America can be considered the most romanticized country in the world. Even to this day, people from other countries, especially those that are disadvantaged by poverty or war, dream of coming to America to achieve so called “greatness.” In the “roaring twenties” we saw the lavish lifestyles that could be gained by being a citizen of this great country. As depicted in many novels and movies, the nineteen-twenties were the epitome of an impulse society of instant gratification. The bustling economy allowed for a life of excess but as we learned from history this type of a lifestyle comes with a price and both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Frost warn us of it’s dangers.
Babylon Revisited written by F. Scott Fitzgerald shows it’s readers exactly how one’s life can be destroyed by living lavishly. Fitzgerald’s young and attractive main character, Charlie Wales, life was turned upside down due to a lifestyle of formerly unrecognized alcoholism which single handedly led to his wife’s death and the loss of guardianship of his daughter. Charlie said himself, “I spoiled this city for myself. I didn’t realize it, but the days came along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone.”(Fitzgerald, pg. 992) Charlie takes ownership over the fact that his life of excessive nightly partying and promiscuity made it feel as though those two years disappeared from his life. This is a direct result of his instantaneous lifestyle. Although it is hard to say if Charles is to blame for his former alcoholism and unfortunate ways as he only seemed to be a product of his society and culture at the time.
Unfortunately due to his old ways Charlie must earn back respect from his dead wife’s sister, Marion, who gained guardianship of his daughter Honoria. In fact, Charles had to choose his words very carefully around Marion as she was very sensitive to his alcoholism and former lifestyle. This upset Charles because he just wanted “ to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again.” It is evident that Charles only felt this way because it was his character in question. It is here the audience can see that Fitzgerald poses the age old question of whether people are truly capable of change. During the Great Depression almost everyone one was required to change in some shape or form because their resources and wealth were depleted tremendously. Charles remorse gives Fitzgerald’s readers hope that he is actually capable abandoning his old ways.
When Charlie is not with his family and working to regain guardianship of his daughter he goes out on the town where he is constantly being tempted by his past’s mistakes. This causes the reader to question why the main character is constantly putting himself in this situation. Charles says himself that going to bars and eating fancy dinners is the only way he knows how to pass time and he would pay “for the privilege of slower and slower motion.” He reminisces on a time where he was incredibly frivolous with money and explained how he would hand over large tips to almost every worker he encountered. It is clear that Charlie did not know what he had until he lossed it all because it was not till then “he suddenly realized the meaning of the word ‘dissipate’.” Many people during this time did not see the loss and destruction that was to come in their lives but if they did, perhaps, they would have been more prepared.
Despite at one time losing everything, Charlie is far better off than most; however, it is clear that Charlie has not learned from his former financial decisions in the past. Although he is no longer rich Charlie still wants to spoil his daughter with toys and entertainment. Honoria is aware that this is strange and responds by declining his lavish gifts and saying “we’re not rich anymore, are we?” Charles lifestyle was so over the top it was apparent to his young daughter that they were well off. Being robbed of her family’s fanciful ways and left with her aunt after the death of her mother must have left a psychological toll on Honoria. Charles lifestyle had bigger consequences that he was not able to see at the time and the well being of his daughter was the biggest one of all.
Based on reading Robert Frost’s poem Directive one can surmise that the speaker of the poem knows what it is like to have everything but lose it all. The opening line states, “back out of all this now too much for us,” which can be used as a comparison of Charlie Wales the tole Great Depression took on his life. After the stock market crash Charles could only dream and reminisce on his old days of frivolity. That world is now distant and far away for Charlie. Due to his downfall, being a father figure and maintaining a healthy family was “too much” for Charlie. He was forced to “back out” of it and live a much simpler life reflecting on his past wrongdoings.
The speaker in Directive also reminisces on “…a house that is more a house/ upon a farm that is no more a farm/ and in a town that is no more a town,” this is representative of all the destruction that took place in Charlie’s life and much like the lives of others during the Great Depression. Charlie had all that one could dream of having in life. He had wealth, a beautiful wife and daughter, and a nice home to live in. All of that was gone in an instant after the death of his wife and the fall of the market. In much of the short story he cannot help but remember how good those days used to be.
It is clear that Fitzgerald and Frost are using their works as cautionary tales to tell its readers that sometimes having it all is actually having nothing at all. Much like the roaring twenties, people today still live in a very instant access type of world. This is even more prevalent living in this age of technology. Everything Americans have today is at the touch of their fingertips and at their quickest convenience. This also allows individuals to have easier access to their vices leading to drug habits, debt, and the destruction of families. If society does not take a moment to reflect they can end up down the same path as Charlie and be forced to reminisce on what they once had much like the speaker of Directive. Unfortunately the phrase, “history repeats itself,” is truer than to be expected. Fitzgerald and Frost seemed to know this to be the case. It is clear that they wrote these pieces as a way to warn its readers of the paths that can unfold by living too carelessly.