Babbit Essay, Research Paper
The depressing tragedy known as Babbitt, by Lewis Sinclair, accurately portrays the convention of life in the 1920’s. Sinclair precisely evokes the conformity and orthodox life styles that shaped a growing culture. Man, in the 1920’s, is caught in a lifestyle where he is continually fed on what to think. Lewis cunningly explains the constraints of convention that plagued George Babbitt, and mocks society as a whole for its lack of liberal views. Babbitt throughout the novel seems to be trapped in a maze, and is told by “the machine” when to turn. Only when Babbitt revolts against conservative America does his life change, but the question is was it for the better?
The economy is booming with success, and your wealth portrays ones position in society. George Babbitt is infatuated with having the latest “gadgets” and technology in his home, as is the rest of Middle-class America. Lewis portrays society as a group of self-centered people who must have the best of everything (sounds similar to our world today). Middle-class America is disturbingly the same to the last detail in the 1920’s. Life begins for Babbitt waking up to an unappreciative family, and a typical fake show of affection from his wife. Babbitt realizes his life is dull and mundane. Even the kiss from his wife is typical. Babbitt, like most men in the 1920’s, finds his home not as a haven but as a depressing reality of what his life has really become. Babbitt recognizes he is disgusted with his life, and that he doesn’t even love his wife. Only when Babbitt escapes his home does he find satisfaction. Babbitt is found in his community as a role model of every businessmen, even the mechanic at the gas station commends him for organization. Babbitt temporarily feels relief when freedom encompasses his life, but later in the novel Babbitt illustrates that even “business” is shaped by society. Just as business is shaped in Zenith, so are the women who live there.
Women in the novel are accurately portrayed as they were in the 1920’s. Lewis presents two different scenarios in the novel, but both of these cases can follow the same mannerisms. First, Lewis depicts the loving housewife. Myra, Babbitt’s wife, continually comforts Babbitt throughout the whole novel. Myra even accepts the blame when Babbitt decides to cheat on her. Women are depicted throughout the novel as inferior when compared to men. They stay home and cook. Unfortunately, Zilla and Paul, friends of the Babbitts, don’t have a similar relationship. Paul is Babbitt’s best friend and they experience many of troubles together. Zilla, like Babbitt, wants to change her current situation and takes her frustration out on Paul. Zilla, Paul’s wife is overbearing in the marriage, and uses this tactic to cover up the insecurity she feels in her life. The strife between Zilla and Paul is so deep that it affects every aspect of Paul’s life. It even brings him to the act of shooting his wife. Both George and Paul have the same attitude toward their wives, and it takes a private vacation to Maine for them to realize that they must treat their wives better. Later in the novel, when George is experiencing a downward spiral in his life, he realizes that his marriage is becoming similar to what Paul experienced. Babbitt begins to experience many new things and women when he finds himself in these circumstances. He begins flirting with women, and also begins to suffer a mid-life crisis. This is Babbitt’s attempt to break the norm of everyday life, and acting on impulses is his way of doing this. Women can dramatically affect the way society thinks, and therefore play a crucial role in the novel.
Babbitt experiences a cultural clash everyday in the novel. Babbitt is extremely hypocritical in the way he improves his ranks in society, as is rest of the world. Every person wants to associate with a group of people that are “higher” than them. A perfect example would be the McKelveys and the Overbrooks couples. Spending time with a couple seems to be how your rank is determined in Zenith. If you spend time with a superior class than your rank improves, but if you spend time with an inferior class than your rank falls. George strives to be accepted by the McKelveys, but completely ignores his long time companions the Overbrooks. This is identical of what we see today. Many people exhibit self-pleasure, but do not have any time for what is true. Finding what is true is George’s problem throughout the novel, and he is blinded by society in finding it. What is true is that it is better to give than to receive. People as a whole want to have the best of everything, and whatever they do have never is good enough. Lewis describes this theme brilliantly throughout the novel. Even church is used as a tool for social acceptance. Another example would be the strikes. Babbitt in a way is mad that the strikes are affecting his business, even though people are being mistreated. Society as a whole is only seeking self-pleasure, but the hand of social order is telling them this is “ok.” That is why liberal views in Zenith are so quickly extinguished. The superior class wants people to think that there always must be a lower class because that is the way God has planned it, which in retrospect sustains their rank as the higher class forever. It’s ironic that this idea is still relevant today.
In conclusion, Babbitt’s revolt toward society had actually changed nothing. He went back to not loving his wife and continuing his job as a realtor. His popularity recovers from his era of revolt. Babbitt regains his place in the world by allowing society to influence his life. He stops fighting and this is the simple reason why his life is a tragedy. How does Babbitt analyze the successfulness of his life? He never took complete control and experienced freedom in any of his actions. He only valued the acceptance of others, rather than what was true to his heart. Babbitt life had no meaning, since he constantly let the constraints of society shape it. One must wonder if society in the 1920’s could have changed by reading this novel. This is not probable, considering that society is the same today as it was 80 years ago.