Babylon Revisited: And Other Stories | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Babylon Revisited: And Other Stories | Symbols



Readers of "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" have to keep in mind this story is patently a tongue-in-cheek, quasi-surrealistic satire. If nothing else, the size of the diamond itself, one cubic mile, should serve as a tip-off. Certain other highly improbable details arise in the story to deliberately provoke our wonder, mockery, and disbelief. These include the imprisoned pilots in the "cage" as well as the enslaved African Americans, the simpering platitudes of Kismine Washington, the outsized boasts of Braddock Washington, and the luxurious pleasures lavished on guests like John T. Unger.

What makes the diamond an especially powerful symbol for Fitzgerald's underlying themes in this story of superficiality, domination, and material vainglory? In the end it is not the gem's market value (which has already been called into question, as the Washington forebears could not sell it). Nor is it the diamond's durability, sparkling elegance, or multifaceted beauty. It is its ability to be faked, as evidenced by the worthless rhinestones Kismine rescues by mistake at the end of the story.


Babylon figures largely in the Bible, particularly in the Book of Revelation, where it is featured as a symbol of immorality and vice. In the story "Babylon Revisited" Fitzgerald uses the biblical name as a stand-in for Paris. Especially during the 1920s, Paris acquired a reputation for unfettered license with respect to alcohol consumption, sexual behavior, and public erotica.

The "Roaring Twenties" in Paris could, by another and equally defensible judgment, be interpreted as a remarkably fertile decade of cultural creativity. This was the era when, in the words of a recent writer, "Paris sizzled," meaning that the city was alive with exciting new trends. American expatriates such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Man Ray were not the whole story. There were transients such as the American composer George Gershwin, who memorably captured the city's sounds in An American in Paris. There were French artists, novelists, and poets: Georges Braque, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Marcel Proust. There were performers such as the African American entertainer Josephine Baker. There was, of course, jazz, the new music that had crossed the Atlantic from North America.


Fitzgerald attended but did not graduate from Princeton, but he interestingly makes Yale University prominent in his fiction. Yale figures in "May Day," "The Rich Boy," and "The Freshest Boy." The Yale Club, also mentioned in several of the stories, is an elite social center near Grand Central Terminal and the business hub of midtown Manhattan.

Although now often rated as a top-ranking university in the United States, in Fitzgerald's time, Princeton had not yet achieved recognition as a national institution. It had only recently (in 1896, the year of Fitzgerald's birth) changed its name from the regional-sounding "College of New Jersey." Despite the prestige of alumnus (and American president) Woodrow Wilson, Princeton was known as a pricey, somewhat snobbish outpost for provincial college boys from the South. If Fitzgerald wanted to derive symbolic and elitist value from an Ivy League institution, Yale was the one to choose.

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