Monday, September 10, 2012
Babbitt - Sinclair Lewis
Rating: 4 stars
While not always the most riveting of reads, Babbitt - a satire on the conformity and hypocrisy of the middle class - is incredibly well written and insightful.
George F. Babbitt is a middle class business man from Zenith, a fictional city located somewhere in middle America. He lives with his wife and three children in the suburbs of Zenith, in a house that looks much like the houses of his neighbors and that is furnished with all of the modern conveniences. He carries on his real-estate business like he is supposed to, attends all the right clubs (Booster, Athletic, Elk), attends church and throws dinner parties for his neighbors - all of whom, like Babbitt, spend their days attempting to climb the social ladder.
But when Babbitt's best and oldest friend gets arrested for eschewing these values, George begins to see his life in a new light. It all seems a fraud to him and so he tries his hardest to really live his life, with his own opinions and thoughts. In response, the good citizens of Zenith begin to shun him.
It isn't until Myra, Babbitt's wife, falls ill that he begins to realize the middle class world he's a part of is one that he helped create. And so, he falls somewhat comfortably back into it - yet, in the end, he tells his son Ted, "I've never done a single thing I've wanted to in my whole life! I don't know's I've accomplished anything anything except just get along." He encourages Ted to make his own way through life, following his dreams and damning those who would try and stop him, thus ending the book with a glimmer of hope for the next generation.
The book was surprisingly resonant, for having been published in 1922. Sure many things have changed, but the core of the novel focuses on a man just gliding through his life, doing everything he thinks he's supposed to do and nothing for himself. By the time he tries to regain that freedom, it's too late. I was fortunate that I knew what I wanted, worked hard to get there, and was supported by incredible parents who, I think, understand how unfulfilling a path you didn't necessarily want to take can be. But, moving through the corporate world, even if it's the precise world that I've chosen, does include its measure of conformity. We just call it "playing the game" now.
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