Study Guide

George F. Babbitt in Babbitt

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

George F. Babbitt

The Good Boy

When we first meet Babbitt, the guy looks like your typical successful American man, at least by the standards of the 1920s. He is a respected member of his community, a firm defender of free market capitalism, and a good provider for his (somewhat ungrateful) family. As the narrator tells us early on, George thinks of business as a sort of spiritual faith, as he "beheld the [office] tower as a temple-spire of the religion of business, a faith passionate, exalted, surpassing common men" (1.5.2). Yeah, Georgie Boy pretty much lives by the "greed is good" philosophy of life.

That said, the narrator of this novel doesn't exactly approve of Babbit. The narrator likes to take snarky little jabs at Babbitt's apparently awesome life. In one case, it's noted that Babbitt

…was forty-six years old now, in April, 1920, and he made nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry, but he was nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay. (1.2.2)

Ouch.

In other words, the guy might know a thing or two about selling, but the truth is that he doesn't actually make anything the way that a carpenter or factory worker might. All he does is buy stuff at low prices and sell it for higher, which basically makes him a type of professional gambler.

Despite the jabs, though, Babbitt is a good American manly man. His friends at his social clubs like him a lot, and he loves to joke and laugh and have a good time. The only problem is that all of his laughing, joking, smoking, and drinking is just a cover for the fact that his life ain't all that fulfilling.

The Dreamer

Even though Babbitt seems to love his life on the surface, he harbors a flickering sense of dissatisfaction that pops up in his dreams. This dissatisfaction is symbolized by the figure of a "fairy child" who always calls to Babbitt while he's sleeping and promises him more fulfillment than he could ever hope to find in his waking life. There's always lots of work to be done, yet whenever he sleeps, "Babbitt [is] again dreaming of the fairy child, a dream more romantic than scarlet pagodas by a silver sea" (1.2.3).

The fact is that, deep down, Babbitt knows that a new boat or new house won't make him happy. There needs to be something more to life.

Oh, yeah, this fairy child is also smokin' hot: she's like a sexy Tinkerbell. On top of Babbitt's desire for a more fulfilling life, the fairy child also shows us that he longs to be with a beautiful young woman who will take away all of his feelings of insecurity and make him feel, once and for all, that he's amazing just the way he is.

This beautiful young woman lies in stark contrast to Babbitt's wife, Myra, whom Babbitt has never truly been in love with. In fact, he originally planned on telling Myra that their engagement was off, but as we find out:

Often, in the month after, he got near to telling her, but it was pleasant to have a girl in his arms, and less and less could he insult her by blurting that he didn't love her. (6.4.21)

The Rebel

Babbitt's dissatisfaction with his successful-yet-boring American life comes to a head when his best buddy Paul Riesling goes to jail for shooting his wife. Turns out that Paul wasn't a big fan of the suburban lifestyle, either. After Babbitt learns of Paul's fate, we read that he "returned to his office to realize that he faced a world which, without Paul, was meaningless" (22.3.1).

This sense of meaninglessness eventually causes Babbitt to lash out by drinking heavily, by having an affair, and by publicly embracing left-wing politics in front of his Republican friends. He's a rebel without a cause.

We learned earlier in the book that Babbitt has always respected social appearances as much as the next guy. For example:

In twenty-three years of married life he had peered uneasily at every graceful ankle, every soft shoulder; in thought he had treasured them; but not once had he hazarded respectability by adventuring. (3.3.22)

Dude has a wandering eye, but he's too scared of social repercussions to act on his desires. Sigh.

But that all changes once he meets Tanis Judique and begins an affair with her. Eventually, the affair fizzles and Babbitt returns to his former life of respectability. But he's a changed man, and he finds a lot of hope in the thought that his son Ted is going to live life by his own rules and not become a robot like Georgie Boy.