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date: 02 July 2020


The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature in English
Jenny StringerJenny Stringer, John SutherlandJohn Sutherland

a novel by Sinclair Lewis, published in 1922. The novel created a major controversy with its uncompromising assault on American virtue. The stereotypical, moral, small-town American businessman George Babbitt epitomizes the ethos of the Mid-western city Zenith. The first seven chapters retain Lewis's original idea to follow Babbitt through the events of one day. Subsequent chapters present set pieces which provide a sociology of middle-class American life, dealing with such topics as politics, leisure, club life, trade association conventions, conventional religion, labour relations, marriage and the family, the barbershop, and the speakeasy. There is little plot to unite these fragmentary interests, apart from Babbitt who moves through these chapters in the course of his rising discontent with the mores of his world. Various separate narratives include Babbitt's friendship with Paul Riesling, the one-time artist who is imprisoned after he shoots his wife; Babbitt's attempt to find sympathy in a liaison with Tanis Judique and ‘the Bunch’; and Babbitt's final involvement with liberalism, and the Good Citizen League. The novel depicts an individual trapped in a stifling environment, who struggles for something better, but ultimately fails, and sinks back into compromising conformity. The final suggestion is that the humanist values of love and friendship are the only answers to Babbitt's problems.... ...

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