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MonkeyNotes-Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
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Themes

As already stated, the major theme expressed in the novel is one of acceptance through conformity. Two other Themes that are dealt with in the novel are the related ideas of the individual versus society and illusion versus reality. These Themes are used by Lewis to satirize the middle-class American mind-set which forces man to conform to the greater group and also to exhibit himself in a manner acceptable to society.

In all his novels Sinclair Lewis mostly portrays social types and classes that dominate the individual. Babbitt is a typical businessman with an ambition to climb the ladder of social success and make money. However, he gets bored playing the part of an astute businessman and a responsible family man. It is then that he asserts his individuality by speaking his mind and doing what he likes. His attitude shocks his friends and family and as such is alienated from them. The overwhelming power of the group on the individual is no more real than when Babbitt slowly begins to lose everything because he has refused to join the Good Citizen's League. Only when he resigns himself as a "citizen" of the world he is bored by is he able to succeed.

Most of the characters of Sinclair Lewis live in a world of illusion. Lewis tries to expose the modern American society, which compels men to wear masks in order to establish their identity. Therefore, men like Babbitt make futile business deals, become members of snobbish clubs, throw wastefully lavish parties, give shallow speeches and lead staid lives. Their individual self is submerged beneath his social image. Only when Babbitt is alone or with Paul can he reveal his true self. Whenever Babbitt falls sick or finds himself alone in the house, he either dwells on his futile existence or dreams about the beautiful fairy. But in the world outside, he presents himself as a whole man, satisfied and well respected. Appearances, as he tells his son Ted, are everything. College may be a waste of time, but at least it makes one look good.


Irony in the Novel

Irony abounds in the novel through its words, characters and situations. The names of the places chosen by Lewis are perfect examples of this. Babbitt's hometown is Zenith, but the inhabitants of the city are far from the zenith of perfection. Similarly, the neighborhood is named Floral Heights but its inmates hardly emanate the fragrance of flowers. Babbitt is the member of the Athletic club, but his physique is far from that of an athlete. Finally, the Good Citizens' League houses members who are hypocritical and intolerant of liberal views, and who, in the final scenes of the novel, employ thugs to rough up some of their opponents.

Babbitt as a character presents a picture of irony. He often experiences contradictory emotions and clashes of ideals. He loves portraying the image of a respectable family man but hates the responsibility attached to it. He likes to present himself as a successful businessman but gets bored tackling routine business affairs. He enjoys throwing parties but gets fed up talking to the guests and entertaining them. He derives pleasure from smoking but swears it off as a bad habit.

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