Sinclair Lewis Babbitt is a satire of materialistic, shallow American life in the 1920s. Set in the fictional town of Zenith, its location is meant to stand for any American city.
George Babbitt is a real estate salesman, and so far, the only value he holds is sales. The first seven chapters go through Babbitt’s typical, shallow day as he goes to work, makes a predatory business deal, gives his vacuous political opinions and manages his family, completely self-assured that his life-style is the best and only correct way to live. Capitalism and conformity are the key virtues.
Every once and a while, there are glimpses that Babbitt’s friends aren’t totally happy with their similar lives. One of his friends complains he needs a vacation to get away, another, by trade an adman (Babbitt’s friends refer to this man as a “practical” poet, longs to have been able to read Dante.
As we leave off here, Babbitt goes on a camping trip with his friend Paul, and finds that he isn’t satisfied, but he really doesn’t know why and the vacation does not help.
Something that I found interesting in the initial chapters is how Lewis describes Babbitt’s family life. Babbitt lives and interacts with the people of his family but it is “not a home.” There is often a connection between how a righter describes family life, or domestic marriage and how the writer describes the society he is writing about. The “social contract” that keeps a family together is often metaphorically compared to the social contract of society at large. Here Lewis alludes to the vacuous and shallow nature of American political and social life through the vacuous interactions of Babbitt and his family.
Babbitt can be found for free online pretty much anywhere, project gutenburg, amazon kindle or in audio format though Itunes University through the University of South Florida. Or for those of you who prefer the old fashioned paper copy, I’ve provided a link through Amazon.