When we first meet George F. Babbitt, it seems like everything in the guy's life is pretty dandy. Sure, he sometimes stresses about work and family, but who doesn't? At the end of the day, the guy seems like a good ol' American man who makes plenty of money and who gets plenty of respect from the people in his community.
But, of course, if his life stayed sunshiney and rainbow-filled, why would anyone want to read about it? Cue the complications (and the ominous music, dum dum dum).
Things start to get a little doubtful when Babbitt's long-time friend, Paul Riesling, loses his marbles over how little meaning he finds in his business-class lifestyle and his emasculating marriage to his wife, Zilla. Worse still, Paul's discontentment starts to infect Babbitt, who gets fed up with all the free-market propaganda that he and his buddies are always spouting at their exclusive clubs.
Things really take a bad turn when Paul Riesling shoots his wife Zilla (yowza) and goes to prison for attempted murder. Without Paul around to cheer him up, George feels like there's nothing left to give his life meaning (sorry, wife and kids—you don't quite count). Womp womp.
As time passes, George starts to question the capitalist, Republican values of his friends. He also starts to flirt with women and eventually has an affair with one of his real estate clients, a woman named Tanis Judique… cool name, or coolest name?
George's friends become fed up with his behavior once he starts openly defending a socialist lawyer named Seneca Doane. Babbitt sees his business steadily decline as more and more associates walk away from him, and he begins to fight with his wife Myra about their falling social position. The only one who really supports his behavior is his rebellious son, Ted.
One night, Myra gets a bad case of appendicitis and goes to the hospital for an operation. Fearing for his wife's life, Babbitt renounces all of his rebellious behavior and goes back to being the money-loving, patriotic American he used to be. Everything returns to normal, although Babbitt still hopes that he'll be able to say and think whatever he wants once he's retired and financially secure.
In the novel's final scenes, Babbitt awakes in the middle of the night to discover that his son Ted has eloped with the girl-next-door, Eunice Littlefield. Half of the neighborhood shows up to criticize the marriage. But Babbitt takes his son away to speak in private and tells the boy how proud he is that Ted has decided to be his own man and not to give in to social pressures. Even though Babbitt might feel like he's too old to live his own life, there's still hope for his son.