Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
A STEP BEYOND
TESTS AND ANSWERS
_____ 1. Babbitt feels that a college education
B. is a status symbol necessary to business success
C. is out-of-date, thanks to correspondence schools
B. the sorry state of literature in Zenith
C. the political pressures exerted by the Good Citizens' League
B. growing role of labor unions in 1920s
C. corruption of municipal politics in Zenith
B. there is hope for Zenith so long as a handful of people refuse to conform
C. Zenith's younger generation may not be any better than its parents
B. the Babbitts are now members of the rising aristocracy
C. class barriers are very strong in Zenith
B. one of the failed dreams that are common in Zenith
C. his way of making a happy adjustment to married life
B. Ted Babbitt is appalled by his father's socialist tendencies
C. his Boosters' and Athletic club friends become hostile
B. the conformity demanded in modern America
C. neglect of the elderly
B. Mrs. Babbitt threatens to leave him for Vergil Gunch
C. Seneca Doane proves an unworthy ally
II. the conformity of life in Zenith
III. Babbitt's hostility toward his wife
B. I and II only
C. I, II, and III
11. The first seven chapters of Babbitt show us a day in Babbitt's life. In what ways do they present him to be an unsympathetic character? In what ways do they present him as sympathetic?
12. Explain standardization in Zenith.
13. How does Lewis portray religion in Zenith?
_____ 1. Babbitt's vow to Paul, "If you ever need me, I'd chuck it all and come out for you every time," is an example of
II. criticizes liberals and other dissidents
III. is an example of Lewis's use of parody
B. I and II only
C. I, II, and III
B. class divisions in Zenith
C. the differences between Zenith and small towns
B. Babbitt's romantic dinner with Tanis
C. the Overbrooks' dinner for the Babbitts.
II. fails because of Kenneth Escott's opposition
III. is an example of the way religion in Zenith has been corrupted by the pursuit of business success
B. III only
C. I and III only
II. leads a conventional life but is not completely content
III. hopes that with his family's help he can continue his rebellion
B. I and II only
C. I, II, and III
B. are similar in style, but opposite in meaning
C. make calls for social reform
B. not much more thoughtful than were his previous opinions
C. shared by Mrs. Babbitt
B. the rising American aristocracy
C. an older generation more dignified than, but just as corrupt as, the younger generation
B. he is unable to run away from himself
C. Joe Paradise despises him
11. Is Babbitt's ending optimistic or pessimistic? justify your response.
12. How does Lewis compare life in Zenith to life in the American small town of that era?
13. In what ways does business success corrupt life in Zenith?
11. In the first section of Babbitt, Lewis gives us ample opportunities to dislike his main character and some opportunities to like him. As he reads his newspaper at breakfast, Babbitt's comments show him to be smug, ignorant, intolerant. He's cranky with his wife. At his office he writes illiterate business letters that he considers to be great works of literature, and he plots shady business deals. He's ignorant of art and science; he preaches ethics but doesn't really know what it is. He worships cars, cigar lighters, other material objects.
Yet Lewis also gives us reasons to like Babbitt. He genuinely loves his city. Our first view of him dreaming of a beautiful fairy child shows that he hopes for a better world than the one he lives in. And while on the surface he seems the very model of the successful, unthinking Zenith businessman, the fact that he's troubled by doubts proves him a more sensitive man than most of his Boosters' Club friends.
In fact, you can argue that Babbitt in the first chapters of the book is both sympathetic and unsympathetic. He's conformist, cowardly, but he knows he should change- and his attempts to change will occupy the rest of the novel.
12. As Seneca Doane says in chapter 7, Zenith is a place of standardization. To Doane and to Lewis both, that's at once a blessing and a curse. Standardization in industry has assured prosperity for Zenith. Unfortunately, standardization extends beyond industry. Lewis presents Zenith as a place that demands conformity in everything. The Babbitts' living room contains the same furniture as every other living room in Floral Heights. Zenith's downtown is indistinguishable from every other downtown in America at the time. Even worse, standardization extends to art, to conversation, to thought. Conversations in Zenith tend to sound all the same because only certain topics are deemed safe. Political opinions are standardized because people like Babbitt get their opinions unthinkingly from the same sources: the Zenith newspaper, their friends at the Boosters' Club, the Republican Party, and so on. Babbitt praises this process of standardization in his speeches, but the end result is that anyone- like Seneca Doane and eventually like Babbitt himself- who dares to be different is seen as a threat and is bitterly fought.
13. One of the chief targets of Lewis's satire in Babbitt is religion. As he portrays it, it's been hopelessly corrupted by the desire for material success. Mike Monday is invited to preach because he will help avert labor troubles. The sermons of the Reverend John Jennison Drew are intended to reassure the upper classes and keep the lower classes in their place. The Reverend Drew operates his church like a highly competitive business, battling other churches for popularity.
Other forms of religion are no better. The Pentecostal Communion Faith of Zilla Riesling teaches bitterness, not charity. The American New Thought League is a half-baked philosophy intended mainly to earn money for Mrs. Opal Emerson Mudge.
11. Babbitt ends with the collapse of Babbitt's revolt and with the announcement by Ted Babbitt that he's eloped with Eunice Littlefield and wants to quit college. Babbitt says he hopes Ted can avoid making the mistakes Babbitt made.
Is this an optimistic or pessimistic ending? Perhaps Lewis gives more weight to the pessimistic view. Babbitt's rebellion has failed. Once again he's a faithful member of the Boosters' and Athletic clubs; once again he's attacking labor unions and praising bank accounts. And though he hopes Ted will be different, we've seen little evidence of Babbitt's son being any stronger than Babbitt. Ted's high school party was in its way just as standardized as any adult gathering in Zenith, and he cares no more for education or culture than does Babbitt.
On the other hand, by ending the book where he does, Lewis seems to be holding out some hope. The future isn't settled. Perhaps Ted's current acts of rebellion (eloping, quitting college) will lead to others. And even Babbitt's defeat hasn't been without its nobility. He may be leading the same empty, dishonest life he was leading at the book's start, but now he is able to see it for what it is. He has at least gained a little self- knowledge.
12. Throughout Babbitt, Lewis makes us aware that urban, industrial Zenith is replacing the small towns he satirized in his first popular novel, Main Street. Babbitt was born in a small town, Catawba, and takes pride in the fact that he's left that life to make a success for himself in Zenith. When his mother and half brother, reminders of Catawba life, come to visit, they seem dull and narrow-minded to him. As a Zenith delegate to the S.A.R.E.B. convention, he lords it over delegates from surrounding villages.
Yet Lewis wants us to see that in reality life in Zenith isn't any better. At the Babbitts' dinner party Vergil Gunch and the other guests pride themselves on being more sophisticated than their small-town cousins, but their conversation is boring, repetitive, and witless. Thus when Vergil Gunch applauds small towns for wanting to be just like Zenith, Lewis wants us to see that such a fate is far from desirable.
13. The hunger for business and material success corrupts almost every aspect of life in Zenith- indeed that's perhaps the most important theme of the book. In the opening of the novel, Lewis's description of the city shows that Zenith worships business: its skyline is composed not of citadels or cathedrals, but of office buildings.
As we follow Babbitt through a working day, and continue to follow him through the course of a year, we see in grim detail how many aspects of Zenith life have been warped. Education, as discussed by Babbitt and his son, is just a means of making more money. Religion, as practiced by the Reverend Drew, is a highly competitive business. Babbitt values churchgoing mainly as a way of making useful real estate connections. Business letters are Zenith's literature, and art museums and symphonies are appreciated not for their aesthetic values but as ways of attracting investment. Politics, as practiced by Jake. Offutt, is profit hungry. Perhaps worst of all is the way human relationships are affected. Babbitt has one true friend in Paul Riesling, but many of his other friendships- his unsuccessful one with Charles McKelvey, his successful one with William Eathorne- he values only because they'll help him in business. Lewis's indictment is harsh indeed.
TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING
© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.