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Babbitt

Sinclair Lewis

Chapters 8-12

Chapters 6-7

Chapters 8-12, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary

Business is brisk that spring, so Babbitt and Myra throw a dinner party for Zenith's "keenest intellects." Babbitt visits a speakeasy to purchase gin from the surly proprietor, Healey Hanson. Everyone rejoices when Babbitt brings out the cocktails. In the warmth of alcohol, Babbitt decides his guests are wonderful friends. The men hold forth that Prohibition is fine for the working classes, but it is an infringement on the personal liberty of men like themselves.

When the good cheer of the cocktails wears off, Babbitt admits to himself that he is bored and wishes he could retreat to Maine. Meanwhile, the guests play bridge and hold a séance to summon Dante. After the guests depart, Myra senses that Babbitt didn't enjoy the party despite his protestations to the contrary. He confesses that he has felt rather tired of late and wishes to go to Maine a week earlier than Myra and the children. Myra's feelings are hurt, but when she sees how upset Babbitt is, she understands his need for time alone. She suggests that he take Riesling with him.

Babbitt and Myra visit Riesling and Zilla's impressively modern apartment. When Myra suggests that Riesling go with Babbitt to Maine early, Zilla accuses Riesling of cheating on her. A bitter argument ensues, and Babbitt, roused to his friend's defense, attacks Zilla for being a cruel, nagging wife. Zilla bursts into tears and admits that he is right but only because she gets pleasure out of the whole dramatic scene. Babbitt magnanimously forgives her, and Zilla agrees to let Riesling go to Maine a week early. Later, Myra criticizes Babbitt for being so cruel. She explains that Zilla has nothing to do all day, so she vents her frustration on her husband. Babbitt knows she is right, but he is happy that Riesling can now go to Maine early with him.

On the train to New York, the conversation between the traveling businessmen in the smoking car is full of talk about Prohibition and the world of business. The men complain about the black porter's lack of respect. They are quite happy that there are laws restricting immigration because they feel that the "foreigners" are overrunning the country. Disgusted, Riesling leaves the car; Babbitt stays behind.

Upon their arrival in New York, Riesling asks Babbitt if they can go look at the ocean liners. He wanted to go study the violin in Europe during his youth, and he still hopes to do so one day. However, when they see the liners, Riesling becomes distraught and wishes to leave, much to Babbitt's surprise. They recover their good cheer by engaging in fishing and late night poker games in Maine. When their families arrive, Myra urges them to act as if they weren't there, but her complaining puts an end to the late night poker games. Nevertheless, Babbitt feels refreshed by the vacation. He resolves to do things differently in the year to come, hoping that he will be elected president of the Real Estate Board. Upon his return to Zenith, Babbitt again makes an unsuccessful attempt to quit smoking and to make a hobby of going to baseball games. He does play golf once a week, however, and goes to the movies weekly with his wife and Tinka.

Commentary

The Babbitts throw a party to celebrate Babbitt's successful, likely corrupt, spring business. The dinner party has nothing to do with celebrating friendships but everything to do with showing off and improving one's social status. His attraction to his guests is based on their perceived social status, not their individual personalities.

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