Literature Study GuidesBabbittChapters 3 4 Summary

Babbitt | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Babbitt | Chapters 3–4 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 3

Babbitt greatly values his car and considers it "poetry and tragedy, love and heroism." He drives and gazes on his neighborhood and the city he loves. His lives on Chatham Road, and his neighbors, the Doppelbrau and Littlefield families, all solidly middle class and respectable, communicate with him in superficial suburban friendliness. Sam Doppelbrau works with a leading firm of bathroom fixtures. Babbitt notes that sometimes he and his wife host noisy parties. Howard Littlefield has a PhD from Yale and is the most educated man in the area, representing the important streetcar company that provides public transportation. He seems intensely intellectual in many areas of knowledge, including foreign history and various sciences. His daughter, Eunice Littlefield, is a close social companion of Ted Babbitt.

Babbitt takes great care to maintain his car and enjoys special service from the mechanic Sylvester Moon, with whom he also discusses politics.

He drives through Zenith admiring all the modern and efficient buildings he has helped broker; in his office in the handsome Reeves Building, he enters with the authority of one in charge. His staff includes the outside salesman Stanley Graff; Chester Laylock, another salesman for the Glen Oriole project of the firm; and the attractive stenographer, Theresa McGoun, who works directly with Babbitt on all his copious sales and promotional writing. His style is long-winded and florid with many clichés; she improves it by simplifying his excesses and pompous voice. He admires her physically as well, finding some signs in her of the fairy girl from his passionate dreams.

Chapter 4

Babbitt spends a lot of time with his salesmen to polish his favored type of advertising. With Chester Laylock he discusses various rhymed slogans and ads, ultimately deciding that he prefers his own work. He continues his own battle against his smoking habit: "He stopped smoking at least once a month ... He did everything, in fact, except stop smoking." As someone who wishes to be in control, his inability to stop troubles him.

Babbitt makes a lunch appointment with Paul Riesling, his oldest friend and the person he values more than anyone else other than himself and his youngest daughter. Riesling was his college roommate and confidant, and Babbitt treasures any time they can spend together.

Babbitt is shown as possessing a set stock of values that show him as being a high-class realtor in the city he loves: "He serenely believed that the one purpose of the real-estate business was to make money for George F. Babbitt." He tells the Boosters' Club of his dedication to the business and claims to be completely aware of all aspects of life in Zenith. The text, however, indicates that he knows next to nothing of anything beyond standard facts and figures and has no interest at all in the lives of any one person. He expresses numerous bigotries and prejudices against anyone not belonging in Zenith. The pursuit of one particular real-estate deal brings him great satisfaction and a $450 commission (a large sum to him). He enters the deal with a real-estate speculator, Conrad Lyte, to hoodwink a local grocer, Archibald Purdy, and sell him a piece of overpriced commercial property through unethical inside information. Babbitt calls this his guiding "Vision," the way in which he bullies people to overpay because he withholds information from them that they should have, and his plans for the future will always give him greater profits.

Analysis

Much is revealed of Babbitt's character as someone giving the appearance of total respectability and clichéd ideals while concealing bigotry, snobbishness, a lack of ethics, and an acceptance of corruption masked as self-interest. He sees himself as having made vital contributions on a class-conscious basis to the life of the city and providing capital for growth and development, but all his values rest on acceptance and defense of the status quo and a sense of superiority toward everyone he sees as beneath him. He enters a special door into his office so he can observe everyone else and judge their behavior as "villagers" working for his benefit and status. He tells the Boosters' Club about his "Vision" of being a realtor giving "Unselfish Public Service ... for the Trust of His Clients, and a thing called Ethics," but in his daily practices he accepts trickery, corruption, and double-dealing as part of his success. He claims that an exalted realtor like himself is a "seer ... of the community, and ... a prophetic engineer," but in fact he is interested only in insider deals, manipulating the growth of the city for his profit.

He expresses the first of many bigotries in speaking of buyers who attempted to "jew you down on the asking-price," a remark expanded on eventually by others, since Zenith appears to be almost ethnically uniform in terms of religion and race. No one will ever question any remark aimed at anyone outside the dominant group.

Babbitt has a deep ignorance of all matters outside his sales mentality, especially in questions of sanitation. Although regularly orating on health, he knows nothing about water, plumbing, or sewage management and sees no reason to become educated because he is so busy buying and selling whatever he can in any condition. He simply holds to stereotyped notions he spreads, including that "no European ever bathed." He believes that "most folks are so darn crooked themselves that they expect a fellow to do a little lying," so he never hesitates to write sales copy he knows is far from true. To him, being modern and up to date means never questioning profit or growth; as he actually sells nothing tangible, he can invent realities and defend them as part of the patriotic, positive spirit that fuels the growth of Zenith.

Babbitt sees himself as exemplary but in his mutterings to himself also confesses to frustrations with his dull and boring family life and nagging doubts about chances for his own happiness.

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