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Babbitt

Sinclair Lewis

Analysis

Chapter 32-34

Study Questions

Zenith's gleaming, modern landscape of skyscrapers, factories, and automobiles seems like a paradise of post-World War I prosperity. Babbitt's neighborhood, Floral Heights, contains neat rows of pleasant, comfortable homes, replete with all the modern conveniences. However, once one takes a look inside the houses, one notices there is a false, brittle cheer to Zenith's middle-class lifestyle. Zenith and its citizens are characterized by a depressing sameness and a vicious competition for social status and wealth.

Babbitt is a satire on the conformity, hypocrisy, and ignorance endemic to the American middle class. The houses of Zenith's middle class look the same as middle-class houses all over the country, and the same "modern conveniences" furnish all of those identical houses. Perhaps most damning, Lewis portrays Zenith's middle-class citizens as similarly standard, completely circumscribed by their comfortable, homogenized world. Through the experiences of Babbitt, the novel's title character who rebels against the middle-class community of which he is a part, Babbitt seeks to expose the hypocrisy and emptiness underlying middle-class life.

Lewis pillories the middle-class Zenith community as hopelessly complacent, unable to think for itself, materialistic, concerned only with appearance and social status, uncultured in terms of art, hypocritical in its support of ethics, and religious only insofar as it helps the citizens' social standing. Lewis portrays the middle-class community as treating everything like a business, motivated only by the desire for superficial things. He further portrays the middle class as unable to escape its hollow way of life, even though many individual members of middle-class society find themselves dissatisfied and bored with life. Through Babbitt's short affair with Tanis, Lewis similarly skewers the "bohemian" alternative to middle-class life, displaying its motivations to be as silly and shallow as those of the middle class it hopes to escape: The extreme reaction of the privileged to hollowness, Babbitt proclaims, is hollowness.

The powerful yet rather easy satire is complicated by Babbitt's response when Myra becomes sick. In returning to the middle-class world whose faults he can now clearly see, Babbitt accepts responsibility for his choices. He accepts the middle-class world that he finds so unfulfilling not as something that happened to him but as something he helped create. Babbitt himself is unable to escape his creation, but through his son, Ted, whose decision to drop out of school Babbitt supports, Babbitt acknowledges and embraces the possibility that future generations might find a way out of the hollow morass middle-class society had become.

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