Babylon Revisited: And Other Stories | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Babylon Revisited: And Other Stories | The Freshest Boy | Summary



After an introductory section of fantasy—spun from the imagination of the tale's protagonist, Basil Lee—the story's action commences with two Midwestern teenage boys on their way to preparatory school in the east. Basil and the more world-wise Lewis Crum are traveling by train to St. Regis School, an elite academy located in Eastchester near New York City. Whereas Lewis comes from a wealthy background, Basil's family's circumstances are modest. Clearly the disparity puts Basil at a disadvantage.

At school, Basil goes by the nickname "Bossy." He is not popular. The headmaster, a clergyman named Doctor Bacon, summons him to discuss Basil's poor grades and his application to make an excursion to New York City on the following Saturday. The logistics are difficult since several trips have already been arranged. However, Doctor Bacon tells him he can arrange something if Basil can find two other boys willing to make the excursion.

Basil now takes a considerable risk to round up companions for the outing. Although he is confined to "bounds" (namely, the school property), he deliberately breaks the rules to persuade some of his classmates to accompany him. In Eastchester he corners Bugs Brown, Fat Gaspar, and Treadway. They all turn him down. He is humiliated when he overhears Lewis Crum telling the story of Basil's futile entreaties.

Basil fantasizes over pictures of showgirls he has ordered by mail. His roommate Treadway announces he is packing up to move in with the popular bully Brick Wales. Then Doctor Bacon, surprisingly, arranges for Basil to make the trip to New York City anyway. He will be chaperoned by the football coach, Mr. Rooney. On the train to the city, Mr. Rooney tells Basil he has his own business to take care of so Basil can have a free hand to get some lunch and go to a show. Mr. Rooney warns the boy not to drink any alcohol.

At lunch Basil takes from his pocket a letter from his mother, and then opens and reads it. In the letter his mother announces the family plans an extended stay in Europe, and she invites Basil to consider transferring from St. Regis to attend school in Grenoble or Montreux. Lee is elated. Soon after he reads the letter, he recognizes a tall, well-built, blond young man at the theatre, compounding his joy. The boy is Ted Fay, the captain of the Yale football team.

The show Basil attends is a cliché-ridden, typical Broadway warhorse of the period, but the boy thinks it is wonderful and remains in high spirits. At intermission he runs into Mr. Rooney, who appears to be drunk. Overhearing fragments of conversation between Ted Fay and his date, Basil concludes that "life for everybody was a struggle." He decides not to go to Europe.

Back at school Basil is slowly able to build a reputation, acquire new friends, and attain some respect. He becomes inured to the petty derision of classmates. In short, through all his struggles he survives.


Once again, the keynote for the story lies in the title. Basil Lee is "the freshest boy" in the sense that, at the start, his outstanding traits are inexperience and naïveté. At its core the story is a tale of conflict between rejection and acceptance. Slowly, painfully, Basil manages to carve out acceptance in a challenging (indeed, sometimes unforgiving) environment.

Fitzgerald has an unerring eye for the ways in which youngsters can be cruel to one another. The aptly named Lewis Crum starts the ball rolling by teasing and taunting Basil on the train to school. Whereas we might have expected outsiders from the same Midwestern town to be supportive of one another, Lewis assumes the role of know-it-all and bully. Basil, however, is no pushover. The way he suggests to Lewis that Lewis might become more popular at school if he played football is quite cool and smooth.

Basil also has another resource: his richly imaginative fantasy life. The story begins with a melodramatic fantasy action sequence in a "hidden Broadway restaurant." Fantasy also appears in a brief football sequence as well as in Basil's evident delight in the Broadway show he attends.

Basil is also not afraid to shoulder the risks of his foray off grounds to collect prospects for the New York excursion, nor does he shrink from the embarrassing necessity of shepherding Mr. Rooney, who is hopelessly drunk, back to school. Slowly Basil gains maturity and respect at school. Small gestures of friendship and beckoning hopes of achievement buck him up. The story ends with Basil's warm satisfaction at the part he played in a basketball game.

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