Literature Study GuidesBabbittChapters 11 12 Summary

Babbitt | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Babbitt | Chapters 11–12 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 11

In New York, as they change trains for Maine, Babbitt also finds reason to be proud of Zenith: "The average fellow in Zenith has got more Individual Initiative than the fourflushers here," though he has no evidence for his claims. Before passing out, Paul says his dream remains sailing to Europe, but he cannot even verbalize what he will see, just that he must go there. Babbitt would be interested in Europe since it does not have Prohibition.

Once they reach Maine they feel they're in a kind of paradise. They change into loose and comfortable clothes and enjoy every aspect of the wilderness. They can speak deeply and honestly about how unhappy they have been with their Zenith lives, but they express hope that they will return there revivified and in far better shape. When Babbitt's family does come to join him, he is able to maintain his equilibrium and look forward to more progress in Zenith.

Chapter 12

Babbitt returns to Zenith with hope of controlling some of his appetites, chiefly embarking on new plans to stop smoking cigars—yet failing again. He is determined to "hustle" more and speed up his pace for more profit. Lewis includes another lyrical passage, in which "all about [Babbitt] the city was hustling, for hustling's sake." Each sentence in the paragraph begins with "Men were hustling"—for trains, for lunch, for business appointments, and ultimately to make more money, "to hustle through the vacations which the hustling doctors had ordered."

Babbitt rushes through golf because he is becoming so hectic and regularly takes his wife and daughter to see a film so they can be part of the huge crowd of 3,000 in the audience at the Chateau motion picture theater, featuring a 50-piece orchestra. His taste in film is limited to those showing girls in bathing suits, policemen or cowboys shooting, and spaghetti-eating comedians. His life is entering a period of much activity as he will continue to play out his ambitions in Zenith.

Analysis

Maine provides a slow-motion escape for both Babbitt and Riesling. Everything about it offers them the chance to discover a way of life opposite to the falseness of Zenith and its relentless self-promotion and novelty. Time stands still for the men; they make their own schedules with no profit motives and nothing to prove to the others. Riesling is obviously deeply troubled, perhaps even suicidal, as he views the ships in New York harbor; he knows he cannot board without the oppressive presence of his wife. Babbitt's natural optimism will not fail them in Maine, and the getaway is all they could desire.

Their batteries are so recharged that it may seem the novel is headed to a better place for the characters, but as soon as the magic atmosphere dissipates, Babbitt throws himself all the more into "hustling." He pays no attention to his own previous level of fatigue and, instead, turns up the pace for the sake of business. Lewis uses another lyrical section to emphasize what is going on in the population's lives. This time it's only a paragraph, but one loaded with rhetorical repetition that packs in men rushing and hustling incessantly. It is all basically about money, all the daily activities connected with pursuing financial success. If someone earned $5,000 one year, he must aim for $10,00 and then $20,000 immediately after. Ominously, "the men who had broken down immediately after" were still hustling to catch trains to busy vacations.

Hustling does not mean only "racing a clock"; a hustler is someone out to convince others of something questionable for his own profit, someone who will play on the margins of honesty and truth, as Babbitt has often said he does in all his self-promotion with real estate. The paragraph in a sense is his credo, unfortunately taking the place of all the pleasure he has had in the slow pace of time and life in Maine.

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