Study Guide

Babbitt Dissatisfaction

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Dissatisfaction

He looked regretfully at the blanket—forever a suggestion to him of freedom and heroism. He had bought it for a camping trip which had never come off. (1.3.4)

One of the things that Babbitt wants most out of life is freedom and independence. Unfortunately, the guy also feels lonely and craves companionship. It's a bit of a double bind. It doesn't help that he keeps making big plans for trips that he never ends up taking. That's got dissatisfaction written all over it.

While she waited, tapping a long, precise pencil-point on the desk-tablet, he half identified her with the fairy girl of his dreams. He imagined their eyes meeting with terrifying recognition; imagined touching her lips with frightened reverence. (3.2.20)

It's not long before Babbitt's general dissatisfaction starts making him crave some sort of outlet in his everyday life. In his dreams, the figure of a fairy child always promises to make him feel young and beautiful. But dreaming isn't enough. Babbitt wants this kind of satisfaction in real life, so he starts looking for young women who might be able to fill in for the role of the fairy child.

"Course I wouldn't beef about it to the fellows at the Roughnecks' Table there, but you—Ever feel that way, Paul?" (5.3.28)

Babbitt is cagey about bringing up his dissatisfaction. He won't mention it to his wife Myra and he certainly won't mention it to his barroom buddies. But he will talk about this sort of thing to his best friend Paul. In this moment, he reaches out and looks for some reassurance. He wants to know that other people have felt his kind of dissatisfaction before.

"Kind of comes over me: here I've pretty much done all the things I ought to; supported my family, and got a good house and a six-cylinder car, and built up a nice little business […] And yet, even so, I don't know that I'm entirely satisfied!" (5.3.29)

When Babbitt looks at his life, it seems as though he's done everything he's supposed to in order to be happy. But for all of his money and his house and his car, he's still not satisfied. This sense of dissatisfaction will basically go on to drive the action for the rest of this novel.

"[If] it hadn't been for you and an occasional evening playing the violin to Terrill O'Farrell's cello, and three or four darling girls that let me forget this beastly joke they call 'respectable life,' I'd 've killed myself years ago." (5.3.47)

Babbitt might think that he's dissatisfied, but Paul Riesling totally one-ups him in that department. For Paul, there are very few reasons for staying alive, apart from playing his violin every now and then. This level of sadness is actually scary to Babbitt, who doesn't want his own situation to become as bad as Paul's.

But Babbitt—the curst discontent was torturing him again, and heavily, in the impersonal darkness, he pondered, "I don't—We're all so flip and think we're so smart." (9.1.49)

Babbitt's discontent starts out as a little pinch in his conscience. But eventually, it starts turning into dislike for the people around him. He's tired of his rich friends cracking jokes and thinking that they're so smart all the time. He's starting to realize that all of their good cheer is actually pretty superficial.

The immense tenderness of the place sunk into Babbitt, and he murmured, "I'd just like to sit here—the rest of my life—and whittle—and sit. And never hear a typewriter." (11.2.2)

Sometimes, Babbitt is able to find some peace and quiet and actually experience some satisfaction. But these moments are always brief because he knows, deep down, that he's going to return to his regular business and family life.

But from his cot on the sleeping-porch he heard her weeping, slowly, without hope. (15.3.21)

Babbitt might think he's the only person in the world who's dissatisfied. But every now and then, he realizes that everyone else is too, especially his wife Myra. After a failed dinner party, Myra puts on a brave face and assures him that everything was a success. Afterward, though, he can hear her crying. The main difference between them is that Myra is much better at hiding her dissatisfaction from the world.

It came to him that he had nothing to do, that there was nothing he wanted to do. (19.3.33)

One of the biggest problems with Babbitt's dissatisfaction is that he often has trouble figuring out how to drag himself out of it. If it were as simple as wanting something, he could just go out and get it. The problem is that Babbitt doesn't really want anything. The world seems empty to him, and at this point, we might start to wonder if the guy has sunk into full-blown depression.

Babbitt returned to his office to realize that he faced a world which, without Paul, was meaningless. (22.3.1)

Up until now, Babbitt has managed his depression by spending time with Paul and talking about deep life issues. But once Paul snaps and goes to jail for shooting his wife, Babbitt is left all alone to deal with his dissatisfaction. Without having someone he can vent his darkest feelings to, Babbitt starts to go off the rails in his thoughts and his behavior, since he feels that nothing means anything now that Paul is gone.