to believe in tangible villainy and a tangible villain.
"I can't help what I think!" she cried out suddenly. "How much you were responsible for Helen's death, I don't know. It's something you'll have to square with your own conscience."
"There's another thing." Lincoln hesitated. "While you and Helen were tearing around Europe throwing money away, we were just getting along. I didn't touch any of the prosperity because I never got ahead enough to carry anything but my insurance. I think Marion felt there was some kind of injustice in it—you not even working toward the end, and getting richer and richer."
"It went just as quick as it came," said Charlie.
He tried to picture how Lorraine had appeared to him then—very attractive; Helen was unhappy about it, though she said nothing. Yesterday, in the restaurant, Lorraine had seemed trite, blurred, worn away. He emphatically did not want to see her, and he was glad Alix had not given away his hotel address. It was a relief to think, instead, of Honoria, to think of Sundays spent with her and of saying good morning to her and of knowing she was there in his house at night, drawing her breath in the darkness.
"I heard that you lost a lot in the crash."
"I did," and he added grimly, "but I lost everything I wanted in the boom."
"Something like that."
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. . . .
"No, no more," he said to another waiter. "What do I owe you?"