Literature Study GuidesBabbittChapters 33 34 Summary

Babbitt | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Babbitt | Chapters 33–34 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 33

At the moment when Babbitt is the most confused and feeling defiant about not giving in to others' demands, including his wife's—and even considering trying to speak with Tanis Judique again—Myra Babbitt falls critically ill. Told she must have an emergency appendectomy, she and Babbitt cling to each other. He drops all thought of anything else and stays by her side until the surgery. She recovers as expected, but the shock of the situation restores clarity to Babbitt's mind. Faced with losing her, he swears meaningful fidelity to her and their life together, as well as to the Boosters, the Good Fellows, business efficiency, and Zenith itself. His former friends all return with kindness and concern, so he rapidly joins the league and resumes his previous negative views of Seneca Doane and anything else vaguely "liberal."

Chapter 34

Babbitt is satisfied to be part of the Good Citizens' League as it spreads its influence deep into the life of Zenith. The conservative inland city is strongly receptive to the idea of "sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary," which is the foundation of the league. The league members oppose organized labor as a foreign unwelcome concept. Instead, they work to Americanize the immigrants who come to work there and immerse them in "manly Christianity" at the YMCA—as Babbitt, Gunch, Finkelstein, and McKelvey have all done. The city even witnesses an attack on the socialist headquarters of Zenith, in which the office is destroyed and members are beaten. It Is not a time for nonconformity.

Babbitt is troubled in his mind by the memory of his rebellious period and seeks some religious counsel from Pastor John Jennison Drew. He receives nothing of value in terms of doubt and is obliged to kneel and pray together for his salvation, something meaningless to him. The pastor doesn't have much time because he is soon having a meeting with the Don't Make Prohibition a Joke Association, and Babbitt hurriedly leaves.

At home the family welcomes the quiet wedding of Verona Babbitt and Kenneth Escott, while Babbitt finds that his middle name, "Follansbee," and not just the initial "F" is now known to the Boosters. The serious ribbing and ridicule he endures is proof that he is fully welcome again.

Babbitt's business dealings are back to their normal unethical ways, and during a visit home by Ted Babbitt from the university, Ted and Eunice Littlefield elope. The families involved react with shock and criticism; Babbitt alone is understanding and supportive. Reflecting on his own life to date, he tells his son he can withdraw from school and take the mechanic's job he has always wanted. He confesses he has more regrets about what he did not do in his own life than he has pride in his accomplishments and that Ted should not follow the path of others' wishes and demands. "Go ahead, old man!" he tells him, "The world is yours!"

Analysis

Sinclair Lewis draws the narrative to a rapid close at the point at which Babbitt is still somewhat unsure about going on with his regular life. He is being ostracized by all his former stalwarts and cannot bring himself to accept that he will never find the romantic fairy girl of his dreams but instead will remain with Myra. At just that crossroads she develops acute appendicitis and is rushed to surgery. The shock is immense, and all other issues fall away. It is possible that Babbitt has been moving toward this resolution all along, since his rebellions have never led to a positive outcome and he remains suspended between acceptance and flight. His closest friend remains dead to him, a broken man in jail, and though he has spoken of being more open-minded toward others, he finds himself alienated and alone. He vowed to accomplish something of distinction for himself, but it came down to a standard-issue sexual liaison with an unreliable mature woman and only the occasional opportunity to speak his mind at a meeting and create an impact.

Zenith remains as he helped make it: a vibrant, growing, and prosperous place. The city will take no notice in the long run of Babbitt, since others can replace him easily. He has no real plans of any sort after experiencing his second rural getaway and knows that if he does anything, it will have to be in the city.

Lewis brings Babbitt to this shaky place of irresolution and then suddenly provides an all-encompassing event that turns everything on its head. Under pressure of impending mortality, Babbitt discovers that his flight pattern has really been a holding one and that he is back where he belongs in a system stronger than his individual will. He can love no one more than he loves Myra, since she is in essence an extension of himself, and he will be content doing that again. The friends he doubted before also respond with kindness and dignity, and all is forgiven since he is ready to be the good fellow again and conform to their wishes.

The final chapter unfolds the encompassing influence of the Good Citizens' League on life at the time, setting a tone of optimism and conformity for those aiming to succeed and move ahead in predictable ways. Religion is shown playing its ancillary role, since the YMCA is a center of activity. Babbitt is even led against his wishes to pray by Pastor Drew at the church, since Drew has no other response to Babbitt's coming to him for some guidance about the significance of his errant ways. The novel never explains how Sidney Finkelstein was able to grow up in gung-ho Christianity with his Jewish family, without anyone commenting on this obvious anomaly, but this is one of many un-answered or semi-answered questions left in Lewis's satire. It may be that anything is possible in an atmosphere of continual change and development. A stable identity is not necessarily a positive factor when growth and inventiveness are paramount, as in the comical discovery of Babbitt's long-suppressed middle name.

The novel ends by uniting the Babbitt and Littlefield families through the young people's elopement, raising Babbitt a little higher toward the social zenith of the town. An optimistic sense of open-ended future prevails that is clearly a case of situational irony. George tells his son not to live a life of unmet regrets such as he has done. Ted can do as his heart tells him, and his father will be behind him. He says he has merely gotten along and that Ted should be more determined to "carry things on further," despite marrying at a young age and having his career determined for him by circumstances, just like his father.

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