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Literary Devices in Babbitt
Point of View: Babbitt employs a limited third-person narrator. The narration is an example of free indirect discourse, in which the narrative voice blends elements of both third-person and first-person perspectives. In Babbitt, the narrator is capable of slipping into George Babbitt’s consciousness, momentarily narrating his thoughts and feelings.
Satire: Whether or not Babbitt ought to be considered an outright satire, much of Sinclair Lewis’s writing in the novel is satirical. One of Lewis’s central purposes in Babbitt is to expose the foolishness and emptiness prevalent in middle-class Midwestern American life. The tone is wry, ironic, and often darkly humorous, holding the novel’s characters at a critical distance in order to reveal their many weaknesses and self-deceptions.
Literary Devices Examples in Babbitt:
"Myra Babbitt—Mrs. George F. Babbitt—was definitely mature...." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice that Myra Babbitt is described by the third-person narrator who adopts George’s perspective. In this way, the audience sees things through George; Myra is portrayed in terms of George’s lack of attraction to her.
"He looked regretfully at the blanket—forever a suggestion to him of freedom and heroism. He had bought it for a camping trip which had never come off. It symbolized gorgeous loafing, gorgeous cursing, virile flannel shirts...." See in text (Chapter I)
Here, the narrator juxtaposes city life with the natural world. The natural world is set up as a symbol of masculinity, freedom, and beauty, while the life he is living, life in the city, is implicitly the opposite. This small moment suggests that Babbitt is not entirely satisfied with his life in the city.
"They were neither citadels nor churches, but frankly and beautifully office-buildings...." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice the satirical tone of this observation about the novel’s setting. The narrator juxtaposes citadels and churches, the architectural masterpieces of Europe and the old world, to office-buildings, the achievement of the new world. Unlike citadels and churches, office-buildings lack majesty and grandeur. This suggests that U.S. culture and the U.S. itself lacks grandeur.
"Zenith..." See in text (Chapter I)
The word “zenith” is a noun that means the highest point of the sky overhead. Figuratively, it means the highest point or state, the culmination or climax. This definition of the word can be interpreted as a satirical comment on U.S. culture. If the town of Zenith, an ordinary midwestern town full of office buildings, is the pinnacle of U.S. achievement, then it mocks the culture and the success it stands for.
"his motor car was poetry and tragedy, love and heroism...." See in text (Chapter III)
The automobile has traditionally been a major symbol of modernity. The over-the-top language used to describe both his office as his “pirate ship” and his car as “poetry and tragedy, love and heroism” take this sentiment into the absurd. As with many moments throughout his narrative, Lewis uses hyperbolic language to poke fun at Zenith’s middle-class capitalist values.
"the barrenness of Bellevue—blocks of wooden houses, garages, little shops, weedy lots...." See in text (Chapter XXVIII)
The French word bellevue translates to “beautiful view.” It’s ironic, then, that Bellevue’s skyline is barren and unpleasant to behold. That Babbitt believes that Tanis could improve Bellevue simply through her presences shows how he still ascribes too much importance to looks and sophistication.
"With true masculine wiles he not only convinced himself that she had injured him but, by the loudness of his voice and the brutality of his attack, he convinced her also, and presently he had her apologizing for his having spent the evening with Tanis. He went up to bed well pleased, not only the master but the martyr of the household...." See in text (Chapter XXXII)
Lewis satirizes Babbitt’s perceived masculine dominance in this passage. It’s absurd for Myra to take responsibility for Babbitt’s affair, but he bullies her loudly enough that she concedes that she has somehow wronged him anyway. Readers will note that Myra, not Babbitt, is the true long-suffering martyr of the family, and that Babbitt’s mastery is achieved through unsavory means.
"all of them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary...." See in text (Chapter XXXIV)
Again, Lewis satirizes what he views as the failings of democracy. Though conformity in most ways is expected, it guarantees no monetary benefits or equal distribution of wealth. There is no room for difference, except in prosperity, making the whole system inherently unfair.