Literature Study GuidesBabbittChapters 31 32 Summary

Babbitt | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Babbitt | Chapters 31–32 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 31

Babbitt is increasingly dissatisfied with all his attachments. He knows he is still averse to his wife and his house, but the essence of the affair with Tanis Judique seems over. He ignores Tanis for several weeks and does not like that she pursues him and tries to convince him to come to her regularly again. Only when confronted with general complaints at home does he return to the apartment; initially, they feel comfortable to be together. But Babbitt soon sees a different Tanis, who seems to have lost interest in what he has to confide in her. She attempts to draw physical assurances from him of his unchanged feelings for her, but he is well aware of seeing her differently now. Cruel, previously unseen signs of age come to his eyes, and he decides he will really end it without delay. The affair has run its course, and he simply will not submit his own desires, whatever they are, to the demands of others.

Chapter 32

No happier with his own household, Babbitt senses people closing in on him. But he promises himself, "I'm going to keep free ... I'm going to run my own life!" So when he returns to the Boosters' Club to hear a guest luncheon speaker, he objects to the content. The man had given what he thought the members would want to hear: anecdotes about the foreign ways of European countries and xenophobic warnings of dangerous types coming to America. Babbitt permits himself to scoff at the narrow-mindedness and startles some in the audience by asserting that "we're all descended from immigrants ourselves."

The same day, a group of three leading citizens of Zenith come to his office. One is a leading surgeon at the hospital, and another is Colonel Rutherford Snow, owner of the paper that formerly reported so favorably about all Babbitt did. The group insists that Babbitt join the Good Citizens' League with no further delay and confirm his dedication to Zenith. But Babbitt defends his own choice not to and his abhorrence at being bullied for his opinions as a "free-born independent American." It's his last chance, he is told, but he is obdurate.

The consequences are immediate: he is cut off by his former friends when they see him. Moreover, his business contacts begin drying up and pending deals collapse. His valued secretary, Theresa McGoun, quits to take a job with a competing firm. Babbitt is far from sure he has done the right thing and waits in vain to be invited again to join the league. He finds the stress great and thinks about returning to conformity but cannot bring himself to do it. In desperation he tries to visit Tanis Judique again, but she is completely uninterested in him now. He cuts his ties with the church as well and feels himself the object of intense negative scrutiny from all.

Analysis

These chapters show Babbitt—in some cases gradually and in others suddenly—cutting himself off in dissatisfaction with the demands of all those around him. His determination upon returning from Maine to Zenith to live his own life on some higher plane has led him to discover new ideas in his own mind and to do what he would never have done before: speak these ideas clearly as himself, not as a member of a closed club or group. Without being political per se, he makes it clear he wants in the future to be more broad-minded and liberal, admiring these qualities in Seneca Doane. This approach runs up against the strong patriotism of America in the 1920s. During this time the mood of the country turned inward, following involvement in World War I, and fears of influences coming from foreign movements and ideas ran high.

Babbitt is not of any party as such, but his desire for personal freedom is a foundational idea of America. He recognizes that the extreme patriotism of his past affiliations and insistence on "regular guy" standardized American values was one-dimensional. In moments of personal need and connection with others, such shallowness left him and those closest to him (Paul Riesling) vulnerable and deeply endangered. The great joys he took in the multitudes of Zenith and the dream of doubling the population and encouraging runaway development all for money were replaced during his rural getaway with an urgent sense that he had to find a way to live his own life and take the risks.

Even his affair imposes its own restrictions on him, so he rejects it. More serious is that the vigilante nature of the Good Citizens' League threatens him openly and immediately makes good on the threats. He who once was the loudest and smoothest of all the voices for "good citizenship" is now to become the direct target of its ranks. He will have to see if he can live as a different type of citizen, truer to himself.

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