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Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis, is largely a satire of American culture, society, and behavior, it critiques the vacuity of middle-class American life and its pressure toward conformity. An immediate and controversial bestseller, Babbitt is one of Lewis's best-known novels and was influential in the decision to award him the Nobel Prize in literature in 1930.
Lewis has been both criticized and congratulated for his unorthodox writing style in Babbitt. As one reviewer puts it: "There is no plot whatever... Babbitt simply grows two years older as the tale unfolds." Lewis presents a chronological series of scenes in the life of his title character. After introducing George F. Babbitt as a middle-aged man, "nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay," Lewis presents a meticulously detailed description of Babbitt's morning routine.
In writing Babbitt, Lewis had very clear goals. He wanted to create not a caricature but a living and breathing individual with recognizable hopes and dreams. In a letter to his publisher, Lewis wrote: "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." Babbitt's mediocrity is central to Lewis's hopes of creating a realistic character. He believed the fatal flaw of other authors' attempts to capture the American businessman was that they always made him out to be exceptional. In early descriptions of Babbitt, Lewis mused: "This is the story of the ruler of America." As he saw it, the "Tired American Businessman" wielded power not through his exceptionality, but through militant normalcy. But Lewis also strove to portray the American businessman as deeply dissatisfied and privately aware of his shortcomings. He was "the most grievous victim of his own militant dullness" and secretly longed for freedom and romance. Readers praising Lewis for his "realism" eagerly admitted the regularity with which they encountered Babbitts in their daily lives, but could also relate to some of Babbitt's anxieties about conformity and personal fulfillment.
The word "Babbitt" entered the English language as a "person and especially a business or professional man who conforms unthinkingly to prevailing middle-class standards."
|Publication Date||September 2, 2014|