CliffsNotes on Lewis' Babbitt

CliffsNotes on Lewis' Babbitt

CliffsNotes on Lewis' Babbitt

CliffsNotes on Lewis' Babbitt

Synopsis

As one reads Babbitt, one is continually aware of Sinclair Lewis' fierce anger with America's mediocrity, a mediocrity usually expressed by a multitude of clichés. Lewis thinks that too many Americans often say the things that they are expected to say, that they act exactly as they are expected to act, and that they are extremely conventional as far as individuality and originality are concerned. It is as though the Americans whom he describes were living in a very expensive, pleasantly colored, cookie cutter-type, clichéd 1920s Dark Age.

Shooting arrows at American business and the ethic of self-advancement, Lewis gives us Babbitt, a social-climbing, hopelessly middle-class oaf. By skewering the borgeousie, Babbitt gives us social criticism and a new type of character that reappears in American arts and letters.

Excerpt

Babbitt always sees his children several times each day, but aside from his concern about their expenditures, he never pays much attention to them. Now, however, Kenneth Escott’s attentions to Verona arouse his interest. Babbitt also starts to worry about Ted. His son is a good athlete and mechanic and is involved in all the social activities of his high school, but his academic grades are low. Furthermore, Ted seems opposed to attending college or law school; even worse, the boy is evidently very fond of Eunice Littlefield. Babbitt likes the girl — he has known her since she was a child — but he considers her flighty and immature. Her greatest ambition is to become a movie star.

Toward the end of his senior year, Ted has a party at home for his classmates. Babbitt and Myra try to be helpful, but they soon learn that the youngsters do not appreciate their efforts. In addition, Babbitt is scandalized to discover that the teenagers drink and smoke and behave in what he feels is an unhealthy “adult manner.” Howard Littlefield, Eunice’s father, drops in on the party for a while, and he is as shocked as Babbitt. He takes his daughter home.

Babbitt’s family problems increase when Myra’s parents sell their house and move to a downtown hotel; now, every week or so, Babbitt has to spend a dull evening with them because they are lonely. Babbitt’s mother, who still lives in the rural up-state village of Catawba, where he was born, decides to visit Zenith. She stays at his house for nearly a month and constantly embarrasses him by telling stories about his childhood and his dead father. Shortly afterward, Martin, Babbitt’s half-brother, brings his family for a short visit. Babbitt dislikes Martin, but forces himself to be nice for their mother’s sake. Martin is rude and surly, and his behavior makes Babbitt’s effort more difficult. All of these incidents increase Babbitt’s discontent with life.

Babbitt is ill for awhile in February, but soon learns to enjoy the solitude and attention of being in a sick bed. He reviews his affairs while recovering. He is dissatisfied, but as soon as he is well again, he returns to his old routines.

Analysis

In this chapter, Lewis draws a portrait of Babbitt as a man growing old. Babbitt doesn’t understand why Ted isn’t bursting with pep and ambition, why Ted’s grades are not top-rate, or why Ted dates Eunice Littlefield. Babbitt doesn’t understand bobbed hair, short skirts, rolled stockings, or women who smoke. His heroes and goals are not his children’s. Even more disturbing is the fact that he is treated like an old man . . .

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