Study Guide

Paul Riesling in Babbitt

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

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Paul Riesling

Paul is George Babbitt's bestie. The have an epic bromance. You might even say he's Babbitt's reason for living, since Babbitt immediately feels like life is pointless the moment Paul goes to jail. As with any character in the book, our first impressions of Paul come through the perspective of Babbitt, and one of the first things we hear about him is that:

They had been classmates, roommates, in the State University, but always he thought of Paul Riesling, with his dark slimness, his precisely parted hair, his nose-glasses, his hesitant speech, his moodiness, his love of music, as a younger brother. (4.3.6)

So to put it in different terms, Babbitt is able to keep his life on an even keel because he's constantly trying to cheer Paul up about his life.

One day, though, Babbitt confesses to Paul that he's been having doubts about whether making money or raising kids in a nice house is all that fulfilling (short answer: nope). Paul responds by saying,

"Good Lord, George, you don't suppose it's any novelty to me to find that we are hustlers, that think we're so all-fired successful, aren't getting much out of it?" (5.3.30)

In other words, Paul isn't surprised that Babbitt thinks his life is empty, because according to Paul, it totally is. Paul never wanted to be a businessman to begin with, but a violin player: "I ought to have been a fiddler, and I'm a peddler of tar-roofing!" (5.3.33). Sorry to all the tar roofing salespeople out there, but there's something a little more romantic about being a violinist than there is about being a salesman.

Eventually, Paul becomes so frustrated with his life that he shoots his wife Zilla in the shoulder. He winds up in jail and refuses to see Babbitt because he's sick of Babbitt's high-and-mighty moral attitude. Or as he says to Babbitt, "I'm glad you came. But I thought maybe you'd lecture me" (22.1.16).

Little does he know that Babbitt's moral lifestyle is about to go totally off the rails. The last time we hear of Paul, Babbitt thinks to himself that Paul is as good as dead. The boring, suburban life has completely drained him, and he's so empty that he's basically a zombie.

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