Study Guide

Babbitt Men and Masculinity

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Men and Masculinity

[It] may have been resentment of return from this fine, bold man-world to a restricted region of wives and stenographers, and of suggestions not to smoke so much. (1.3.2)

Whenever Babbitt feels the call of the everyday world, he resents the fact that there are women like his wife and secretary who tell him what to do. He much prefers to be among men, because men never try to tell one another what to do in his mind.

But he had no cigarette-case. No one had ever happened to give him one, so he hadn't the habit, and people who carried cigarette-cases he regarded as effeminate. (1.4.22)

Babbitt is concerned about being seen as a masculine man, so he doesn't bother to carry a case for his cigarettes because he thinks that these cases are effeminate. Next thing you know, the guy won't want to put cream in his coffee because it's too girly.

"Well we know—not just in the Bible alone, but it stands to reason—a man who doesn't buckle down and do his duty, even if it does bore him sometimes, is nothing but a—well, he's simply a weakling. Mollycoddle, in fact!" (5.3.53)

Babbitt thinks that both the Bible and good common sense are clear about what a man must do. He must deal with whatever life throws his way and not get all mopey about it. But the real takeaway from this quote is that we need to bring "mollycoddle" back into the common lingo, ASAP. That is one cool-sounding word.

"If a man is bored by his wife, do you seriously mean he has a right to chuck her and take a sneak, or even kill himself?" (5.3.53)

When Paul Riesling talks about killing himself, Babbitt argues that he shouldn't even think of suicide as an option. He's not going to give any of the typical arguments about how life is totally worth living and how there are lots of people who love and care about Paul. Instead, he argues that Paul needs to man up and keep on living simply because that's what a strong man does.

With a jar Babbitt realized that his wife was too busy to be impressed by that moral indignation with which males rule the world. (8.2.47)

The narrator tells us that there's a sort of "moral indignation" that allows men to rule the world, but it's important to realize that the tone here is totally sarcastic. The passage basically says that men are very good at thinking they're always right. And when they're not right, they tend to get really loud and indignant as a way of covering up their mistakes.

By rising vote the Boosters decided which was the handsomest and which the ugliest guest, and to each of them was given a bunch of carnations. (21.1.14)

Part of Babbitt's activities in the Boosters' Club involves joking around with his fellow middle-class men. A huge part of the communication between these men is made up of lighthearted smack talk, which includes votes on who the handsomest and ugliest men in the club are.

"Damn soft hands—like a woman's. Aah!" (22.1.26)

In times of self-doubt, Babbitt likes to reassure himself by thinking about what a manly man he is. During these times, he'll even get obsessed by the appearance of his hands, which sometimes look too girlish in his eyes. That's what you call insecurity, folks.

If he could but take up a backwoods claim with a man like Joe, work hard with his hands, be free and noisy in a flannel shirt, and never come back to this dull decency! (25.3.4)

When regular life gets too boring, Babbitt often dreams of going out into the woods and proving to himself how much of a man he is by living in the forest and hunting for his food. And even though he actually does this, he inevitably comes crawling back to his regular life and his regular job.

Or, like a trapper in a Northern Canada movie, plunge through the forest, make camp in the Rockies, a grim and wordless caveman! (25.3.5)

Babbitt likes to imagine himself as some sort of woodsy tough guy who can survive in the harshest of situations with nothing to help him but his strength and intelligence. He basically wants to become Survivorman in order to prove to himself what a worthy person he is.

"Oh, no! I love the smell of a good cigar; so nice and—so nice and like a man." (28.1.77)

George Babbitt isn't the only guy who cares a lot about men being manly. His mistress Tanis Judique also likes the feeling of having a man around. That's why she encourages Babbitt to smoke his cigars. In her mind, they smell better than ye olde Old Spice dude