Babbitt (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Babbitt (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview




Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

In the small midwestern city of Zenith, George Babbitt seems to have it all: a successful real-estate business, a devoted wife, three children, and a house with all the modern conveniences. Yet, dissatisfied and lonely, he’s begun to question the conformity, consumerism, and competitiveness of his conservative, and ultimately cultureless middle-class community. His despairing sense that something, many things are missing from his life leads him into a flirtation with liberal politics and a fling with an attractive and seemingly “bohemian” widow. But he soon finds that his attempts at rebellion may cost more than he is willing to pay.

The title of Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 satire on American materialism added a new word to our vocabulary. “Babbittry” has come to stand for all that’s wrong with a world where the pursuit of happiness means the procurement of things—a world that substitutes “stuff” for “soul.” Some twenty years after Babbitt’s initial success, critics called Lewis dated and his fiction old-fashioned. But these judgments have come to seem like wishful thinking. With Babbitry evident all around us, the novel is more relevant than ever.


Kenneth Krauss teaches drama at the College of Saint Rose, in Albany, New York. His books include Maxwell Anderson and the New York Stage, Private Readings/Public Texts, and The Drama of Fallen France.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593082673
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 09/01/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 55,396
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 5.32(h) x 1.01(d)

About the Author

Born in 1885 in Minnesota, Sinclair Lewis worked as a newspaper journalist before becoming an acclaimed novelist. Known for their satirical take on modern affairs, his best-known books include Main Street, Arrowsmith, Babbitt, and Dodsworth. In 1930, he became the first U.S. writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Lewis died in1951 in Italy.

Read an Excerpt


From Kenneth Krauss’s Introduction to Babbitt

In his novel Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis took a close look at what America was fast becoming and described it in clear, often damningly accurate and hilarious detail. In the 1920s, when readers first encountered the novel, they glimpsed new trends and tendencies that were going on all around them; we, as readers, today are in the curious position of witnessing just when and how the world as we know it—the world that we see virtually everywhere and that we tend to take for granted—came into being.

The hero, or at least main character, of the book is hardly unusual. He is distinguished by neither intelligence nor stupidity, bravery nor cowardice, kindness nor cruelty. Although he manages to demonstrate all of these characteristics, none of them can quite characterize him. In fact, George F. Babbitt is most interesting because he is not interesting, because he manages to locate himself between the extremes, positioning himself resolutely in the middle. He is, to put it simply, a middle-class, middle-brow, middle-aged, middle-American male who is about to embark on a midlife crisis. As a resident of the middle-sized Midwestern city of Zenith in 1920, he is poised on the brink of a great boom in the American economy and all the daring social changes that came along with it.

Yet as a person of some (although it must be stressed, just some) feeling, moral conscience, and spiritual belief, he is also heir to the terrible disillusionment that followed the Great War (World War I), which, in fact, is directly mentioned only once in the book. Babbitt may not have participated in the “war to end all wars,” but his experience of his world makes clear in subtle ways just how America was struggling to redefine and, at the same time, to remain itself after the cataclysm. Babbitt, who was (and probably still is) regarded by many as a (if not the) quintessential American type, stands at the center of a culture that, to borrow from Charles de Gaulle, had gone from barbarism to decadence without the usual intervening phase of civilization.

George F. Babbitt may not be a very likeable character, but he is difficult to hate completely. Ultimately, like some, but not all, of the people who inhabit Sinclair Lewis’s fiction, he makes his peace with his times by choosing to go along with them and with all that he has previously questioned. The notion of conformism, which Babbitt at times praises and at other times ridicules, plays a powerful role in the way he lives his life. One may not wish to be exactly like everyone else, but at the same time, one cannot afford to be too different. The pressure of others is inescapable in the end.

Nevertheless, perhaps his very lack of anything outstanding, whether for good or ill, makes Babbitt a genuinely outstanding modernist creation. Babbitt functions in literature as most people appear to function in life: He blends in, goes along, tries to uphold what is generally thought to be best for himself and perhaps his family and, at the same time, strives to make a buck. This blend of business not with pleasure but with what is supposed to be decency (which is never much fun) is an uneasy one. During the course of the narrative, Babbitt strays, questions his own misgivings, looks to end his own unhappiness, and rebels. In the end, he makes amends. Unwilling to accept the peril that comes with rebellion, Babbitt cautiously, but gratefully, interjects himself back into the social matrix that he has come so close to despising. He is saved at the expense of being lost.

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Babbitt 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 206 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Babbitt is a story satirizing the fanciful, ridiculously materialistic lifestyle of an affluent middle-class American, George F. Babbitt, in the 1920s. Babbitt is a haughty businessman who gradually becomes so bored with social parties and an elite lifestyle that he hypocritically partakes in activities and principles he vilifies, such as drinking rampages, liberalism, and blatant infidelity. As the story progresses, Babbitt becomes less and less glued to his conventional and materialistic ideals and through spontaneous realizations and epiphanies, learns to develop treasured family ties and friendships. Lewis focuses on Babbitt¿s life, which is filled with the latest technological inventions, a surplus of money, and a handful of elite friends, yet devoid of meaning. Lewis utilizes Babbitt¿s character and unhappiness with life to portray when humans become obsessed with their social status, they will surrender their own comfort and happiness to advance their place in society. Babbitt is a beautiful masterpiece, honed to sharp precision and programmed to disclose the flagrant hypocrisy and immorality of the esteemed middle-class. When one weaves through Lewis¿s brilliant rhetoric, one will discover the ludicrousness of respected and orthodox American ideals in the early twentieth century. A small problem with Babbitt is that despite its magnificent oratory, it slowly and monotonously drags in certain parts of the novel. At times the language can become cloudy and difficult to comprehend. However, Lewis¿s strong rhetoric shines through these dull moments and successfully leaves a lasting impression on the reader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Babbitt may be a fictional account, but Sinclair Lewis¿s satire contains a humbling effect for anyone in the American middle-class majority. The story centers on George F. Babbitt, a resident of Zenith City and the epitome of middle-aged businessman, Republican and capitalist in judgment. Throughout the course of the novel, Lewis portrays his message about the dangers of both conformity and trying to break from it through the development of Babbitt as a character. He begins as a highly opinionated and hypercritical real-estate salesman, unable to formulate original biases. As the story progresses, Babbitt realizes his dissatisfaction with the monotony of constant dinner parties, Booster Club meetings, and golf games. As a result, he resorts to such indecencies as drinking (the book is set during the Prohibition era), infidelity, and the most deadly of all sins a socially liberal ideology. From associating himself with the self-titled ¿Bohemian¿ lifestyle of his mistress and the leftist views of strikers in the streets, Babbitt not only incurs the ostracism of his companions, but discovers the Bohemian¿s hypocritical nature through their tedious routine and continuous parallels with the middle-class routine it tries to escape. Lewis¿s critical tale has continued to hold the same relevancy in American culture because of its timeless observations of a universal human tendency. Through the weaving of almost comedic satire into a description of a dull life, the book provides a haunting analysis of the displeasure almost all people feel with where they sit in society.
EagleIDEyes More than 1 year ago
This was my first Sinclair Lewis read. This book does doesn't fall into the category of 'page turner'. Rather, Babbit chronicles the struggles of a typical American father. In this book, there is something that most men could relate to. It was interesting to me to see how timeless some of the principles outlined in this book are. Although the setting is much earlier, the struggles Babbit deals with in his professional and personal life are in one way or the other played out today. Because of the steady even pace of this book, it did take me a while to get through, but I'm glad I did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book. One of my favorites. Sinclair Lewis writes in beautiful vivid language about issues that we tend to think of as unique to our own time, not the least of which is the standardization and homogenization of american culture. Bully!
wookietim More than 1 year ago
I like Lewis's writing, and have read a couple of his books. In this one his opinions come through loud and clear and with the least amount of distraction. Babbit is a wonderful character - worthy of pity and revulsion but also able to be identified with at the same time. You actually kind of cheer for him to change and are sad when he can't quite do that... although the and does show that maybe he has learned a little something at least. And in the end, that is the essence of a great literary character - the fact that he goes through a lot and maybe doesn't change completely but makes a believable step forward.
PAPA-NYC More than 1 year ago
I was concerned that it was going to be too much of a "period book" but the way that Sinclair Lewis shows how "in tune" he was with the male psyche was almost dumbfounding. The book is timeless and enjoyable at almost every page.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In 'Babbitt', Lewis introduces us to George Babbitt, a materialistic, proud man. When tragedy strikes, Babbitt finds himself questioning his very middle-class lifestyle and looking for meaning. An extremely well written book, Lewis mocks the emptiness of middle-class society. Although it takes place in the 1920's it is still true today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Author, Sinclair Lewis subtly takes us into George F. Babbitt's mind inclusive of his environment. I cannot remember the last time I read such a well written novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She walks in and looks at Phobe
mandomama More than 1 year ago
Babbitt is one book which I reread yearly. I adore Sinclair Lewis as one of America's best authors who captures the essence of American life at the turn of the century.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a superbly written satire on American materialism. Though the technology and language is outdated, George Babbitt's behaviors and actions are much like the members of today's middle-class society.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As American men go, George F. Babbitt, realtor of Zenith, is not particularly good, not notably bad. But he is restless and he grows worse, particularly after his best friend shoots his nagging wife and is sentenced to three years in prison. Babbitt then falls apart, chases women, drinks too much Prohibition era liquor and shows dangerous sympathy for labor unions and a radical local lawyer named Seneca Doane. Babbitt determines to break free and become accountable to no one. But his friends in the Boosters' Club, the Presbyterian Church, the Republican Party and other organizations make it clear that he must either return to being the old predictable, conformist George F. or he will find his business fading to nothing. *** Babbitt then sees the light, hauls himself up and is welcomed back to normalcy as husband, father, businessman, Republican and Booster. In token of atonement offered and accepted, one of his fraternal admirers, while on a trip to Catawba, George's birthplace, discovered the truth about Babbitt's middle initial. The 'F' stood for FOLLANSBEE (the name of the Babbitt family doctor). The once lapsed Babbitt was rebaptized on the spot back where he belonged. *** What fun the broad-minded Boosters had with that revelation of inner weakness before they forgave their Georgie! What name might they have otherwise guessed? *** 'Flivver, they suggested, and Frog-face and Flathead and Farinaceous and Freezone and Flapdoodle and Foghorn. By the joviality of their insults, Babbitt knew that he had been taken back to their hearts ... ' (Ch. 34). 'He knew that he would no more endanger his security and popularity by straying from the Clan of Good Fellows.'
k8_not_kate on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have a sneaking suspicion that Babbitt would have been much more interesting if I had read it in 1922 when it was first published.Sinclair is commenting on conformity and the deadening comfort of modern American life in Babbitt. While many of his points may still valid, they're not as true today. Additionally, the image of the suburban father and his household are dated, which makes it hard to relate to. Perhaps the most valuable thing a modern reader can take away from Babbitt is that true rebellion is only possible if you really commit, and that's not an easy thing to do. Sinclair points out just why it's so easy to sit back and conform.
millsge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read the book over 32 years ago. Although I no longer remember all of it, I do remember enough of it to recommend the book to almost anyone. If you're going on a long plane flight or need a book for your vacation, leave Clancy, Kellerman, et al at home and take this or any of Lewis' other works with you. You will enjoy the book and your trip much more than you would have had you taken some other work of popular fiction along.
alv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Unsettling satire of the foundational values of the American busines-oriented and puritanistic society, probably still current.
angeliquestratt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you're looking for a book that make you critically examine the everyday life of a period, look no further. If you're looking for a typical plot line, look elsewhere. The basic premise of this book is that a middle aged, established man begins to question societal norms in a gradual and non-philosophical way. Babbitt doesn't start reading Marx, declare himself a communist and set out to consciously change his life. Instead, he decides to have a third glass of whiskey one night, spend another with a racy crowd, skip Elk's Club once in awhile if he feels like it. Interestingly, even as he does this, his ideas remain somewhat stationary. Though he drinks an extra glass of whiskey, he doesn't begin to condone excessive drinking, etc etc. He begins to act on isolated urges without altering his principles to do so. This makes for a realistic transition, and Babbitt is believable throughout. It provides an answer to the question I have asked myself about someone's actions time and time again, "why would this person change in this way?"
realistTheorist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The protagonist, Mr. Babbitt is a middle-aged, middle-class real-estate broker, who votes Republican, goes to church, and is the member of the right club; but, he is not very zealous about any of these aspects of his life. He is even open to alternatives in morality and politics, and he explores some of them. Babbitt is not a caricature we would reject as ridiculous. He is a realistic portrayal of a man who has chosen values which are about average for his background.Sinclair Lewis does not sympathize with Babbit's values. There are parts of the book that are satirical in highlighting Babbitt's hypocrisy. Nevertheless, Lewis appears sympathetic to Babbit the man; the man who is not quite happy with his choices, and is trying to be open to alternatives.Lewis's book is naturalism at its best. The actors introspect, and make choices, and direct their lives... and yet, the summarizing message is that this is extremely difficult, and perhaps essentially futile. We do not see someone being absolutely carried along with the trend; but, we surely do not see any heroic battles either. The actors are not born with some inherent flaw that they cannot will away; yet, we find them constrained by their own values and choices, unable to radically change the choices they have made.While I cannot recommend this as inspiring fiction, I think it is definitely worth reading a few such books. I think this type of naturalism has didactic (and "cautionary tale") value. While the naturalism will leave the reader uninspired, the plot carries one along as if one were watching a real reality show.Personally, I will probably read more Sinclair Lewis, but primarily as part of my interest in that period of American history from the 1880s to WW-II.
theokester on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm still a bit torn on this book.The writing was good. The main character, Babbitt, had considerable depth and we really got into his head. The environment/setting/etc was well presented and really gave me a good feel for 1920s middle America. The ending wrapped up the various elements into a nice little package while still giving you something to think about.And yet, I left this novel feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled. There are a few ways to take this novel. From a high level, it's a great sociological exploration into the American upper-middle-class family of the 1920s. It does a great job of showing work life and family life...of exploring the various issues a worker and a family may face...from labor unions to college to prohibition to the overly peppy youth.From a plot standpoint, it's more difficult to evaluate. We follow this man Babbitt through his business days and his time with family and friends. We really get into his head and get a feel for the large variety of things that leave him discontented. And yet through many of the chapters, there doesn't seem to be much "plot" at all other than just randomly following this guy around.There are, backing out to the overall novel, elements of a story arc that takes Babbitt's discontent and allows it to rise and fall and thus driving him to some action. But the elements of action felt sparse within the context of the novel. When the story arc finally reached its first climax, we got a few chapters of self destructive behavior and it looked as though our hero was in for a fall that would spur him either to disaster or into some radical action. Unfortunately, neither came to pass and the climax petered out.I think part of the problem too for me is that I read this in a moment when I was already personally discontented with some elements in my life (work, school...) and so I found myself relating too closely to the overly depressive side of Babbitt. So as he spiraled downward, I felt my own mind reeling, though grateful that I could personally avoid his type of behavior. And yet, once the conclusion of his actions wrapped up, it felt very anti-climactic for me and I felt like nothing was truly resolved the way it could be resolved in real life. Thus, it was as though I got wrapped up in the emotions of a self-destructive mid-life crisis without feeling any resolution to pull me out of the disparaging pit the novel dug. Fortunately, things aren't that bleak for me and I'll quickly dig myself out.If you're interested in the 1920s...or middle america...or the emotions and turmoil of a midlife crisis...then by all means, give this book a read. There are moments of humor and, if pieced together, can make an engaging narrative. Otherwise, the novel itself is rather boring and I personally feel that it can largely be passed by.***2.5 stars out of 5
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It has been more than forty years since I read this book, so it is probably a good time to return; but I'm not sure what to expect from rereading this classic from the pen of Sinclair Lewis. More recently I've read Main Street which I enjoyed. However, Babbitt, while demonstrating the signature Sinclair Lewis satirical style, lingers in my memory as a different sort of book. Carol Kennicot, was endearing in her earnest innocence, while Babbitt has the reputation of a brash booster who gives urban business a bad name. There must be more to the novel than this simple-sounding approach to character. Yet, the character lives through this image. The opening of the novel suggests that Babbitt is living in a world of "grotesqueries" that make up the city of Zenith. This portends what is to come and is in itself a sign of the thought the author has put into his work. The towers of skyscrapers are contrasted with the lowness of tenements. All culminating in the comment that this is "a city built - it seemed - for giants." Enter the lilliputian booster in the person of George F. Babbitt. This reader is confident the style will carry him over and beyond the drudgery of the naturalistic philosophy that underlies this "classic" of the nineteen-twenties.
bookworm12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
George Babbitt is a middle-aged real-estate broker living in the fictional Midwestern town of Zenith in the 1920s. He has done everything ¿right¿ in life and lives with his kids and wife in a nice little town. He¿s well respected in the community and is successful in business. He loves to think about his superiority over others and ¿subtly¿ brag about his material possessions. When a crisis with his best friend sends him spiraling into a midlife crisis we learn just how unhappy Babbitt truly is. He¿s built a perfect world, based on what he¿s been told means success, yet he feels empty. ¿Every Saturday afternoon he hustled out to his country club and hustled through nine holes of golf, as a rest after the week¿s hustle.¿ Babbitt reminded me quite a bit of The Corrections, except I hated that book and I didn¿t hate this one. It has a similar concept, looking at the average American family and the dysfunction within it, but this one was published about 80 years earlier. I think Babbitt touched on issues that were completely new and hadn¿t been discussed yet, like ambition and success vs. family values, the ¿American Dream¿ of bigger cars and bigger paychecks vs. happiness. Even though I liked this book, I struggled to feel attached to it because I disliked the characters so much. There¿s not a likeable one in the bunch. Babbitt is a self-important fool, his kids are spoiled brats, and even his wife is a bit of a simpleton. I was impressed with what Lewis said about American society in the early 20th century, before everyone else was saying it, but I didn¿t love the book itself. This was my first experience with Sinclair Lewis (who I have always confused with Upton Sinclair) and I¿m looking forward to seeing if some of his other famous books, like Main Street, have the same tone.
computer_tom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Babbitt is the story of a man attempting to break free from the stranglehold of society. In the start of the novel Babbitt is just another conservative upper class citizen but throughout the story he takes on new directions in both his lifestyle and political ideals. Besides politics this novel is so much more. The only downside to the book is its length, far to short. I wish the book would be twice the long so I could enjoy all the more time with it.If you wish to read a brilliant political satire than this is the book for you. Lewis has a simple but thought provoking style which combines the best qualities of storytelling and Orwellian satire to create a new masterpiece which is Babbitt.Some reviewers complain about being able to follow the storyline, but that is simply not true. You must enter the novel with both an open mind and an understanding of satire in order to understand Lewis' creative style. Well worth any effort you may instow upon it.A must for any bookshelf!
soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I see a lot of myself in Babbitt. He's a man trapped within himself and his limitations; he wants to be free, but he's not sure exactly what he wants to be free from, or how to go about his release from the pressures of society and relationships. His rebellion is fascinating though short-lived.The novel itself is more of an account of America in the early 1920s - the rampant growth of the economy, the nascent anti-communism leanings that would reach their zenith with McCarthy, the standardisation and normalisation of everything and everybody, and the rise of 'science' - though this being America and business, a very unscientific science.
jaimjane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As I was reading this book I kept thinking, I know this man! Actually, I've met a couple that would come very close to this guy. The way Lewis presented him was very clever. It was hard to like Babbitt very much, but I couldn't hate him either. Just when he got truly unlikeable, he would do something goofy and utterly human or have a moment of relative clarity. His self righteousness as well as his doubts are shown with equal distinction. The satire is fabulous and I laughed out loud many times. Read this book.
carrot_bosco on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent portrayal of a middle-class business man in the vernacular of the times being portrayed. Once I got into it, I found it hard to put down. It's broken into small segments making it hard to get confused as to what's going on. Babbitt is a vehicle for exposing some of the major flaws of the business/social climber.
CarlaR on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I did like the writing, however the story just made me sad. There was no time that I could cheer for Babbit.... not when he is in his plastic life at the top of the social hierarchy, and not when he is rebelling with parties and women. It's most crushing when he decides to go back to where he was in the beginning.