Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. 0.00
Babbitt, first published in 1922, is a novel by Sinclair Lewis. Largely a satire of American culture, society, and behavior, it critiques the vacuity of middle-class American life and its pressure on individuals toward conformity. The book takes its name from the principal character, George F. Babbitt, a middle-aged partner, with his father-in-law, in a real-estate firm. When the story begins, in April 1920, Babbitt is 46 years old. He has a wife, Myra; three children; and a well-appointed house in the prosperous Floral Heights neighborhood of “Zenith,” a fictitious city in the equally fictitious state of “Winnemac.” Zenith's chief virtue is conformity, and its religion is “boosterism.” Prominent boosters in Zenith include Vergil Gunch, the coal-dealer; Sidney Finkelstein, the ladies'-ready-to-wear buyer for Parcher & Stein's department-store; Professor Joseph K. Pumphrey, owner of the Riteway Business College and “instructor in Public Speaking, Business English, Scenario Writing, and Commercial Law;” and T. Cholmondeley "Chum" Frink, a famous poet of dubious talent. Babbitt is professionally successful as a realtor. He lives with only the vaguest awareness of the lives and deaths of his contemporaries. The novel is divided roughly into thirds. Much of his energy in the beginning is spent on climbing the social ladder through booster functions, real estate sales, and making good with various dignitaries. The first seven chapters follow Babbitt closely through a typical workday, from his restless dreaming before he awakens in the morning to his struggle to fall asleep that night. The middle third of the novel reveals Babbitt in various settings: on vacation, attending a business convention, campaigning for the conservative mayoral candidate, giving dinner parties, giving speeches, attempting to climb socially, serving as a member of the Sunday School Advisory Committee of the Chatham Road Presbyterian Church, and so on. The final third of the novel reprises the pattern of Babbitt's midlife crisis: He rebels, is “punished,” and “repents,” but, toward the end of the story, the possibility of redemptive change is implied in the rebelliousness of Babbitt's son. Lewis paints humorous scenes of Babbitt foolishly bartering for illegal Prohibition liquor, hosting dinner parties, and taking clients to view property. All of this is juxtaposed against backdrops of Babbitt's incessant materialism and his growing discontent.