Never has the world experienced a time period in which the culture is so dramatically altered in such a short amount of time as demonstrated in the 1920’s. This time period is often referred to as the “Roaring Twenties” or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s coined phrase, “The Jazz Age,” and brought society into a new era of a booming economy, a changing taste in music, and wild parties fueled by alcohol. The Jazz Age marks a time in which people saw a greater enjoyment in life and fewer responsibilities. The new prohibition act which made the selling of alcoholic beverages illegal, revolutionized the bar scene in America. Prior to the Jazz Age, the bar was reserved for men to just get drunk. After prohibition went into effect, speakeasies were established to secretly sell alcohol to patrons. This made for going into a bar more of a social gathering that focused on entertainment with music and dancing for both genders. However, like most things in life, all “good things” must come to an end. By the end of the twenties, the stock market crashed putting millions out of a job, thus ending the Jazz Age. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited” examines the character Charlie to symbolize many individuals coping with life after the Jazz age, as well as, using Charlie to parallel his life.
Charlie Wales in “Babylon Revisited” directly symbolizes countless individuals who struggle with life after the wild twenties. Charlie is an American that returned to Paris in an attempt to get custody of his daughter. While in Paris Charlie sees every bar and street corner as flashbacks of his old reckless habits. He can envision continuously wasting money on alcohol and fine dining and begins to come to terms with his spending habits of the past when he eats at a cheap restaurant for the first time. Charlie cannot shake the constant memories of his past and feels as though he “spoiled the city” for himself because he can no longer see Paris without being haunted by his former self (Fitzgerald 700). This type of behavior is very common among individuals that lived in this time period. In the twenties, people were able to spend a large amount of money without any repercussions. After the stock market fell, people were no longer able to sustain the life they had been accustomed to which led to an extreme decrease in happiness. Charlie, like many other people after the 1920’s, also had to adapt to life after the abuse of alcohol. He now sticks to a one drink a day limit which he says is better than totally abandoning alcohol. During the roaring twenties, alcohol was a part of everyday life in society. It had become the social norm to men and women to drink for entertainment in speakeasies, and for the first time in history, bartenders were able to create their own drinks to attract customers to their speakeasies. Even though speakeasies were illegal during the prohibition, they revolutionized the market of entertainment.
“Babylon Revisited” can also be seen as a parallel to the life Scott Fitzgerald lived in this time period. According to Kelly J. Mays, Fitzgerald seemed to overextend himself during the twenties by purchasing an estate costing around $113,000 which was “saturated in alcohol” (Mays 691). This new American notion of overspending seized to a halt in four years after Fitzgerald found himself in debt and writing stories just to get by after the collapse of the stock market. Like Charlie, Fitzgerald also found himself in a custody battle with his disapproving sister-in-law after his wife suffered a series of nervous breakdowns. This newfound hardship could have been Charlie and Fitzgerald’s payback for the ways of life they lived in the twenties by constantly drinking and doing various activities that went against their previous morals. There are many similarities between the life story of Fitzgerald and “Babylon Revisited” and perhaps this was Fitzgerald’s way of achieving peace about the way he lived his life in the twenties.
The twenties were also a time were young adults also received more freedom in the form of an automobile. According to Fitzgerald in his “Echoes of the Jazz Age”, young boys could now achieve privacy by driving away from parental supervision. This sparked a time in which the new social norm was that a teenager would be able to explore the opposite sex while not being married. This led to the notion that people would live for pleasure rather than by the former morals that were present. When the twenties ended, Fitzgerald explained that “we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings any more” which meant the way people felt back then can never be replicated (Fitzgerald 715).
Charlie Wales symbolized the common well-off man after the twenties. He was changing his values and essentially haunted by his past. He tried just about everything in his power to right his wrongs of the previous decade by having more self-control and trying to become a better man. While the twenties were a time for lower morals and wild parties, it was also a time for equal rights for women, saw an increase in entertainment, and allowed for people to enjoy themselves which is an essential element of life. Scott Fitzgerald and Charlie Wales seemed to live the same life in a number of ways, and perhaps “Babylon Revisited” was a way for Scott Fitzgerald to cope with life after the twenties much as Charlie needed ways to cope. Scott Fitzgerald overextended himself like many people of the time period, and Charlie Wales has flashbacks of spending a large sum of money on alcohol and other non-necessities. If the two characters could go back a decade and change their ways, the audience can speculate that neither characters would change a thing due frankly to the amount of fun they had. In life however, there appears to be peaks and valleys filled with good times and bad. While the Jazz Age was definitely a peak for both characters, the valley that followed, will never be able to recover completely.