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Sinclair Lewis

Chapters 14-17

Summary Chapters 14-17


Warren G. Harding is elected president, but Zenith is more concerned with its own mayoral race. Seneca Doane, a lawyer running on the labor ticket, runs against Lucas Prout, a conservative manufacturer of mattresses. Babbitt earns a reputation as an orator by delivering speeches in support of Prout's candidacy. Verona asks him to explain why a socialist policy should necessarily be doomed to failure, but Babbitt pleads that he is too worn out to "explain these complicated subjects."

Prout defeats Doane, and Babbitt's fervent campaign work is rewarded with insider information about the "extension of paved highways." At the Annual Address for the Zenith Real Estate Board, Babbitt delivers a speech praising Zenith as "the finest example of American life and prosperity." When Vergil Gunch notes that the local paper frequently publishes portions of his speeches, Babbitt wonders why he was ever dissatisfied with his life.

Babbitt is not invited to join the Tonawanda Country Club or the Union Club, so he places his hopes for social advancement on his college reunion, held at the Union Club. He makes a special effort to speak to Charles McKelvey, inviting him and his wife to dinner. McKelvey agrees only when Babbitt promises insider information about some real estate. However, the dinner goes badly, and the McKelveys leave as early as possible. Myra cries herself to sleep that night, and the McKelveys do not extend a return invitation for dinner.

Ed Overbrook, one of Babbitt's college classmates, is considered a "failure." Eager to develop a relationship with Babbitt, Overbrook invites the Babbitts to dinner. Babbitt and Myra accept as reluctantly as the McKelveys accepted their invitation. The Overbrooks' dinner goes badly, and the Babbitts leave early without extending a return invitation.

Babbitt throws himself into his various club meetings to assuage his disappointment regarding the McKelveys. The clubs are important to Zenith society because they provide men an escape from the fussy domestic sphere, as well as a means to network with other businessmen. Babbitt also spends his Sunday evenings with Riesling. When the Rieslings visit the Babbitts, even Zilla is silent while Riesling pours out his soul on his violin.

Reverend John Jennison Drew, the pastor at Babbitt's church, invites Babbitt, Chum Frink, and William Eathorne into his office to discuss ways to promote the Sunday School. When Drew asks Babbitt to help him promote the Sunday School, Babbitt eagerly accepts the task. Babbitt attends the Sunday School classes, but he finds them as dull as the Sunday School classes of his youth. His interest in the project is sparked by the bustling business of Sunday School journals, which are written in a business-like language.