Monday, February 3, 2020

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

Babbitt 
Sinclair Lewis
American novel
Published 1922

I am excited to share this book! It was very "1920's America" and extremely captivating and entertaining - the only book I wanted to read when I had time to read. So much was unfolding at once; there never was a dull moment. 

George Babbitt, the protagonist, was the typical American family man, living the "American Dream," with a wife and kids, running a successful real estate business, with state-of-the-art house and fancy vehicle, attending church, voting in elections, rubbing shoulders with big wigs, and considered a fairly important man of the community. He was pleased with himself to be morally righteous, always critical of what was wrong with others and the world. He was everything he thought he was supposed to be, anxious to please everyone and to fit in or get along. Image was everything!

However, as readers got to know George, the layers began to peel and the hypocrisy was exposed. George Babbitt was a liar, a fake, a cheat, and a phony. He was not as wise or intelligent or even as informed as he hoped everyone believed he was. Nonetheless, George was somewhat satisfied with his fraudulent exterior.

But that was all it was -- an exterior -- and at some point, even George realized he was miserable. He began to experiment with outer shells. He tried on different masks, thinking the other political party would gratify him, or a different woman, a different group of friends, a different scene, or a different activity. Unfortunately, nothing pleased him. He was still the same old discontented, unsatisfied, inconsistent, miserable George Babbitt, and he was utterly out of control.


Benton, 1930

While Babbitt is considered a satire of living the "American Dream" during Prohibition, and much of Babbitt's secret thoughts and private behaviors are comical, the story isn't entirely humorous. That is because this timeless story is very relatable and a mirror of real life. 

Some reviewers focus entirely on exposing the American Dream as a mockery -- because obviously, the American Dream is not what brings people peace -- but I think Lewis is shining light on a bigger issue: the universal discontentment of man; restlessness is part of mankind's problem, and always has been. 

Lewis revealed genuine questions man has been asking himself probably forever: 

What is the use of life?
What purpose was man made?
Was man made for self-fulfillment?
What is the solution to boredom?
What is the cure for living?

These are great questions, and all of us should be able to answer them or similar ones at some point in our life. 


Matulka, 1925

Now, I am going to share the very ending of the story, but believe me, I have given no spoilers. The meat of this story is the entire book because there truly is no conclusion. It is a story that continues forever.

The ending was somewhat redemptive, when George finally relinquished control of his son's life and accepted that the young man did not want to go to college, as George had wanted him to do (because image is everything). Babbitt admitted,
 I've never done a single thing I've wanted to in my whole life! I don't know's I've accomplished anything except just get along. 
His final advice to his son:
Take the factory job, if you want. Don't be scared of the family. No, nor all of Zenith. Nor of yourself, the way I've been. Go ahead, old man! The world is yours!
Lewis never did directly answer those questions I listed above because they are not necessary to this particular story. The truth is: we need to answer these pertinent questions for ourselves!!! They are questions we can and need to figure out on our own, as we live out our daily lives in our own modern little world.

Should You Read This?

Yes...just yes!

13 comments:

Marian H said...

This sounds really enjoyable! The way you describe it confirms my belief not much has changed in the last 100 years... I haven't read anything by Sinclair Lewis yet but I'll keep this on my radar for sure.

Ruth said...

Marian...I had the same thought..."There is nothing new under the sun." That's what makes Babbitt so timeless. Definitely relevant.

Carol said...

Loved your review, Ruth. Ive never read this author & I had him mixed up with Upton Sinclair who wrote ‘The Jungle.’ Sounds like a great read.

Jillian said...

This sounds good! Like a funny Death of a Salesman (which is one of my favorite plays.)

Ruth said...

CAROL...Thank you. I used to get this Sinclair mixed up with Upton, too.

JILLIAN: It was really entertaining. I get to read Death of a Salesman for my WEM plays.

Fanda Classiclit said...

Ha! Why have nobody ever recommended this book before? It sounds like a book I would love to read. Again, thanks, Ruth, for pointing this out to me. Loved you review too! <3

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I first read Main Street by Sinclair Lewis back in high school. I completely identified with the characters. I often say that Main Street was one of my first favorite books. I added it to my Classics Club list and I hope to reread it soon.

And now I want to add Babbitt to my list.

Silvia said...

It's funny, because I've seen this book or others by the author many times at the book store, and always had the feeling that his books were dull and boring. With this review, I may consider this one, or, I believe I own The Jungle. We'll see. But I'm glad to now know what type of writer Sinclair Lewis is.

Ruth said...

FANDA....it's like a best kept secret. I've not seen reviews of this book in my 8-years of reading, except by another author who wrote about it in her own book. That's how I became interested. Hope you get to read it someday.

DEB...I used to own a copy of Main Street, but I got rid of it without reading it. Now I'm bummed I did. It may have been like Babbitt.

Silvia....I made a mistake (which I had to change). I referred to the author as Sinclair, but his last name is Lewis. It is the other author Upton Sinclair that people confuse with this author. Upton wrote Jungle Book ---> which is on my TBR too --- but, yeah, they are different authors. Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair. Go figure. And, yes, Sinclair Lewis (as far as Babbitt is concerned) is extremely readable!

Paula Vince said...

I'm definitely going to track down a copy. I've heard of Babbitt, didn't know much about it, and your review sounds fascinating.

Ruth said...

PAULA...I predict you'll enjoy this one.

amanda @ simplerpastimes said...

This is one of those books which I've known the name of forever, but never really what it's about. I'm not sure from the description alone, it's one I'd look forward to, ut your enthusiasm makes me want to add it to my TBR list. Truly, those are the questions we all ask.

Ruth said...

AMANDA: If nothing else, it was entertaining. Never a dull moment of reading. It's one of those light reads, too, with no heavy commitment. That's what kind of reading it is.