All people can relate to living with the past. We all make mistakes and we all stumble along our ways. Some make greater mistakes then others, but we all make them. Dealing with them as part of our present can sometimes be overwhelming. Although it is a difficult part of life, it is a part of life that we all can relate to. Some have to learn this lesson the tough way. Some learn that the past does not only hurt us now, but can affect who we are today.
Charlie Wales, in “Babylon revisited,” challenges us to make a decision about him while also reflecting on ourselves, but still plays the largest role in conveying the story’s theme where Fitzgerald illuminates how the past still plays a role today and how short sightedness can be damaging. Charlie’s past cannot escape him all throughout the story. No matter the location in Paris, or who he meets, his past follows him. Whether he is walking around or visiting the in-laws, he cannot escape it. For the story itself this plays a large role.
It begins to show in the very beginning with the bartender recognizing him and then builds throughout the story. The fact that every part of the story contains in some way a part of Charlie’s past cannot be ignored. Even when he goes for a walk by himself, his past party spots are the destinations, and his thoughts drift to the past fun wild life style he enjoyed there. His past, though, is characterized into Lorraine and Duncan. His former party buddies come in on the night Charlie were supposed to obtain Honoria’s custody.
This is a literal representation of how the past can come back to haunt ones present. In this situation, Charlie’s past comes back to bite him at the worst possible time. Not only do his old drinking buddies come over unannounced, they are intoxicated at the time and insist Charlie comes joins them. To Marion this shows undoubtedly that Charlie has not changed at all. To the reader it shows in a literal event how Charlie’s past is such a large part of the story. Living in the moment can be good, but as a life motto, it can be very damaging.
Things that we have chosen to do, or not to do can play into life’s present. This plays throughout Fitzgerald’s novel and is not only something he wishes the reader to take away, but a lesson that we watch Charlie learn as a person. Charlie was quite a partier, and quite the wild boy during the roaring twenties that swept across America and Europe. This point in history the stock market was soaring and people were making small fortunes. Charlie took this opportunity and ran with it.
Not only did he party all over Paris, he went all over Europe with his wife. He then lost all of his fortune in the crash of the stock markets in 1929. He then left his daughter behind after the death of his wife. Then after all of that, he hurt came back expecting to be given back the daughter he threw away a few years before by willing to limit himself with alcahol beverages every day instead of being an alcoholic. Learning the lesson about past affecting the present is something Charlie learns the hard way.
He learns that his past is not easily escaped after all the hurt he left behind. This illuminates without an explicit statement that Charlie is inherently short sighted. He only sees what his current desires and situations are at the time. Because of this short sightedness, Charlie doesn’t realize till the last visit to see his daughter how much of an affect the past has on one’s current situation. His short sightedness causes him to not see the hurt that he caused his in-laws when he just walked out.
He finally starts to evolve towards the end of the story, even, perhaps, before he returns to Paris and begins to see the world as more than the current moment. Fitzgerald used the characters known as Lorraine and Duncan to teach this final lesson to Charlie. Through the use of the character known to us as Charlie, Fitzgerald realizes how much the past can still affect us, and how damaging being short sighted can be. He also uses other characters like Lorraine, Duncan, Marion, and Lincoln to illuminate the lessons through actions in the story.
Without the direct statement of the theme it allows every reader to take a slightly different message. Although the message does not vary all that drastically, Fitzgerald allows each reader to take a different variation of the same common message. The use of Charlie’s slow evolution, allows him to do this most effectively. Although we look down on Charlie for his past, can we really use that as all we judge him by? I mean, would you like to be judged exclusively by your past?