In 1922 Sinclair Lewis published the book which won the Nobel Prize portraying the very special personage whose surname – Babbitt – became a household word, a symbol of middle–class Philistine. For the first time we meet George Follanbee Babbitt at his bed going to awaken and dreaming of the fairy child. And here, from the very beginning of his novel Lewis gives occasion to an attentive reader to realize that something is wrong with this 46 years old businessman.
Babbitt likes to escape from reality which means the reality is not too attractive to him. He is often becoming angry and irritated by everything and everybody – by sullen wife, by impossible children. And then in the course of novel Lewis gradually expose a tragedy of a man who is in deep disbalance with himself. George Babbitt has obtained all required to match precisely the template of social expectation, except entire comfort with it.
Distracted by the feeling that there must be more, Babbitt starts pushing limits. But he has no choice. He could not help but be what he was. Near the end of the novel, after a brief rebellion which included a furtive, adulterous love affair he sits in the train returning back to Zenith and suddenly realizes that he couldn't escape as he is able to do only things which all could do. He failed to tear himself away from the vicious circle of Philistinism.
That is his cardinal problem. It is the typical problem of a middling person who lives own life without passion or satisfaction to his heart's content and going with the stream. However Babbitt is not stripped of imagination, and he knows for sure his own weakness and the dismals. The personality of Babbitt is totally controlled by the force of conformity. It is so dominant that even after Babbitt realizes the stifling nature of the society in which he lives he is powerless to change his fate as a member of conformist society. Pressure to conform lies in all aspects of Babbitt's life.
Relationships, family, social life, and business are all based on his ability to conform to Zenith's preset standards of thought and action. All of his thoughts are those of society, and thoughts that are not of society are ridiculed hence they are frowned upon by him. Babbitt works simply to raise his social status by means of increasing his material worth. He goes about his normal routine praising modern technology, material possessions and social status only as ways to measure the significance of an individual. He belongs to many popular clubs, the purposes of which he does not even completely understand.
Why does Babbitt do these things? He does these things to perform for the other members of society. He does everything expected of him even if he does not expect those things of himself. Babbitt does these things in hope of improving his social status. This conformist man is exactly who Sinclair Lewis wanted to show the reader, a man whose life is based on the ideals and standards of others. The goals set by society are economic and material worth, social standing, and conservative thought.
Since Babbitt has achieved, at least in part, these goals he is in a sense fooled into believing he is truly happy. But… Every minute and calorie not needed for plowing, sawing and bolting can be spent playing the cello, gazing at the stars, learning to draw, fishing, making love. If only someone started thinking about it, the future could be full of both material wealth for everyone and more, also for everyone, more of what the materially wealthy George Babbitt knew he lacked when he declared, that never in his life he done a thing which he wanted to do. By his George Babbitt Lewis shows us how we oughtn't to live, he gives us a vivid specimen how dissimulation and sanctimony could ruin a person's own life. The image of Babbitt is unforgettable, and the book is for sure worth the highest praise.