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Babbitt

Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 32-34

Chapters 27-31

Analysis

Summary

When Myra confronts Babbitt upon his return, he admits that he cheated on her. When he blames Myra for driving him away, she accepts the accusation and apologizes profusely. Later, he attends a Booster's Club meeting where a speaker rallies against immigrants. Babbitt dismisses the speech as so much bunk, incurring the disapproval and suspicion of his friends.

Charles McKelvey, Dr. Dilling, and Colonel Rutherford Snow confront Babbitt in his office the next day. They demand that he join the Good Citizen's League, but Babbitt states his refusal to allow them to bully him into doing anything. Only when his friends begin to shun him in earnest does Babbitt realize the consequences of his rebellion. When the Traction Street Company leaves his firm out of a corrupt business deal in favor of one of Babbitt's competitors, he becomes even more concerned. Miss McGoun quits her job to work for one of Babbitt's rivals. He attempts to seek comfort from Tanis, but she coldly rebuffs him. Only Ted and Eunice offer Babbitt support in fighting conformity. Nevertheless, Babbitt regrets his refusal to join the Good Citizen's League, and he hopes, in vain, to be invited to join again.

Just as Babbitt's fear and depression deepens, he hears Myra groaning in the bedroom. Although Myra declares that it isn't serious, she continues to groan about a pain in her abdomen. Babbitt becomes alarmed and calls a doctor, who informs Babbitt that Myra seems to be suffering from appendicitis. Babbitt sits with Myra throughout the night, pondering his life and the direction it has taken. In the morning, the doctor brings Dilling in for a second opinion. Dilling advises that Myra immediately go into surgery because he fears that peritonitis might set in. Babbitt instantly becomes the devoted husband and rides with Myra in the ambulance. He feels even guiltier when Myra suggests that it might be best if she dies since no one seems to want her.

After the operation, Myra remains in the hospital for seventeen days. During this time, Myra and Babbitt spend a lot of time talking, and as a consequence, they are drawn closer together. Babbitt's friends offer their help and support during this time. When Gunch offers Babbitt a third chance to join the Good Citizen's League, Babbitt jumps at the offer. Within a matter of days, Babbitt is again denouncing all liberal opinions, and he is Doane's most vocal critic.

Babbitt quickly regains his reputation and social standing. However, he finds that he is uncomfortable with Reverend Drew, and he eventually stops his active participation in the Good Citizen's League in favor of the old, familiar Booster's Club. Escott and Verona are soon married, and the Traction Street Company begins to include Babbitt's firm in its corrupt deals. Babbitt does hope to eventually make his business honest, but he fears opposing the prevailing unethical nature of Zenith's business community.

Ted and Eunice cause an uproar in their families by eloping. The Littlefields, Myra, Verona, Escott, and Thompson all are outraged by the sudden marriage. Babbitt takes Ted into the dining room to speak with him privately. Ted confesses that he would rather quit college and work in a factory as a mechanic. Babbitt confesses that he has never done a single thing he ever wanted to do. He urges Ted to do what he wants to do in life. Together, father and son exit the dining room to face the opposition.

Commentary

Babbitt has a habit of blaming other people for his behavior. His argument with Myra is no different. He places the blame for his affair entirely on her. Such behavior is representative of the middle class in general as Lewis portrays it; the entire community refuses to accept responsibility for its flaws. Babbitt and his business associates refuse to accept responsibility for their unethical practices or the inflated prices that result from them. In Babbitt, the middle class is in a perpetual state of denial. It denies its immoral, unethical, prejudiced beliefs, as well as the dubious value of its lifestyle. The only person who openly accepts guilt for anything is Riesling, and he is condemned.

When Myra becomes ill, Babbitt realizes that it is too late to rebel against social convention. Myra has been a devoted wife, and it is not her fault that their life is monotonous and conventional. In order to accept his familial responsibilities, which he now recognizes as vital, Babbitt is forced to return to his old life. It is sinister that Babbitt's friends would so readily punish Babbitt with cruelty. Yet, in this time of crisis, they give him support, though that support has strings attached. In return for their friendship, he has to conform to their values.

Babbitt's rebellion is not the only one to fail. The G.C.L. spreads all over the country, silencing dissident opinions. It ensures that the prosperity of the industrial economy is preserved as a privilege of the middle and upper classes. It vows allegiance to American democratic values, but its project is an egregious offense against the spirit of a democracy.

Babbitt now knows how corrupt and hypocritical his community is. He vows to eventually clean his business of the taint of graft, so he can pass an honest business on to his children and grandchildren. He knows that he has been defeated despite the rewards of regaining his social status and respectability. Yet a seed of his rebelliousness remains: When Ted bucks social conventions to elope with Eunice, Babbitt is the only person to offer him support. He doesn't necessarily agree with Ted's actions, but he has come to see that agreement is not as virtuous as empathy.

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