Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

October 9, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): Businessman George F. Babbitt loves the latest appliances, brand names, and the Republican Party. In fact, he loves being a solid citizen even more than he loves his wife. But Babbitt comes to resent the middle-class trappings he has worked so hard to acquire. Realizing that his life is devoid of meaning, he grows determined to transcend his trivial existence and search for greater purpose. Raising thought-provoking questions while yielding hilarious consequences, and just as relevant today as ever, Babbitt’s quest for meaning forces us to confront the Babbitt in ourselves—and ponder what it truly means to be an American.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Though this book was first published in 1922, Lewis’ scathing indictment of the middle class still rings true today. Think of all the people clamoring for the latest Apple products and going into debt just to keep up with the Joneses. It’s amazing that this facet of American society hasn’t changed in 100 years.
  • I thought the ending was wonderful. Babbitt was a hypocrite through and through, but at least he had one moment of clarity and allowed his son Ted to pursue his dreams instead of falling in step with what was “expected” of him.
  • Babbitt’s friendship with Paul Riesling was interesting to me. In a sea of facades and inauthentic interactions, this was the only genuine relationship in the whole book.
  • While the satire in this book certainly doesn’t rival Jonathan Swift, it’s still bitingly funny in many places.

Disliked:

  • The characters were shallow and loathsome, and even though this was by design, it nevertheless made the book a bit difficult to read in some places. I like being able to root for a character to overcome obstacles, but there was no opportunity to do that here.
  • There were many boring parts along the way. I wasn’t expecting cover-to-cover action or anything like that, but many of Babbitt’s misadventures at the office, with his children, and with the various political organizations in town were just tiresome after a while.
  • I was a bit surprised at how lightly Zilla’s shooting was treated. Paul just snapped one day and SHOT his freaking wife, and nobody could muster anything beyond, “She drove him to it”??? Wow. Even in a book about entitlement, hypocrisy, appearances, selfishness, and indifference this was a bit shocking.

Rating:

Babbitt was the second Sinclair Lewis book I’ve read, and I found that I really enjoy his depictions of life in small-town America. His prose comes off as modern and timeless, so it didn’t feel as though I were reading something that was published almost a century ago. Many of the lessons in Babbitt can be applied to today’s world as well, which is pretty remarkable. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

Leave a Reply