Babbitt: a person, particularly a business or professional man, who unthinkingly follows conventional middle-class ways (Merriam-Webster). George F. Babbitt of Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis: a 46-year-old American real estate salesman who conformed unthinkingly to prevailing middle-class standards in the Midwestern city of Zenith in the 1920s. While he lived as a successful businessman with all the modern conveniences—including a very nice house and a very nice car—Babbitt was overwhelmingly dissatisfied with his life. In the novel he consistently elt as though he lived a meaningless life and he often envisioned himself happy and free with a young fairy girl. Although usually an upstanding and moral citizen, Babbitt desired to break social convention and matrimonial dependability; his desolation motivated him to change his life drastically. In doing so, Babbitt became even unhappier when his former associates ostracized him and his business began to suffer on account of his actions. Renouncing his uncharacteristically immoral behavior, he returned to his more familiar and simple lifestyle. Still,
Babbitt's brief rebellion allowed him to realize the faults in his society—the faults that Sinclair Lewis wished to portray. Throughout Babbitt, Lewis satirically illustrated the materialistic tendencies, social conformity, and lavish hypocrisy of the middle-class in the 1920s. In writing Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis sought to portray the problem of extreme consumerism in the society of the 1920s. Beginning in the exposition of the novel, Babbitt’s world full of materialistic ideals was prevalent as his house was depicted with all the modern conveniences of he time from the living room to the bathroom—vacuum cleaners, electric toasters, porcelain toothbrush holders, electric lamps. Babbitt placed supreme value on mechanical devices (Lewis 73); to him material objects were symbols of splendor and his god was Modern Appliances (Lewis 6). And above his loved appliances that decorated his house was his affection for his car. In Zenith, peoples’ automobiles were in direct coalition with their social standing (Lewis 79), Fox 2 which showed the immense importance of materialistic items in the 1920s. This consumerist ature was exactly what Lewis saw wrong in society. After WWI the American economy endured an industrial boom in which its manufacturing output rose by more than 60 percent (Brinley 642). What came out of the mass-production was a new mass-consumption economy, producing increased wages for the urban class, which in response created more spending power for average Americans. Thus, the nation entered a decade of materialism and frivolity. The 20s became home for a society in which people could now buy things for pleasure along with need as consumerism swept the nation (Brinkley 647).
American society became progressively standardized as big ticket items like cars and household appliances were now more accessible than ever and became regular commodities for middle-class families. The buying sprees of the 1920s were powered by the emergent mass media and the advertising industry that promoted electric appliances, cars, and general commodities (Brinkley 648). However, the new materialistic outlook instigated illogical spending and overproduction within the economy, which eventually led to the Great Depression. By describing Babbitt’s consumerist, lavish lifestyle, Sinclair Lewis sought to ortray the mindless materialism that swept over America after WWI—such a lifestyle that coincided with a new conformist middle-class. Another issue with society in the 1920s that Lewis wished to call attention to was the prevailing conformity of the urban middle-class, which in many cases corresponded with the rising consumerism. George Babbitt was the ultimate conformist in Zenith; he proved as the inspiration of the addition of Babbitt into the dictionary. To conform to society Babbitt furnishes his home with his materialist items, so much to the point that his house resembles a ell-put-together hotel rather than a home (Lewis 8). And the community in which he resides homes identical houses lined up one by one. With the new consumerist economy in the 1920s, it Fox 3 became standard to buy commodities, such as appliances and cars, which is reason as to why Babbitt did so. Like most of his business colleagues, Babbitt felt the pressure to conform to his surrounding society. To do so, he established himself in a multitude of institutions such as the Elks, the Boosters, and the chamber of commerce (Lewis 30), because he felt as though, like others, he needed to boost his social ranking.
To even more establish himself in society, Babbitt conformed to the common middle-class conservative way of life. He was committed to the Presbyterian Church and the Republican Party, but in doing so he showcased the loss of individuality and the increase in conforming to society and government that engulfed the urban population of the 1920s. The priests in his church determined all of his religious beliefs and the Senators of the Republican Party decided his views politically (Lewis 30). Due to his conformist role in society, Babbitt must agree with conservative views, in order to feel accepted in the ublic. When Babbitt decided to rebel again conformist ways, he proclaimed his support for labor unions. After doing so, all of his colleagues shunned him, as conservatives were generally supposed to be against unions. This causes a downfall in his business, so he admits himself back into standard middle-class nature and conforms to society once again. In order to conform to society like the rest of his colleagues, the church and the government fixed Babbitt’s individuality, much like many of the middle-class Americans in the 20s who seemed to obey society.
Through his satirical novel, Sinclair Lewis displayed his cynical view of the rising conservative conformity of the middle-class in the 1920s, which ultimately caused abundant hypocrisy in society. In Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis also brought attention to the hypocrisy that conformists of the 1920s caused. As a businessman in the “roaring twenties” and a conformist, Babbitt followed his fellow businessmen and completed business unethically when necessary to gain money. Fox 4 Hypocritically, he fired one of his employees for dishonesty, when Babbitt himself is generally immoral in business.
Lewis tried to indicate the businessman’s belief in a moral middle-class man, when in fact they were often crooked. Also, Babbitt and his colleagues spend money on commodities, including luxurious cigars, pianos for decoration, and records that they will never play, which is extremely hypocritical, because they often criticized the wasteful expenditure of the lower classes. The biggest hypocrisy that was prevalent in the 1920s was that surrounding Prohibition, the outlaw of liquor. In the novel, Babbitt openly supports Prohibition as a conservative, but he—like many others in society of the 20s—drank alcohol regardless.
Babbitt’s views on Prohibition showed that hypocrisy on the subject was eminent in the 1920’s societal nature. Furthermore, people became more committed to the Church—as Babbitt does (Lewis 72) —but were no longer actually as committed to the Church in terms of religion; rather the Church was just used for social purposes. Babbitt used the church only to meet more people and increase his social standing. Like Babbitt, many middle-class citizens conformed to society but at the same time were extremely hypocritical in their actions. The 1920s became a time full of ypocrisy in society, which Lewis wanted to illustrate in Babbitt. Clearly, Lewis wrote Babbitt to satirically depict the rising consumerism, societal conformity, and abundant hypocrisy of the middle-class culture in the 1920s. As a Western businessman in the 20s, George Babbitt represented much of the urban middle-class in his devotion to materialist commodities with the rising economy. Also, like many American citizens, Babbitt conformed to conservative society in order to boost his social standings, which ultimately caused great amounts of hypocrisy in America among the middle-class. Fox 5
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