Babylon Revisited: And Other Stories | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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



Unusually for this story collection, "The Rich Boy" is told by a first-person narrator. At the beginning the storyteller shares his conviction that the very rich "are different from you and me," and the story itself, which emphasizes the protagonist's wealth and youth in its title, might be regarded as an object lesson.

The eldest of six children, Anson Hunter grows up in a sphere of privilege during what Fitzgerald calls "the snobbish and formalized vulgarity of the Gilded Age" (usually defined as 1870 through 1900, but sometimes expanded to the period 1865–1914). He attends Yale, joins the navy in World War I, and then falls in love with a wealthy girl from California named Paula Legendre. A drunken evening with an imprudent number of cocktails throws cold water on their future plans, however, with Mrs. Legendre especially dubious about the prospect of Anson as a son-in-law.

Paula grows to think of Anson as an individual with "two alternating personalities," a "mixture of solidity and self-indulgence." In July 1918 he is ordered abroad, where he suffers a plane crash and is rescued. Ill with pneumonia, he is released from the hospital after the armistice is signed in November.

Thereafter, with Anson back home, the relationship with Paula unravels. Alcoholism and Wall Street both take possession of him. He wields influence in New York and among his fellow Yale graduates, but he loses Paula. She sends him a telegram declaring she will be married without delay to Lowell Thayer in Boston. Anson saturates himself with whiskey and weeps like a child.

Broodingly, Anson seeks to distract himself by starting an affair with Dolly Karger, but this relationship fails as well. In his late 20s and early 30s, he becomes an avuncular advisor to his juniors, taking "a vicarious pleasure in happy marriages" and "inspired to an almost equally pleasant melancholy by those that went astray." Anson even intrudes into the affair of his Aunt Edna with a hard-drinking young man, Cary Sloane. This time, his ill-advised interference results in Cary's suicide—an event for which Anson feels no responsibility.

Anson and Paula meet for the final time, and Paula reveals she could never have been happily in love with him. Three days before he sails for a trip abroad, Anson learns Paula has died in childbirth. On shipboard with the narrator, Anson turns his attention to a pretty young lady, walking her up and down on deck and lounging with her in the bar.


The narrator's preliminary declaration that the very rich "are different from you and me" could serve as an epigraph for the story as a whole. The tale of Anson Hunter is a case study in how arrogance, self-indulgence, and excess steadily erode privilege and integrity—both in terms of human relations and with respect to self-regard. Anson loses the girl he loves to someone else, locates and flirts with a highly unsuitable surrogate (Dolly Karger), and ends up playing the role of an avuncular marriage counselor—painted in a particularly sordid light in his disastrous intrusion into the lives of his Aunt Edith and her young lover Cary Sloane. Any sympathy for Anson the reader might feel is squelched by such brutal realities as his failure to feel responsibility for Cary's suicide and his boorish incomprehension of Paula's outlook toward him. As he ages he feels steadily more estranged and alienated—marriages are depleting his supply of old college friends and cronies. "old Anson," he senses, is no longer needed.

The final scene on the ship testifies to just how little Anson has learned about others and himself. He is now 30 and still womanizing.

Anson Hunter and Dexter Green in "Winter Dreams" have dissimilar origins: Dexter hails from the Midwestern merchant class, while Anson is a wealthy scion in New York high society. However, their relationships—Dexter's with Judy Jones and Anson's with Paula Legendre—present some fascinating parallels. Both young men lose the women of their dreams, but for quite different reasons. In the final scene of each story, both protagonists appear quite memorably: Dexter as lamenting the dream that has withered, Anson as carrying on the fantasy that still propels him in a clueless haze.

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