Literature Study GuidesBabbittChapters 23 24 Summary

Babbitt | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Babbitt | Chapters 23–24 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 23

Babbitt suffers greatly from the absence of Paul Riesling from his life. Being busy at work helps, but his solid friendship is gone. He has the large house to himself often since his wife is away visiting relatives, and he is disconsolate, finding no pleasure in being able to do what he wants without questions. He looks for reading materials in Verona's room and finds essays by H.L. Mencken (1880–1956), a famous social critic who often wrote against American conformism and criticized much of contemporary life. He knows only that he does not like such books. One evening, while walking in the fog, he encounters a very drunk Chum Frink, who goes on about having wasted his own literary life. The longer Babbitt is alone, the more depressed he becomes, wishing to share his thoughts with Paul or—because that's impossible—to find the elusive fairy girl of his frequent dreams. He is ribbed by his friends at the club when it becomes known that he attended a movie one afternoon in the midst of his loose-end crisis.

He tries talking personally to his stenographer, Theresa McGoun, but she has little to say. At a party given by his neighbor Eddie Swanson, he is very attentive to the young and slim Louetta Swanson, associating her with the fairy girl he really would like to find. She turns away his advances.

Chapter 24

After a deeply depressing visit to Paul Riesling in prison, where he feels his friend in a sense has already died, Babbitt finds himself interested in another woman. Tanis Judique needs an apartment after the death of her husband and comes to Babbitt-Thompson to find one. A strong immediate attraction brings them together as he drives her around to see places, while he also pursues Ida Putiak, a manicurist at his luxurious Pompeian Barber Shop. Less than half his age, she attends to his hands and makes incessant chatter about all the men who pursue her in her work with them. Ida joins in the general chorus of anti-Semitic comments in the book, none ever being challenged or commented on, but Babbitt is taken with her youth and freshness and invites her to dinner. As the taxi drives them back to Zenith, he kisses her, which at first is reciprocated, but she wiggles free and he feels embarrassed and defeated by an unschooled child.

Analysis

Babbitt flounders on his own without the anchor of Myra Babbitt's presence and with the crushing realization that he will not have Paul Riesling's important presence in his life. He can no longer see Paul as a younger artistic brother to help and confide in, so he tries to establish some basis for intimacy with any available woman in his life. He turns a business acquaintance, Tanis Judique, into a potential lover in his mind and takes out a manicurist younger than his daughter, in a desperate attempt to find someone resembling his elusive dream. He is humiliated when he realizes what he has been doing.

Sinclair Lewis shows Babbitt briefly discovering in his daughter's room a book of essays by H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). A journalist in Baltimore, Mencken was one of the leading writers in American media in the first half of the 20th century. He was outspoken and vitriolic, expressed highly racist views of Negroes and Jews and those who supported a liberal democracy. He had little regard for popular opinion and wrote about the decline of taste in the country led by "Homo Boobus," his term for uninformed views and conformity of Americans. Mencken was a great scholar of American English and vociferous in his defense of fine writing not tainted by cliché.

If Babbitt had been a real person and Zenith an actual city with the type of public relations and self-promotion Lewis piles on in the novel, Mencken would have found it a perfect target for his satiric and radical columns. Virtually all inhabitants of Zenith and all their occupations would have drawn his criticism. His party-of-one mentality was the polar opposite of the mass or herd instinct so prevalent in Babbitt, so Lewis makes no comment that Verona has been reading Mencken in her father's home and only that her father glances at the "improper essays" making fun of all that he tries to impose on the family's values. But there is no dialogue between Lewis and Mencken, and while Lewis went on to international fame and Nobel recognition, Mencken remained a widely read but eccentric and alienating figure. The fictional Babbitt is shown in all his imperfections as well as his naive and childish faith in his own abilities, while Mencken's views remained controversial and idiosyncratic in the negative tones he never abandoned.

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