8 April 2019
A Place to Belong
Family is the most important influence in one’s life. Family can provide support during moments of suffering and they are there to celebrate great triumphs. During the Great Depression many families suffered, and unemployment rates rose leaving families financially ruined and homeless. “Babylon Revisited”, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, follows Charlie Wales during the aftermath of the depression, on his path of redemption, as he attempts to reclaim custody of his daughter. “Barn Burning”, by William Faulkner, follows a struggling family, trying to stay together and hold onto their dignity during the Great Depression. The short story of “Babylon Revisited”, F. Scott Fitzgerald and “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner examine American Identity during the Great Depression, both view family as a defining factor of American identity.
In “Babylon Revisited”, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, family is major factor in American identity. The story begins with Charlie Wales, revisiting the bar he once frequented. He used to be a heavy drinker, this is revealed when the bartender mentions, “[Charlie was] going pretty strong a couple of years ago” (Fitzgerald 981). This is indictive of the main character’s personal growth. He has moves past the days of partying and he has done this in the hopes of gaining custody of his daughter Honoria. He confesses to his sister-in-law, “[he is] awfully anxious to have a home… to have Honoria in it” (987). His daughter is all he has left after the death of his wife, Helen, and he has come to realize how important family is. Before the crash of the stock market, “[Charlie] and Helen were tearing around Europe throwing money away…” (990). Charlie and his wife quickly burned through their money and when it was all gone Charlie was left with nothing. Honoria is the only family that remained, and he knows time with her is invaluable. This first becomes evident when he tells Honoria, “You’ll grow up and meet somebody your own age and go marry him and forget you ever had a daddy” (986). Charlie knows he does not have much time with his daughter for she will one day leave the nest. He expresses this concern to his brother in law, “if we wait much longer [he’ll] lose Honoria’s childhood and [his] chance for a home” (989). Charlie is exasperated, because time is moving, and he is not part of his child’s life and he’s losing his chance of starting a family. Honoria is important to Charlie’s identity. She is part of him redeeming his self and reclaiming his identity. He no longer wants to be classified as an alcoholic. This is apparent in his disgust of the sudden appearance of his old acquaintances and he wants nothing to do with them (992). Charlie is willing to change for his family and he has grown. Sadly, he is not given the chance to prove himself and he is left in loneliness.
William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”, examines how the union of a family is sacred to American identity. The story starts at the trial of Abner Snopes, charged with burning down a barn. Though there is no physical evidence, the judge orders Abner to, “leave this county and don’t come back to it” (Faulkner 1005). This exile not only affects him, but also the rest of his family, as they must pack up and leave him. Abner first show’s his appreciation for family loyalty when he confronts his son, Sarty Snopes, about the events of the trial. He warns Sarty, “you got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you” (1007). This threat gives the reader insight into the father’s high esteem of loyalty and how much family matters to him. The family is financially ruined, because of the stock market crash and all they have left is each other. Abner Snopes again find’s himself in court and the judge imparts, “… if Major de Spain can stand a ninety-five-dollar loss on something he paid cash for, [the father] can stand a five-dollar loss [the father hasn’t] even earned” (1012). Family is very important to Abner because without one another life, would be bleak and meaningless. Sarty does not understand this, so when the father tries to burn another barn down, he betrays his father and tells the land owners of his father’s plan (1014). Though Sarty does not understand his father’s decisions, the father was always loyal to his family. Abner always tried to provide for his family instead of leaving them behind. The story ends tragically with son walking off into the woods after witnessing the death of his father (1016). He has betrayed his family and walks off is solitude.
Both “Babylon Revisited” and “Barn Burning” reflect America’s values at the time of the great depression. President Herbert Hoover classified the depression as, “as an emotional or psychological problem, rather than an economic reality” (Hess). Though for families such as the Snopes’ the great depression, was a harsh reality that stripped them of their economic wealth. Research shows that, “suicide mortality which increased during the Great Depression…” (Granados). This was the grim reality for many Americans, as so many people saw no end to the economic crisis that plagued society at the time. Though neither of the father’s in these short stores go out of their way to take their own life’s. They continue to fight for their families.
The differences between “Babylon Revisited” and “Barn Burning” is where each family stands economically. In “Babylon Revisited” Charlie Wales is financially stable despite the toll it has taken on others in his family. This is revealed when he mentions, “[he hasn’t] been to America in months, [he has] business in Prague” (Fitzgerald 981). Charlie has abandoned his way of life in America and prospered in another country. He came from a place of privilege. It is imparted that, “[Charlie] and Helen were tearing around Europe throwing money away…” (990). He had money and he wasted all of it. It took the death of his wife for him to see how important Honoria, is important to him. In contrast the family in “Barn Burning” has nothing and most likely started out with nothing. This is indicated by the father’s bitterness towards those who have wealth during this economic depression. The narrator describes seeing, “the stiff foot come squarely down in fresh droppings where a horse had stood in the drive and which [Abmer] could have avoided by a simple change of stride” (Faulkner 1008). Abner deliberately steps into the manure just to smear it in Major de Spain’s house, which is lavishly furnished. The narrator details, “a suave turn of carpeted stair and a pendant glitter chandeliers and a gleam of gold frames” (1008). The house flaunts the wealth of the de Spain’s while Abner and his family have to suffer in merger living situations. While also having to work for little to nothing. Family is the connection between these two short stories.
Families come in many forms. Some people have a one parent or live with other relatives. Family but a sense of belonging is what people yearn for. Roots and being proud of the place one come’s from are part of one’s American Identity. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited”and William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” are both tragic tales of trying to keep family together and of loss. Both these stories illustrate that in the end family is all that matters, and one should appreciate their family while they still have it. This was especially true during the Great Depression as it is true now.
Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine, 8th ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013, pp. 1004-1016.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Babylon Revisited.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine, 8th ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013, pp. 980-994.
Granados, José A. Tapia, and Ana V. Diez Roux. “Life and death during the Great Depression.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106.41 (2009): 17290-17295.
Hess, Heather L. N. “‘The Crash!’: Writing the Great Depression in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Babylon Revisited,’ ‘Emotional Bankruptcy,’ and ‘Crazy Sunday.’” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 42, no. 1, Fall 2018, pp. 77–94. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2979/jmodelite.42.1.06.