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The major theme, however depressing, is one of acceptance through conformity. American society, especially in the middle classes, is depicted as hollow and empty. Individuality is discouraged. In fact, the struggle to keep up with the traditions and expectations of society can cause the individual to completely lose his place in the world. Sinclair Lewis' novel is one of the most important works of the 20th century to deal with the struggle of man caught in the machine of urban life. Babbitt accepts this conformity in the end, but his story is presented as a warning to all of the dangers associated with clinging too deeply to convention.
The mood of the novel is serious in its realistically troubled portrayal of a man questioning the course of his whole life. Paul Riesling's violent act against his wife and his subsequent imprisonment are grave situations. The pain Myra experiences when Babbitt is struggling is difficult to endure. However, many of the characters and situations are presented with richly humorous overtones, and Babbitt himself is a dynamically developed character capable of providing some laughs as well as some serious concerns. His friends are foolish and pompous, but do not recognize their own imperfections. Their mannerisms and affectations are obvious to the reader but painfully invisible to the other characters (except Babbitt). Many times the characters revert to types, a strategy that dramatically lessons the serious undertones of any storyline.