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Babbitt

Sinclair Lewis

Chapters 27-31

Chapters 21-26

Chapter 32-34

Summary

A series of strikes upsets the efficient commercialism of Zenith. Violence erupts as the threat of a general strike seems certain, so the National Guard steps in. Babbitt, formerly a staunch critic of labor unions, is disturbed to hear that some of the workers complain that their wages do not even pay for enough food. Reverend Drew delivers a sermon criticizing the strikers. Babbitt shocks Chum Frink by calling Drew's sermon complete "rot." Babbitt further disturbs his friends by complaining of the National Guard's heavy-handed tactics with the strikers. The strike is quickly squelched, but Babbitt's friends become cooler and more reserved with him.

When Tanis calls about a leak in her apartment, Babbitt hurries to personally inspect it. One thing leads to another, and Babbitt ends up staying with her until dawn, smoking, talking, and drinking tea. Babbitt calls Myra to report that business will keep him out until late. While he continues to see Tanis secretly, Babbitt becomes more vocal with his friends with his new liberal opinions, inciting their disapproval and distrust. He fears that Myra is suspicious of his affair because he has become negligent with her. Fortuitously, Myra's sister falls ill, so she leaves Zenith for a few weeks.

Babbitt becomes caught up with Tanis' bohemian friends. A round of parties and outings begins to consume his time, and he begins to drink quite heavily. He wakes up with hangovers. Several times he resolves to put an end to the rebellious excess of his new life, but every day he finds himself in the company of Tanis and her friends. Whereas he once disdained the Doppelbraus as rowdy, alcoholic bohemians, he is delighted to attend one of their parties, at which he flirts with Louetta with more success than before.

When Pumphrey sees Babbitt driving drunk with Tanis and her friends, Babbitt begins to fear that he is damaging his reputation. After Gunch sees Babbitt having lunch with Tanis in public, he calls on Babbitt to ask him to join a new organization, the Good Citizens League. He states that he has never thought Babbitt's new liberal opinions were actually serious. Babbitt merely replies that he will consider joining the League. Afraid that he has gone too far in his rebellion, Babbitt resolves, and fails, to stay away from Tanis that night.

When Myra returns to Zenith, Babbitt makes an attempt to act like a good husband, but he fails to resist Tanis' draw. Myra protests his habit of going out in the evenings, but Babbitt responds with irritable complaints about the boring routine of his life. She retorts that she has been discontent, as well, and makes him promise to attend a lecture of the American New Thought League. Myra enjoys the lecture, but Babbitt finds it incomprehensible and uninspiring. This leads to a bitter argument that widens the gulf between them.

As Babbitt ponders Myra's virtues, he feels extremely guilty for his cruel treatment of her. He avoids Tanis for several days, but she phones him and writes him a letter. When Babbitt visits her, he is happy to see her at first. However, he suddenly realizes that she is not young and beautiful but a middle- aged woman trying to act much younger than she is. Feeling guilty and foolish, Babbitt breaks off their relationship.

Commentary

In his rebellious state, Babbitt is willing to consider some of the claims of the striking workers, unlike his friends. He learns that some of the wage workers are going hungry because they cannot afford to buy food. Babbitt and his friends spend money on frivolous objects, such as expensive cigar lighters, pianos they don't play, and records that collect dust. They are extremely hypocritical in criticizing the wasteful spending of the working classes. Babbitt realizes that the middle class engages in moral self-righteousness to transform the working class into the scapegoats for middle class failings. Babbitt admits as much when he notes that Drew's sermon attacking the labor unions is full of nonsense. The rest of the congregation, of course, swallows the sermon whole: They merely want reinforcement of their prejudiced opinions.

When Babbitt begins to vocally support the strikers in front of his friends, we learn how swift the consequences for resisting conformity are. Babbitt's friends and associates immediately begin watching his behavior for other signs of unorthodox beliefs, readying themselves to punish Babbitt for simply voicing a dissenting opinion.

Babbitt finds Tanis attractive because she provides him with a sympathetic ear for his new opinions. His affair with her and her willingness to share his new, rebellious beliefs makes him more daring in the presence of his friends. However, despite his praise for Doane and others who share his liberal philosophy, Babbitt still doesn't really understand the basic ideas underlying that philosophy. He is as ignorant in his rebellion as he was in his conformity. Many of Tanis' friends, known as "The Bunch", are like Babbitt: middle-aged people trying to make a belated effort at social freedom. None of them make any real effort to change the status quo. Their behavior is rather similar to that of Ted and his high school friends. Ironically, "The Bunch" has a rigid standard of behavior to which they expect one another to conform. They are quick to criticize anyone who fails to return a phone call or attend one of their many parties. Moreover, "The Bunch" has a constantly changing membership. Babbitt is a veteran after only two weeks. It is quite possible that many members of "The Bunch" are simply people who have a brief fling with rebellion before returning to their old, conformist lives. They don't form intimate friendships because no one stays long enough. In many ways, they are just as shallow as Babbitt's other friends.

Babbitt's old friends try to draw him back into their inner circle by urging him to join the Good Citizen's League. Again, the pressure to conform comes to the forefront. The implication is that anyone who does not join the G.C.L. is not a "good citizen." The G.C.L. will punish those who oppose these views by shunning them and refusing to do business with them. Basically, Gunch is tacitly threatening Babbitt with these punishments if Babbitt doesn't "conform to decent standards."

When Babbitt lashes out at Myra, he finally tells her how dissatisfied he is with his life and discovers she has similar feelings. Her rebellion, however, is just as meaningless and aimless as Babbitt's. The New Thought League is as silly and empty as "The Bunch."

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