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Sinclair Lewis


Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

What does Lewis's description of Babbitt's home tell us?

It reveals that the sleek, modern appearance of Babbitt's house is just that-- appearance. It is designed to show off the occupant's wealth more than anything else. Lewis states that Babbitt's house lacks the aura of a home, that it is as impersonal as a hotel room. He compares it to an ad in a magazine for "Cheerful Modern Houses for Medium Incomes," further emphasizing Zenith's empty commercialism. Lewis's description of Babbitt's house reveals the monotonous conformity of the American middle class. All of Babbitt's modern household appliances are the "standard" possessions of his class. Babbitt's house is simply a mass-produced, standardized symbol of middle-class affluence. It is like every other prosperous middle-class house in Zenith and presumably like middle-class houses all over the country.

Babbitt's daughter Verona professes "liberal opinions" and wants to have a socially responsible career. Why do her beliefs lack substance?

She wants to convince a department store to create a welfare department complete with a nice restroom and wicker chairs. Her entire outlook on life is heavily influenced by the middle-class worship of material objects, as her argument with Ted about the family car further reveals. Like many other middle-class college graduates, she is in love with the idea of liberalism more than anything else.

Babbitt supports business ethics, but he is unclear what he means by ethics. What does his actual behavior tell us about business ethics in Zenith?

Judging from Babbitt's confused thoughts regarding business ethics, it seems that Babbitt's "business ethics" are really about keeping up the appearance of being ethical. Again, Lewis exposes middle-class values as appearance without substance. Babbitt disapproves of people who operate openly as "shysters," but he doesn't disapprove of fleecing an ignorant customer. He and other businessmen regularly trade insider information and participate secretly in numerous corrupt business deals.

The Babbitts throw a dinner party to celebrate Babbitt's business success one spring. Why is it ironic that they should call their guests the "keenest intellects"?

Nothing about their guests suggests superior intellectual capacities. The conversation follows the conventional agenda of "required" topics. They believe the same things, and they say the same things. Chum Frink is supposedly a great "poet," but he really writes clumsy, unimpressive advertising jingles. The Babbitts and their guests do not have real appreciation or understanding of art and literature. Their knowledge extends only to money, status, and advertising. The séance for Dante reveals their ignorance of real literature. Dante's The Divine Comedy is thought to be one the world's greatest literary works, but one of Babbitt's guests dismisses him as a "wop." None of them has actually read Dante's work, but they still form opinions about it.

Howard Littlefield is supposed to be a "Great Scholar." Zenith's middle class is extremely anti-intellectual, yet Littlefield is a popular member of Zenith's middle class. Why?

How is Riesling different from the typical Zenith businessman?

Why are disappointed dreams and youthful ambitions a prevalent theme in Babbitt?

How does the mayoral race show that middle-class values threaten political democracy?

Why does Babbitt break up with Tanis? Why does he choose to end his rebellion and return to his conventional, middle-class life?

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by MariaDPettiford, October 27, 2017

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis, is a satirical novel about American culture and society that critiques the vacuity of middle-class life and the social pressure toward conformity.