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Babbitt [Paperback]

Sinclair Lewis
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

13 Feb 2014
Sinclair Lewis wrote a series of satires that exposed the hypocrisy of early 20th century America. “Babbitt” is a snapshot of the life of George F. Babbitt, a somewhat prosperous middle class businessman who lives in Zenith, Ohio. Zenith has a population of 300,000+, and has an active business community. This community has its own rituals and ironclad rules. These rules consist of being one of the gang, being a member of all the right clubs and organizations, and never deviating from the ideals of business and money. These rules cause enormous difficulties for Babbitt when he goes through a midlife crisis at the end of the book and begins spouting liberal ideas and associating with the “wrong” crowd. It’s hilarious to see the similarities between the two events, and it brings home how class is strictly enforced in Zenith, and by extension, America. Babbitt is a person that readers may find themselves both hating and liking, often within the space of one page. He’s ignorant, in that he is a major conformist who often repeats slogans and phrases merely because others in his circle say the same things. He’s a name-dropper who refers to people he doesn’t even know as though they were his best friends. He’s also high volume. Babbitt is one of those people we all know who is always boisterous and noisy so they can hide their own insecurities or ignorance. Just when you think you can’t stand Babbitt for another second, Lewis tosses in a situation that makes you feel for the man. Babbitt is the boss at a real estate company, and he worries about his employees liking him. When a confrontation arises with one of his salesmen, Babbitt frets and doesn’t want to fire the guy, although the rules of business eventually force him to do exactly that. He wants all of his employees to like him. He also feels bad about cheating on his wife while she is away and worries about what his children will think of him when he comes in drunk after a night of carousing. Ultimately, although Babbitt can be a major heel, the reader is almost forced to sympathize with him. This is true especially at the end of the book, when Babbitt renounces his liberal ways and rejoins his old colleagues. His return to the pack is not quite complete, however. Babbitt is changed by his transgression, and has learned a few lessons that he imparts to his son on the last page of the book, thus ending the tale on an upbeat note. This book is both funny and sad, but well worth reading. Sinclair Lewis eventually won Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for his literary endeavors. It’s not hard to see why.

Product details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (13 Feb 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1495930572
  • ISBN-13: 978-1495930577
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 19 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Product Description


is by its hardness, its efficiency, its compactness that Mr. Lewis's work excels --Virginia Woolf --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

A satirical portrait of a town obsessed by capitalism and the 'values' of the marketplace --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wicked satire of small town 1920s America 10 Mar 2003
If you are at all curious about why American society and culture is the way it is today, you could do a lot worse than read this novel to find out something of its history. It's fascinating as a picture of a period (the 1920s) and the story of how business and the desires of the individual small town middle class American became wholly entangled together.
Lewis' prose is not for everyone. If you want a rollicking good read and enjoy a speedily moving story-line, then this may not be your cup of tea. His language and style can sometimes seem dated, but if you can get beyond this you will want to read Babbitt instead for the naturalistic description, the humour, the biting satirical comment and the wicked character portraits and excruciating -- and fascinating -- detail about the period and the individuals who inhabit it.
I don't think Sinclair Lewis wrote a better book than Babbitt, so if you enjoy this book and the themes it explores, you might want to read some Theodore Dreiser (try The Financier) or, better still, go a little earlier and try William Dean Howells' A Hazard of New Fortunes or The Rise of Silas Lapham.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Guy
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase well as a fantastic satire of the American middle-classes in the 1920s.

George F Babbitt is a successful businessman in the American Midwest who starts, slowly at first, to rebel against the conformity of respectable society in the (fictional) small city of Zenith, initially bringing confusion from family and friends, and later his causing his own ostracism from the local respectable set. Lewis described in a letter to his publisher how "He is all of us Americans at 46, prosperous but worried, wanting - passionately - to seize something more than motor cars and a house before it's too late."

It's a wonderful novel, and if you've never read any Sinclair Lewis before then this is a great place to start. He combines gentle humour through fantastic observation of characters with biting satire. You can be chuckling happily one moment and wincing the next. He also manages to create a character here who is entirely believable, likeable for all his follies and weaknesses, and eventually quite inspiring. Set over two years in Babbitt's life, with a somewhat ambiguous ending, it is a great piece of writing judged either as satire or as a touching portrait of a changing man. I really would recommend this novel to anyone.
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By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER
Sinclair Lewis was born and raised in a small town in America's heartland, Sauk Centre, Minnesota, in 1885. "Boosterism" and the gods of growth have by-passed his birthplace. Today it still has a population of not much more than 4,000. Like Faulkner, who knew well the people around Oxford, Mississippi, Lewis knew the people who lived in the small towns of mid-America between the World Wars, and portrayed them, often in an unflattering light. His first commercial success was Main Street, published in 1920, followed by "Babbitt," in 1922, and then Arrowsmith and Elmer Gantry. "Babbitt" is now an official word in the American language, meaning "a smugly conventional person interested chiefly in business and social success and indifferent to cultural values," in short, a Philistine. Sinclair Lewis was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature; it was awarded in 1930. I read all four of the aforementioned works of his in the 1960's, and as the centennial of his works approach, thought I'd give one or more a re-read to see how the works aged, as well as my perspective of them.

George F. Babbitt is 46 years old, with a wife, Myra, who is described as being dumpy, ignored and corseted. They have three children: Verona who has just graduated from Bryn Mawr, and is seeking to be a secretary; Theodore Roosevelt (Babbitt) who is in high school, and into cars, and Tinka, a daughter age 10. George makes his money "glad-handing" and selling pieces of the earth (real estate). They live in Zenith, Indiana, a town of around 300,000.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Boosting Babbitt! 2 Feb 2014
By Woolco
"All of them agreed that the working-classes must be kept in their place; and all of them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary."

And it's in this claustrophobic, chastening atmosphere that George F Babbitt exists. A successful real estate man in 1930s America - riding the wave of optimistic, entrepreneurial zeal that characterised those boom years of American dreaming, in a mythical town called Zenith - the apotheosis of a civilised society's aspirations (in the middle-class, capitalist 'go-getter' sense).

Yet... "A little grimly he perceived that this had been his last despairing fling before the paralysed contentment of middle-age."

He rebelled. The upstanding business leader, the family man, a paradigm for wholesome and fruitful living, just couldn't quite trust it, trust the foundations his life was built upon. Lewis captures the turmoil and the self-torment Babbitt suffers with deceptive subtlety. Truth is, Babbitt is not a forensic analyst of his thoughts and feeling, he's a proud, insecure blusterer. His dilemmas emerge half-formed and untidily dismissed, nebulous clouds that gather and break. His all too human weakness for the easy option - for security, for regard - is skilfully played against a spiritual discontent, a spiritual revolt he can't quite entirely grasp, can't quite articulate.

The human condition under the microscope. Not Shakespearean high drama and poetry, no kingships or dynasties at stake - hardly, indeed, epic. Yet, in Babbitt, a mediocre man, comfortable and successful, the key questions of existence are sounded out and a genuine tragedy plotted.
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