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Babbitt
Sinclair Lewis


A STEP BEYOND

TESTS AND ANSWERS

TEST 1

_____ 1. Babbitt feels that a college education

    A. should teach vocational skills
    B. is a status symbol necessary to business success
    C. is out-of-date, thanks to correspondence schools
_____ 2. T. Cholmondeley Frink's poetry represents
    A. a noble attempt at creating culture in Zenith
    B. the sorry state of literature in Zenith
    C. the political pressures exerted by the Good Citizens' League
_____ 3. Babbitt's dealings with the Zenith Street Traction Company show the
    A. ways in which Zenith has become a center of industry
    B. growing role of labor unions in 1920s
    C. corruption of municipal politics in Zenith
_____ 4. Verona Babbitt and Kenneth Escott show that
    A. middle-class girls marry middle-class boys
    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
_____ 5. Babbitt's dinner for Charles McKelvey teaches us that
    A. some Zenith families do posses intelligence and culture
    B. the Babbitts are now members of the rising aristocracy
    C. class barriers are very strong in Zenith
_____ 6. Paul Riesling's violin represents
    A. the friendship that exists between him and Babbitt
    B. one of the failed dreams that are common in Zenith
    C. his way of making a happy adjustment to married life
_____ 7. When Babbitt refuses to join the Good Citizens' League,
    A. Mrs. Babbitt takes pride in his stand
    B. Ted Babbitt is appalled by his father's socialist tendencies
    C. his Boosters' and Athletic club friends become hostile
_____ 8. One of the most important targets for Lewis's satiric attacks is
    A. anti-semitism
    B. the conformity demanded in modern America
    C. neglect of the elderly
_____ 9. Babbitt's rebellion fails because
    A. he is too weak to endure the social isolation his friends impose on him
    B. Mrs. Babbitt threatens to leave him for Vergil Gunch
    C. Seneca Doane proves an unworthy ally
_____ 10. The furniture in Babbitt's house represents
    I. the importance Babbitt places on material objects
    II. the conformity of life in Zenith
    III. Babbitt's hostility toward his wife
    A. I only
    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?

TEST 2

_____ 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

    A. foreshadowing
    B. satire
    C. hypocrisy
_____ 2. Babbitt's speech to the Zenith Real Estate Board
    I. praises standardization of thought
    II. criticizes liberals and other dissidents
    III. is an example of Lewis's use of parody
    A. I only
    B. I and II only
    C. I, II, and III
_____ 3. Lewis contrasts the Athletic and Union clubs to show
    A. the corruption of religion in Zenith
    B. class divisions in Zenith
    C. the differences between Zenith and small towns
_____ 4. The Babbitts' dinner party for the McKelveys is paralleled by
    A. the dinner party for Chum Frink and Vergil Gunch
    B. Babbitt's romantic dinner with Tanis
    C. the Overbrooks' dinner for the Babbitts.
_____ 5. Babbitt's campaign to increase Sunday School attendance
    I. wins him the respect of William Eathorne
    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
    A. II and III only
    B. III only
    C. I and III only
_____ 6. At the end of the novel, Babbitt
    I. looks to his son to succeed where he failed
    II. leads a conventional life but is not completely content
    III. hopes that with his family's help he can continue his rebellion
    A. I only
    B. I and II only
    C. I, II, and III
_____ 7. The sermons of Mike Monday and the Reverend John Jennison Drew
    A. oppose new ideas and promote the conservative status quo
    B. are similar in style, but opposite in meaning
    C. make calls for social reform
_____ 8. Babbitt's support of Seneca Doane is
    A. based on his own research in political science
    B. not much more thoughtful than were his previous opinions
    C. shared by Mrs. Babbitt
_____ 9. William Eathorne represents
    A. the honest older generation being displaced by the dishonest younger generation
    B. the rising American aristocracy
    C. an older generation more dignified than, but just as corrupt as, the younger generation
_____ 10. Babbitt's return to Maine fails because he
    A. he lacks proper equipment
    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?

ANSWERS

TEST 1
  1. B
  2. B
  3. C
  4. C
  5. C
  6. B
  7. C
  8. B
  9. A
  10. B

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.

TEST 2

  1. A
  2. C
  3. B
  4. C
  5. C
  6. B
  7. A
  8. B
  9. C
  10. B

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.

[Babbitt Contents]


TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING

  • LITERARY TOPICS
    1. What are Lewis's techniques as a satirist?
    2. Analyze Lewis's use of parody.
    3. In what ways is Babbitt loosely structured? In what ways does Lewis tie his story together?
    4. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Lewis's literary style.
  • ZENITH
    1. Explain the techniques of social climbing in Zenith.
    2. Discuss standardization in Zenith: of possessions, of conversation, of thought.
    3. Discuss the ways in which social control is exercised in Zenith.
    4. How are literature and art viewed in Zenith? Give examples.
    5. How is marriage portrayed in Zenith? Use the Rieslings and the Babbitts as illustrations.
    6. What is the role of the sexes in Zenith?
    7. Analyze the varieties of friendship: Babbitt and Paul Riesling, Babbitt and Vergil Gunch, Babbitt and Charles McKelvey.
    8. What purposes do clubs serve in Zenith? In what ways is the Bunch different from and the same as the Boosters' Club?
    9. In what ways is honesty preached in Zenith? To what extent is it practiced?
    10. Discuss the role of material possessions in Zenith, and the ways in which Lewis describes that role.
    11. Defend Zenith: what are its good points?
  • BABBITT
    1. In what ways is Babbitt a sympathetic character? Unsympathetic?
    2. Is Babbitt's rebellion inevitably doomed? Explain.
    3. Discuss Babbitt's attitude toward women.
    4. In what ways does Babbitt change during the course of the novel? In what ways doesn't he change?
  • OTHER CHARACTERS
    1. Is Mrs. Babbitt an upholder of Zenith's standards or a victim of those standards? Explain.
    2. Why do visionaries like Seneca Doane get beaten?
    3. In what ways is Tanis Judique superior to other Zenith people? In what ways is she like the others?
    4. Explain why Paul Riesling, Chum Frink, and others are failed dreamers.
    5. In what ways are the younger generation- Ted and Verona Babbitt, Eunice Littlefield, Kenneth Escott- different from, and the same as, their elders?
  • COMPARISONS WITH OTHER WORKS
    1. Compare Babbitt with Main Street.
    2. Compare Babbitt with other American books of its era- for example, with F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, or Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. What themes do they share?
    3. Compare Lewis the satirist to one of the satirists who influenced him: Charles Dickens, H. G. Wells, H. L. Mencken.
  • SOCIAL ISSUES
    1. Compare Lewis's fictional account of 1920s America to a historical account of the decade. What does he exaggerate? What does he ignore?
    2. Compare Babbitt's world to the 1980s. Do Zeniths and Babbitts still exist? If so, how have they changed and how have they remained the same?

[Babbitt Contents]


GLOSSARY

AMERICAN NEW THOUGHT LEAGUE
Philosophical organization promoted by Mrs. Opal Emerson Mudge and supported by Mrs. Babbitt.

ATHLETIC CLUB
Middle-class businessmen's club, less prestigious than the Union Club, to which Babbitt belongs.

BOHEMIAN
Originally a term used to describe artists who flout society's conventions. It's used by Babbitt to describe- first disapprovingly, then enviously- people like the Doppelbraus or "The Bunch," who seem to lead lives more exciting than his.

BOOSTERS' CLUB
Organization devoted to promoting business and Zenith: a symbol of Zenith's loud, mindless optimism.

THE BUNCH
Tanis Judique's friends, who consider themselves rebellious nonconformists.

CATAWBA
Babbitt's small, rural hometown, where his mother and stepbrother still live. It's a symbol of the older America that's being replaced by modern, urban Zenith.

CHATHAM ROAD PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
Church run by the Reverend John Jennison Drew; a symbol of religion corrupted by business.

DANTE
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Italian poet, author of The Divine Comedy. He's jokingly summoned during a seance at the Babbitts' dinner party.

FLORAL HEIGHTS
Upper middle-class Zenith neighborhood where Babbitt and his friends live.

GOOD CITIZENS' LEAGUE
Nationwide organization devoted to opposing- and silencing- those it considers too liberal.

MONARCH
Zenith's rival city and host of the S.A.R.E.B. convention.

OUTING GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB
Babbitt's country club, less prestigious than the Tonawanda Country Club.

PENTECOSTAL COMMUNION FAITH
Grim religion to which Zilla Riesling converts after her shooting.

POMPEIAN BARBER SHOP
A virtual palace devoted to the care of businessmen. Its employees include the pretty da Putiak.

PROHIBITION
The outlawing of alcohol in the United States, which under the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution lasted from 1919 to 1932.

ROUGHNECKS
The Athletic Club group with whom Babbitt usually lunches. It includes Vergil Gunch, Chum Frink, and Howard Littlefield.

S.A.R.E.B.
State Association of Real Estate Boards organization that Babbitt addresses at its convention.

UNION CLUB
The most prestigious men's club in Zenith. Charles McKelvey is a member, and Babbitt would like to be.

ZENITH ADVOCATE-TIMES
Zenith's morning newspaper, owned by Colonel Rutherford Snow, from which Babbitt gets most of his news and opinions.

ZENITH STREET TRACTION COMPANY
Zenith transit utility, which is involved in many corrupt deals with Babbitt-Thompson Realty.

REFERENCE
THE STORY, continued


ECC [Babbitt Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of PinkMonkey.com, Inc. is prohibited.

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