Posted by: vanhoff | April 27, 2008

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis- The American Middle Class

Babbitt is a novel centered on the hypocrisy of the prosperous and conservative business class of 1920s America. Sinclair Lewis portrays George Babbitt as a rebellious, middle aged, middle-class conservative. Babbitt financially prosperous is unhappy with life and seeks freedom from the oppression that his daily duties of husband and businessman have bestowed upon him. Early twentieth century America burgeoned with a middle-class distinct in the ideology that wealth and social status were the keys to success. One must conform to a strict moral code, and for Babbitt and his colleagues that code is to help protect the stature of their middle-class life. Today however there are contrasts within the middle-class ideology with regards to consumer demographics, moral views, and structure. The ever changing middle-class of today has broken down the finite structure that was present during Babbitt’s time. Daily life has changed within today’s middle-class, and the finite structure of the middle-class code a century before has been challenged with new ideals for middle-class America.

Daily life for the middle-class family in early twentieth century America was centered upon the superficial and the appearance of the status-quo. Though materialism is still heavily prominent in today’s middle-class, one is not entrenched with the idea of the newness that Babbitt and his colleagues felt for their middle-class as it rose through the ranks of society. Babbitt was set in post World War I era, and for many the new inventions and gadgets that were emerging into the markets were to help improve daily life. A sense of accomplishment was noted when one could afford a new, sleek alarm clock for his bed side-table. For Babbitt, a new cigar lighter mounted on top of his dash compliments as well a boasts his self-worth. Babbitt delves into conspicuous consumption that has engulfed the entire middle-class lifestyle. Though these inventions were very useful and one takes them for granted in today’s time, they were a must for the social elite as if a trophy for those who could afford such new luxuries. However, Babbitt soon finds that these new fangled instruments of perfection carry with them a sense of hollowness. For everyone now seems to take for granted the cigar lighter that is already installed in ones vehicle, or the alarm clock that we set every night. Daily life for Babbitt is to find the very best and can be read within his own family values as well with his business. The children fighting over who gets the car, all of this for the sake of appearance is what become apart of the Babbitt household. 

Babbitt is also fond of his town Zenith, connoting Zenith to be that of the highest point within astronomical terms. There lays a belief within Babbitt that to be among the sky-scraped iron skyline gives a sense of accomplishment within himself and his fellow boosters. Today, one is accustomed to see the iron and concrete that our city streets are entrenched with. Today middle-class Americans do not live within the city limits. The suburbs are now the means for the status elite of middle-class America. Suburbs are the zenith of perfection for the present middle-class lifestyle. The middle-class of today has in turn become less sociable due to this influx of suburban living.

Daily life for the Babbitt family was similar to what many are accustomed to today. However there is no dutiful housewife ready for the beck of a call. For women are now employed in the work force and unavailable to tend to household needs that were fashionable in the late 1920s. Myra Babbitt is shown as the faithful, ever loving wife that will do whatever it takes to make George happy. Today, women are more prominent within the work force and much more independent financially. Babbitt and his colleagues are mindful of this fact that their wives are willing to be the submissive and they take full advantage of this. And though Paul Riesling, a good friend of Babbitt’s shoots his wife she still comes back to live with him. Today this is unheard of. Women are in control of their husbands bank accounts and many are responsible in keeping up with monthly bills. Women and now men get pampered to perfection when a social event is calling, however socially the middle-class of today is almost non-existent for women are at work and unable to throw such lavish dinner parties. Babbitt was the host to one party of guests, and jealous of those who can throw the grandest party of them all. Today however the middle-class has separated themselves from the outside world of neighborhood events as the woman has begun work for the betterment of the household.

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