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Babbitt

Sinclair Lewis

Chapters 6-7

Chapter 5

Chapters 6-7, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary

After lunch, Babbitt gives a client a tour of a tenement. They share their mutual worship of all things mechanical and modern. Babbitt peppers his conversation with the language of mechanics, although he hardly understands the phrases he uses.

Afterward, Babbitt meets his father-in-law and business partner, Henry T. Thompson, to help him buy a car. The car salesman, Noel Ryland, belongs to the Booster's Club, so Babbitt secures a good price. Thompson hails from the Northeast, and Babbitt regards him as too "old-fashioned" and "provincial" because he didn't graduate from college. Ryland, a graduate of Princeton and a reader of foreign poetry, strikes Babbitt as an example of taking "civilization too far."

Stanley Graff, a salesman in Babbitt's business, becomes engaged, so he asks for a raise and a bonus. Babbitt criticizes Graff for his lack of gratitude and work ethic. The expressions on the other employees' faces indicate that they believe Graff deserves the raise. Babbitt makes a clumsy attempt to be cheerful before guiltily slinking out of the office. Floral Heights' bright modern appearance dispels his gloomy mood.

At dinner that evening, Babbitt announces that he might buy a new car. Because a family's car indicates its social status, the Babbitts debate at length the proper car to purchase. The debate soon becomes an argument, so Babbitt declares that he doesn't plan to buy the car until next year.

The Babbitt's living room contains the same decorations that furnish the other living rooms in Floral Heights. The books are largely unread, the fireplace unused, and jazz records collect dust. Ted grumbles about his English homework while Babbitt attends to the evening paper, particularly the comic strips. Babbitt believes Ted should study literature because it is necessary to get into college, although he also believes that high schools should teach practical subjects like Business English. Ted complains that he would prefer to take correspondence courses, reading aloud ads for them. Babbitt doesn't know yet what to think about the ads, but he is impressed by the profitable nature of the business. Nevertheless, he points out that his own college education has allowed him to rub elbows with the "finest gentlemen in Zenith." Babbitt declares that going to a real university, even though it means studying useless subjects like poetry and French, has "more class" than declaring one earned a "degree of Stamp-Licker" from "Bezuzus Mail-order University." Ted finally agrees, but he leaves to drive some of his friends to a chorus rehearsal instead of finishing his homework.

Myra points out that Ted is approaching an age at which Babbitt should talk to him about sex. Babbitt thinks it might put the wrong ideas into his head, but he resolves to have a conversation about "morals" with Ted, although he sets no specific date and time. Babbitt ponders the unachieved youthful ambitions he and Riesling once had. Riesling wanted to study the violin in Europe and Babbitt wanted to be a lawyer. Somehow, they both ended up marrying and settling into business. His engagement to Myra happened almost by accident, and their marriage was never characterized by "ardent" love. He wonders if she is as unhappy and discontent as he is. Suddenly, he smoothes Myra's hair, both pleasing and surprising her.

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