Rebecca West, in her 1922 essay “Babbitt,” makes a statement that encapsulates Lewis’s attitude toward the world of his novel Babitt: “To write satire . . . one must hate the world so much that one’s hatred strikes sparks, but one must hate it only because it disappoints one’s invincible love of it.”
This statement also illustrates strikingly the novelist’s disappointment in its protagonist, Babbitt. Here is a man with a dim perception that what he has accepted as the “good life” is not entirely satisfying; yet he lacks the power to do more than dream of the “fairy child” who beckons him to a better way. For Lewis, George F. Babbitt is the Everyman of his time.
In the real estate business with his father-in-law, Babbitt has convinced himself that he is indispensable as a facilitator. He does not think himself dishonest when he “puts over a deal” whereby a client receives information about a piece of property before the seller is aware of its increased value. He loves his wife, Myra, and their three children, but it is only in times of crisis that he gives them an honest thought. Supposedly a graduate of the state university, Babbitt is really quite ignorant, and in the “poetry” created by one of his fellow Boosters Lewis has created a hilarious put-down of popular taste in the arts through the verses of T. Cholmondeley Frink, who also writes “Ads, that Add.”
George Babbitt thinks that he has many friends, whereas in reality he has but one, Paul Reisling, and it is with Paul on a few days vacation in the Maine woods th Babbitt finds his only true happiness. It is the closeness of a friendship that temporarily frees Babbitt from his boring life in Zenith, but this scene serves also as the author’s insistence that nature has a salutary effect on all human beings, even the silliest. Paul’s wife, Zilla, is a vindictive shrew who finally frustrates her husband to the point of shooting her in the shoulder. In all sincerity, Babbitt goes to Paul’s lawyer in an offer to concoct a story to make the crime seem less deliberate, but his suggestion is refused, and Paul goes to state prison for three years. George misses him sorely.
At this time George’s wife, Myra Babbitt, and her youngest child, Tinka, go East to visit relatives, leaving only George, his daughter Verona, and his son, Ted. Busy with their own lives, the young people are unconcerned and do little to assuage George’s loneliness. His group at the Athletic Club is no help, and he begins to think of female companionship as a viable option. After Babbitt has been further depressed by a visit to Paul in prison, he makes several timorous attempts at flirting with his neighbor’s wife and with a young manicurist. Both these women rebuff him, but an attractive widow, Tanis Judique, accepts his attentions after he has found her “just the right apartment.”
He feels guilty about his affair and anxious about his activities, which include...
(The entire page is 778 words.)
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