Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951)

by Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951)

Type of Work:

Social commentary


Zenith, a mythical Midwestern American
city; 1920s

Principal Characters

George F. Babbitt, a middle-aged real
estate agent

Myra, his wife

Ted, their teenage son

Paul Reisling, George's buddy from college

Zilla, Paul's nagging wife

Tanis Judique, George's mistress

Seneca Doane, a radical lawyer and George's
former college friend

Story Overveiw

As another day began in Zenith, sleeping

George Babbitt fought to ignore the morning sounds - the milk truck, the
furnace-man, a dog barking - so that he could cling to the dream he was
having. He had the same dream often. It involved a "fairy child" who discerned"gallant youth" where "others saw but George Babbitt."

But now the day beckoned. George pulled
himself from bed, bathed, shaved, dressed, and then trudged downstairs
to eat. As usual, Babbitt was a grumpy breakfast partner; a foul mood was
expected of a respectable businessman. He grumbled at his nearly adult
children, Verona and Ted, and argued with Myra, his wife. No one in the
house appreciated all he did for them.

Babbitt gulped down his food, "laid unmoving
lips against [Myra's] unblushing cheek," and left for work. Driving toward
his office in down town Zenith, he admired the "bigness" of the city. In
fact, "Babbitt respected bigness in anything: in mountains, jewels, muscles,
wealth, or words... " At the Reeves Building where the Babbitt-Thompson

Realty Company had its offices, he wrote an advertisement designed to entice
buyers to purchase the company's cemetery plots, then phoned his old school
friend Paul Reisling and made arrangements for lunch.

Babbitt always ate in the Zenith Athletic

Club, and today was no exception. He normally sat with "the Roughnecks,"
an intimate group of big businessmen, but today he and Paul sat by themselves.

Paul was more than a little depressed with his shrewish wife Zilla, who
constantly badgered him, embarrassed him in public, and treated him like
a little boy.

While the two friends complained about
their colorless lives, they struck on the idea of getting away to Maine
by themselves that next summer to "just loaf ... and smoke and cuss and
be natural." Babbitt assured Paul that he would arrange everything with
their wives.

The day ended with Babbitt firing a salesman
for being too honest. At home, as usual, Babbitt ate dinner, the kids left
the house, and he plunked himself on the sofa for some lazy reading. But
a seed of dissatisfaction swelled up in him; he vowed that the following
year would bring changes in his life.

The next year began well for Babbitt. Money
poured in as he secretly bought real estate options in a Zenith suburb,

Linton, in anticipation of "the public announcement that the Linton Avenue

Car Line would be extended." Babbitt told Myra about his plan to run up
to Maine with Paul early that spring and bullied Zilla into letting Paul
go, too.

Paul and Babbitt arrived in Maine's north
woods, and both found the climate, surroundings, fishing, hiking and camaraderie,
soothing. Paul started looking at his distant wife with a more forgiving
eye. He began to feel that his marriage would somehow be different - better;
maybe he could "go back and start over again." Babbitt, on the other band,

"sank into irritability," as though he had "uncovered layer upon layer
of hidden weariness." But he still promised himself that his life would
be, from then on, less hurried and hectic.

After his return from Maine, Babbitt was
given the opportunity to address the State Association of Real Estate Boards
at their annual convention. He tried for days to come up with a speech
to express his new-found relaxation; to somehow convince businessmen that
they needed to see life from a deeper perspective. But just before the
convention he trashed his notes, and, instead, parrotted the ideas he knew
his peers wanted to hear. Enthusiastically, he proclaimed the real estate
profession, Zenith, and every good thing about the city, as "God's gift
to earth."

Babbitt's speech was a success. One of

Zenith's newspapers even printed his picture.

After that, things really took off. That

November, Harding won the Presidential election, but in Zenith the mayoral
race was the fight that really counted. Seneca Doane, a radical lawyer
and Babbitt's former college acquaintance - was running on a liberal labor
ticket, while his opponent, Lucas Prout, had the support of "the banks,
the Chamber of Commerce, all the decent newspapers, and George F. Babbitt."

"Prout represented honest industry, Seneca Doane represented whining laziness,"

Babbitt told campaign audiences. In the end, Prout - and by extension,

Babbitt - won.

Soon thereafter, Babbitt was picked to
serve on a church committee formed to "build up