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Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
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Babbitt (1922)

by Sinclair Lewis

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From the beginning it is clear that things are never going to work out in a way which causes Babbitt to feel personal fulfillment and any sort of a real happiness, and he seems to be aware of this. To keep his livelihood he has to participate in the conformist culture of business Zenith, and this culture actively squashes independent thought. He did have one opportunity for real human interaction, with Paul Riesling, but that opportunity is taken away. Sometimes George Babbitt searches for some moral compass but he always ends up disappointed in the people who he thinks might have this and his understanding of what is ethical does not change.

We still have this issue. We have become more sophisticated in language use but the we-are-good and they-are-bad sort of polar thinking has continued in various formats. Independent thought and action is tolerated more in some places than others, but it often seems to be seen as lack of willingness to engage in the larger spirit of community. Babbitt experienced this expectation of conformity spread throughout his whole life and he cannot in the end escape the advantages of having a group of people wielding power to support one of its own. This may be because Babbitt has no sense of his individual identity separate from the groups that have claimed him.

This was a better and ultimately more enduring book than Arrowsmith. Even though the reader knows from the beginning that Babbitt is not headed anywhere good, there are moments of humor and compassion for him. ( )
  karmiel | Aug 20, 2015 |
The book starts slowly and the main character George Babbit is fairly repulsive in his conservatism and prejudice, not unlike many people in our current society. His general ignorance and hippocracy are almost laughable, if it were not reflective of the sad state of affairs of many people. The story becomes more intersting after George's friend is sent to jail. His changes in behavior are in stark contrast to his earlier behavior. After his wife's illness it appears that George has compromised but I find that he is not much improved. The satire of the story is its stenght but I still find it shallow. ( )
  GlennBell | Jul 15, 2015 |
"He was thinking. It was coming to him that perhaps all life as he knew it and vigorously practiced [sic] it was futile; that heaven as portrayed by the Reverend Dr. John Jennison Drew was neither probable nor very interesting; that he hadn't much pleasure out of making money; that it was of doubtful worth to rear children merely that they might rear children who would rear children. What was it all about? What did he want?"

This portrait of a stodgy conformist in the early part of the 20th century holds up well in today's world. More character study than plot-driven adventure, the novel follows George F. Babbitt through what might be considered a mid-life crisis. Motivated almost exclusively by his desire to be liked, respected, and successful, Babbitt is steeped in the class judgments of upper class America. He is absolutely blind to the imbedded paradoxes: his disdain for those with less money or prestige and his resentment and longing for the attention of those with more are beautifully rendered by Lewis. The reader can see the tongue planted firmly within the author's cheek.

I would no more desire to spend an evening with George F. Babbitt than I would desire to have a root canal, but reading the novel about his foray into self-determination was oddly enjoyable. ( )
1 vote EBT1002 | May 31, 2015 |
I knew that Babbitt was a satire but I didn't expect it to be so sharp or so applicable to today's world. What saves it from being just ugly and biting is that Babbitt is oddly sympathetic. He's also infuriating and obnoxious at times, but Lewis seems to be telling us he's a product of his time and we can't expect much. It's a harsh indictment of American society, especially the upwardly mobile middle class and the already entrenched upper class, and it hits uncomfortably close to home in certain ways. While dated to some extent, Babbitt still manages to have something important to say, even 90+ years later. ( )
1 vote katiekrug | May 26, 2015 |
I enjoyed Babbitt much more than I thought I would. It's not easy at the start, as the reader gets thrown into a rah rah early 20th century American business environment in the fictional city of Zenith. There isn't a whole lot of plot; it's more a novel of characters, including, of course, George Babbitt. He initially appears to be a pumped-up, full of himself aspirant to the 1%. For a large portion of the book he says all the right things at various local community clubs and political events about squashing unions and rewarding the go-getters needed to get the country back on its feet after the first world war. He gets a reputation as an orator, and his real estate business prospers. But even as he becomes a leader in Zenith's "boosterism", underneath it all he yearns to slip away with the fairy child of his dreams:

"He was somewhere among unknown people who laughed at him. He slipped away, ran down the paths of a midnight garden, and at the gate the fairy child was waiting. Her dear and tranquil hand caressed his cheek. He was gallant and wise and well-beloved; warm ivory were her arms; and beyond the perilous moors the brave sea glittered."

After a friend's life takes a disastrous turn, Babbitt rebels and for a time searches for the fairy child among women of his acquaintance. He is reminded of his more liberal views when young, and begins to see his own rebellious son differently.

The book was a huge success in its time, and in 1930 Lewis won the Nobel Prize, the first American to do so. He writes really well, and more than once I thought this was what Updike was trying to do, with less success. Babbitt is a satire of crass American commercialism and superficial optimism, but the book also has a heart. "Babbitt" became a word in our lexicon defined as ""a person and especially a business or professional man who conforms unthinkingly to prevailing middle-class standards". To me, that definition is unfair, as Georgie Babbitt wasn't an unthinking conformist. He yearned for escape with the fairy child, but determinedly, with "pep", he tried to make the best of the hand he saw himself dealt. A four star read. ( )
1 vote jnwelch | May 26, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (26 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sinclair Lewisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Edith Wharton.
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The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553214861, Mass Market Paperback)

When Babbitt was first published in 1922, fans gleefully hailed its scathing portrait of a crass, materialistic nation; critics denounced it as an unfair skewering of the American businessman. Sparking heated literary debate, Babbitt became a controversial classic, securing Sinclair Lewis’s place as one of America’s preeminent social commentators.

Businessman George F. Babbitt loves the latest appliances, brand names, and the Republican Party. In fact, he loves being a solid citizen even more than he loves his wife. But Babbitt comes to resent the middle-class trappings he has worked so hard to acquire. Realizing that his life is devoid of meaning, he grows determined to transcend his trivial existence and search for greater purpose. Raising thought-provoking questions while yielding hilarious consequences, and just as relevant today as ever, Babbitt’s quest for meaning forces us to confront the Babbitt in ourselves—and ponder what it truly means to be an American.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:59 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Tale of a coniving, prosperous real estate man who becomes totally corrupt.

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