The ancient city of Babylon, in modern-day Iraq, was one of the most famous cities of the ancient world. In early Christian thought, even though the actual city of Babylon was well past its times of greatness, Babylon became a symbol of rampant materialism, of luxury and immorality. The word itself has passed into the English language reflecting this usage. It is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “a city devoted to materialism and sensual pleasure.” For the early Christians, Babylon was a direct contrast to the new Jerusalem envisioned in the Book of Revelation. The title “Babylon Revisited” thus carries a symbolic meaning, which is why Fitzgerald did not simply call the story “Paris Revisited,” which would have created a quite different expectation for the reader. The title symbolically expresses Charlie Wales’s feelings about Paris as a place where he indulged in material pleasures and luxuries and lost his moral bearings.
The stock market crash of 1929, which forms part of the background of the story, is also a metaphor of Charlie’s personal “crash,” in the sense that he not only lost money but also lost his personal equilibrium. He drank to excess, fell out with his wife, who later died, and lost custody of his daughter. Charlie makes this connection clear when Paul, the barman at the Ritz hotel,remarks that he has heard Charlie lost a lot in the crash. Charlie responds that although that is true, he also lost a lot during the boom that preceded the crash; “I lost everything I wanted,” he says. Paul, perhaps not knowing the full story of what happened, makes the assumption that Charlie is referring to “selling short,” a speculative trade in the stock market that investors sometimes carry out but which carries a high risk. Charlie replies, “Something like that,” but of course his meaning is different: to sell short in nonfinancial parlance means not to value something properly. He failed to value the preservation and nurturing of his family above all selfish indulgences, and he paid a high price for this piece of short selling.