08 April 2019
In a post World War I era, America was struggling in trying to navigate its way through the World War II as well as the Great Depression. Trying to define what American identity was in a time like this is complex and almost impossible to do so. The reason for this is because not every American had the same kind of privilege or money. Some Americans didn’t have privilege at all, some were wealthy, others were poor. Their economic and social statuses were two prominent factors that determined what kind of life they would live and the kind of perspective they would have on the world, including themselves. Major events such as WWII and the downfall of the economy are what helped transform and shape what American identity would become during this era. At this time, many Americans such as authors Zora Neale Hurston and F. Scott Fitzgerald experienced different kinds of obstacles and tragedies in life, but were able to encapsulate and portray what life as an American was like in their stories. Both authors drew inspiration from their own experiences and hardships to write their stories. There were many different aspects that played a part in creating the American identity, but overall the identity of an American was individually unique. The reason why it was unique is because each person in the country endured distinct kinds of oppression whether it was social, racial, or economic.
It can be said that F. Scott Fitzgerald was privileged and had good fortune for the majority of his life. Despite his father being unsuccessful, his family was wealthy which allowed Fitzgerald the opportunity to become successful, which did happen, but only to a certain extent. He was known for living a luxurious and extravagant life which would eventually lead to his economic and social downfall. He was able to become successful in the way he wanted so that he could continue living this over-the-top, excessive life he had grown accustomed to, but eventually he and the main character in his short story would find out that this way of living would not be worth the cost. From the title of the story “Babylon Revisited”, readers can begin to tear apart the title to determine its meaning. According to Merriam Webster, the word ‘Babylon’ was used to describe “a city devoted to materialism and sensual pleasure” (Merriam Webster). The title suggests that the story will be similar to the author’s life in the way that Fitzgerald was known for his materialistic lifestyle.
“Babylon Revisited” seems rather intimate and personal in the way that it shows contains many parallels between his life and the main character, Charlie. Some of the main parallels between Fitzgerald’s life and the story are alcoholism and the Great Depression. This story depicts what life was for those who were able to achieve a rather comfortable and affluent lifestyle that most people at the time would not have been able to live. During the beginning of the story, the main character points out that “It was not an American bar any more–he felt polite in it, and not as if he owned it. It had gone back into France” (Fitzgerald). This quote shows the kind of privilege Charlie felt and knew he had before the market crashed, despite being in a different country. He has a become a stranger in a place he could once be himself. Not only this, but he comes to the harsh realization that he “spoiled this city for [himself]. [He] didn’t realize it, but the days came along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and [he] was gone” (Fitzgerald). At this point in his life, he doesn’t have his family anymore and he feels miserable because he regrets not slowing down and appreciating what he had at the time. The story shows how the Great Depression took a toll on Fitzgerald’s personal life. Because of the economic crash, his life changed when it became clear that “his wife’s emotional crash and the ensuing depression that overtook his life and work were, for Fitzgerald, so closely connected with the stock market crash and economic depression as to cause an interpenetration of the two narratives” (Hess). This story can be interpreted as a cautionary tale because of the way that Fitzgerald chose to share some of the most intense details of his own life to show the consequences of this lifestyle.
Zora Neale Hurston’s “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” offers a completely different yet interesting perspective than Fitzgerald’s work, but they both share the idea of conformity in society. Hurston reminisces on the “very day that [she] became colored” (Hurston). When she brings up this moment, the readers begin to understand how society and different geographical locations can change one’s perspective of themselves. Her life was completely uprooted when her family moved from Eatonville, Florida. Hurston shows that she is having difficulty trying to understand why she is being treated differently for her skin color for the first time in her life. She grows tired and exhausted because she knows she is “not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all” (Hurston). Everyone around her is trying to victimize and define who she is, even though she doesn’t care about their perception of black people. It shows how during this time it was difficult to define an American because of the way Zora changed in others’ eyes. She only moved from one town to another and still continued to live in the same state, but this helps readers understand the way that small factors such as geographical ones can play a major role in racial discrimination and oppression.
According to Stephen J. Whitfield, “the problem of prejudice was not widely believed to be urgent” before the 40’s (Whitfield). People were looking at Hurston in a biased way because they weren’t able to understand life from her perspective and they only knew about her history rather than learning more about who she was as a person. As a child, Zora was protected from racial discrimination and the perspectives of both black and white people, so when she first realizes that these white people only see her for her past, she is taken aback. She begins to separate herself from everyone else’s idea of what it is to be black, but not because she is ashamed or terrified of her culture, but because of the fact that she wants to re-define herself as Zora.
Both Hurston’s and Fitzgerald’s stories were unlike yet alike in different ways. Both narrators were struggling with how they were going to deal with society’s expectations and perspectives. Black people suffered from racial oppression, but Hurston did not let it confine her and hold her back from becoming the person she wanted to be. Unfortunately for Fitzgerald, he let his ambitions get the best of him which resulted in him losing his family and having to redefine who he is and changing his entire life. Both stories include messages that are still prevalent in society today such as making sure that as a society we don’t view others with prejudice or bias, and instead we should take the time to learn more about other cultures instead of labelling them. As for Fitzgerald’s story, it teaches us about the consequences and unhealthy habits that can come with having a luxurious lifestyle. With these two stories, we can learn more about the privilege that white people had and we can connect it to today and how that privilege still continues to exist in certain situations, as well as the oppression that people of color also experienced back then and today.
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.
Whitfield, Stephen J. “The Theme of Indivisibility in the Post-War Struggle against Prejudice in the United States.” Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 48, no. 3, July 2014, pp. 223–247. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/0031322X.2014.922773.
“Babylon.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Babylon.