Literature Study GuidesBabbittChapters 29 30 Summary

Babbitt | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Babbitt | Chapters 29–30 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 29

Babbitt delves deeper and deeper into new, dangerous personal situations. He appears very smitten with Tanis Judique and manages through lies to spend much time at the apartment she rented from him. He speaks more openly at the athletic club and continues to surprise and dismay his former close friends there with his words. He fears that his wife, Myra Babbitt, will discover the affair with Tanis but continues it anyway. Then Myra goes away for several weeks and he loses all control. Tanis has a changing group of acquaintances and hangers-on who party at her place in a raucous group they call "The Bunch." Various odd women and men of doubtful quality are involved, people with whom Babbitt would never have associated before. He is drawn into it, supplies bootleg drink, and becomes known as the older "Uncle Georgie" to people he barely knows but with whom he parties compulsively.

He also socializes more with his Floral Heights neighbors, who all notice the changes in him. He is often drunk and hung over in his own house and comes to hate his behavior. Yet, he indulges his taste for freedom that is offered compared to his previous way of life. Inevitably, he is seen around town by some of the men, and word spreads. When Vergil Gunch sees him with Tanis having lunch one day in what is not a business setting, Vergil comes immediately to the office to press his advantage over Babbitt. The men are organizing a "Good Citizens' League" to combat what they see as dangerous liberal—even "red"—influences still present in Zenith. Babbitt's powers as orator and the connections he still has would be useful to them. It is a group totally against nonconformity and free thought, anyone espousing what they see as "crank" views out of the mainstream. A chief target is the lawyer Seneca Doane. On the basis of the Babbitt they knew, unquestionably he will affiliate and help lead it.

But this is a new Babbitt—having freed himself, he hopes, from much of his past conformity and caught in the midst of a hopeless extramarital affair—and he cannot agree to anything his closest friends demand of him. He agrees only to think it over, which will not satisfy anyone and leaves himself even more exposed.

Chapter 30

Myra Babbitt returns, and both she and Babbitt are aware of the distance between them in their "matrimonial geography" after all the years together. He attempts to be affectionate for a time, and she is her usual solicitous self toward the management of the household, but their conversations are more complaints than agreements. He seems surprised when she reminds him of all the economies she does to save money, even carrying her own groceries from the store.

She convinces him to attend a special meeting of mostly women that has caught her interest. The "Higher Illumination League," seeking insights into the "Sun Spirit" of life, includes optimism against the destructive tendencies of life and promotes elements of Buddhist, Christian Scientist, and Baha'i faiths into a type of vague pantheistic philosophy.

In her way, Myra is trying to address her unhappiness, but Babbitt cannot respond in any way other than disapproval at what he sees as useless oratory from the speaker, Mrs. Opal Emerson Mudge. They quarrel more and more sharply, greatly distressing Myra.

Analysis

The chronicle of Babbitt and Tanis Judique is a familiar one for all adulterous relationships. While she is free to be with him, he is taking great risks in not only spending large amounts of time with her at the apartment but also in the town itself, where he has worked to make himself such a familiar public figure. He gives himself without limit to her when he can, and the ease with which he ran his business office before—relying on persuasion and half-truths as well as outright lies without concern for ethics—serves him well in this affair. If he could be solely with Tanis, he might find actual satisfaction aside from the physical, but she loves to entertain and has a dubious group of unattractive friends and bootleg buddies who call themselves "The Bunch." Not so different from Babbitt's former "bunch" of male business and club buddies, Tanis's circle comes and goes around her all the time. Babbitt is drawn into it for what they can get from him and what time he manages to spend with Tanis, but they are all strangers to one another, from very different social backgrounds, and dependable only in the sense that they are always ready to socialize. Each of them is portrayed negatively—spinsterish, flat-chested, effeminate, sarcastic. They are by no means people Babbitt would formerly have associated with, but he now buzzes around them every chance he can find and often drops discretion to be seen openly where they are because Tanis will be present. All his appetites are indulged, and he is far the worse for his excesses of behavior and consumption.

When Vergil Gunch sees them together, Babbitt becomes susceptible to pressure from the head of the Boosters. In the conservative political environment of 1921, any hint of softness regarding what was viewed as undesirable to American society and prosperity is questionable. Gunch comes to Babbitt's office to test his loyalties, as the men have now been seeing a different Babbitt through his behavior and views. Babbitt's willingness to give full support to the Good Citizens' League is a sort of litmus test of who he still is and whether his "bunch" can continue to count on him. While Babbitt forestalls making a commitment to the group, he will have to deal with the men at some point because they now have indications that he has succumbed to "new ideas."

Babbitt has previously dealt with oratory on vague principles coming from his own pen as he became a renowned public speaker. Hearing Mrs. Opal Emerson Mudge espouse supposedly illuminating insights for positive thought taken from a half dozen exotic unformed semireligious sources, he feels he can discern the lack of substance in her words, which seem to stimulate and please the naive female audience at the hotel. Rather than building comprehension, even in vague terms, between him and Myra, the presentation drives them further apart into resentment. Her hopes for getting through to him lead only to serious recriminations about the life they have been leading and the harsh words he now unleashes toward her usually submissive self.

With the memory of the explosive nature of Paul Riesling and Zilla Riesling's marriage and its tragic outcome, the narrative seems to be moving the Babbitts as well toward drama and confrontation.

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