These chapters of Babbitt find George Babbitt continuing his attempt to climb the social ladder of Zenith society. He attends a real-estate convention, becomes an orator and supporter of conservative politicians and vice president of the Zenith booster club. Babbitt receives a great shock in chapter 22, which I won’t spoil here, but if you can’t wait, I’ll talk about it in the discussion section below. After this shock, Babbitt finds his life completely meaningless and tries to make it meaningful by finding a woman to have an affair with, among them is his client Tanis Judique.
Discussion (more spoilers!)
In chapter 22, Babbitt finds out that his best friend Paul has shot his nagging wife Zilla. She recovers, but Paul is sent to prison and George Babbit finds his life meaningless without Paul’s company. Something about Paul’s situation really troubles Babbitt. He has everything that should make a man happy, chiefly material success. This episode starts to crack Babbitt’s ideas about the meaning of life and happiness.
The relationship between Paul and Zilla is also relevant to my research on the bildungsroman genre. Paul is unhappy with his life. The impulse to conformity in Zenith is too strong and he feels trapped. So in the spectrum between freedom and socialization, Paul is pushed to far in the direction of socialization. He reacts badly by shooting his wife, but this is the first really strong episode in Babbitt that shows people trying to escape the conformity and become more freely developed individuals.