Study Guide

Myra Babbitt in Babbitt

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Myra Babbitt

The Anemic Nun

The first impressions we get of Mrs. Myra Babbitt are all filtered entirely through the eyes of her husband, George, and, to tell you the truth, they aren't all that generous. Toward the beginning of the book, Babbitt is almost incapable of looking at Myra without thinking of how little sexual attraction he feels toward her, which: ouch.

Seeing through Babbitt's eyes, the narrator tells us that:

Myra Babbitt—Mrs. George F. Babbitt—was definitely mature. She had creases from the corners of her mouth to the bottom of her chin, and her plump neck bagged. (1.4.1)

Well, we're sad to say it, George, but that's a pretty natural part of getting into your forties.

In case that earlier quote didn't drive the point home enough, Babbitt quickly thinks to himself in the same scene that his wife "had become so dully habituated to married life that in her full matronliness she was as sexless as an anemic nun" (1.4.1). Or in other words, he's annoyed that she doesn't keep herself thin and that she dresses mostly for comfort instead of style when she's working around the house.

All in all, the guy isn't really fair to her, especially considering how much he likes to put back the steak and beer himself.

A Piece of Furniture

One of the saddest things about Myra Babbitt's life is that when she isn't getting silently criticized by her husband for letting herself go, she's not getting any attention at all. At one point, the narrator even compares her to a piece of furniture and claims that:

She was a good woman, a kind woman, a diligent woman, but no one, save perhaps Tinka her ten-year-old, was at all interested in her or entirely aware that she was alive. (1.4.1)

How's that for depressing? George Babbitt gets an entire book that talks about his spiritual malaise, but where's the book about Myra? Nowhere, that's where.

For her part, Myra tries to stay on the sidelines of her husband's life as much as possible. Whenever she does speak up and try to play a role in the family's decisions, Babbitt accuses her of being a nag and tells her to leave him alone. As the narrator tells us:

It was Mrs. Babbitt who had made this discord in their spiritual harmony, and one of Mrs. Babbitt's virtues was that, except during dinner-parties, when she was transformed into a raging hostess, she took care of the house and didn't bother the males by thinking. (6.3.63)

In other words, Myra's position as a wife in 1920s society is basically to clean the house and not think too much. Hmm… maybe this book takes place in Stepford, not in Zenith?

The Human Being

No matter how much Babbitt might ignore her, Myra is still a human being with her own hopes and dreams. She tries as hard as she can to reassure Babbitt and make him comfortable, but there are times when he becomes so unfair that she has no choice but to express her dismay.

On one occasion, she even breaks down and cries because she feels like a dinner they've thrown has been a miserable failure. She tries to tell Babbitt that it was excellent, "But from his cot on the sleeping-porch [Babbitt] heard her weeping, slowly, without hope" (15.3.21). Poor Myra. We want to give her an all-expenses-paid cruise... and maybe set her up with an OkCupid account.

It's not until the late, late stages of the book that Myra finally stands up for herself and tells Babbitt that he's not the only person on Earth who sometimes gets dissatisfied with his life. As she says to him at one point,

"Don't you suppose I ever get tired of fussing? I get so bored with ordering three meals a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and ruining my eyes over that horrid sewing machine." (30.3.20)

It's important to realize that even though Babbitt is the central character of this book, he's not the most important person in the world. Myra has her own hopes and dreams, and it's a shame that she has to voice them in such angry ways to get Babbitt to acknowledge her. In the end, though, it's her illness that gets Babbitt to start treating her better and to feel ashamed for having an affair. So maybe there's still some love and affection there. Maybe.

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