We begin with a look at the office skyscrapers of Zenith, a mid-sized American city in the 1920s. And yes, Zenith is a made-up place, so don't bother looking for it on a map.
It looks like Zenith is bustling with plenty of business activity, and all of its citizens are looking good and productive.
And in a nice, middle-class part of Zenith called Floral Heights, a 46-year-old real estate man named George F. Babbitt is waking up for the day's work.
As he lies in bed for a few extra minutes, we learn that George is dreaming about a "fairy child" who always tends to visit him in his dreams. The fact that this fairy child is calling him to a sailboat suggests that she symbolizes a sort of freedom that Babbitt doesn't have in his everyday life.
Just when the dream's getting really good, the rumble of a milk truck wakes Babbitt up totally. He wants to go back to sleep, since he's bored with what the world can offer him. But then, finally, the alarm clock goes off at 7:20. Blegh. Five more minutes, please.
When he finally wakes up, Babbitt thinks about how little he likes his job and his family. So yeah, you get a good sense right away of this guy's dissatisfaction with his life. It doesn't help that his wife Myra is super-cheerful as she tells him to rise and shine for work.
When he finally gets up and looks out his bedroom window, Babbitt cheers himself up. His lawn is beautiful, worthy of a respectable businessman like himself. His irritation returns, though, when he finds the bathroom floor wet and realizes that there aren't any dry towels left for him.
Then he does an unthinkable thing: he uses the decorative guest towel to wipe his face. His wife seems to sense this from another room, and she immediately comes into the bathroom to scold him for it.
For the next while, Babbitt and his wife Myra discuss which suit he should wear to work that day. After he decides, the narrator goes through a long description of how nice his suit and glasses are.
To add to his rough morning, Babbitt realizes that he's really hungover from playing poker at a friend's house the night before. Tsk tsk, Babbitt.
After talking about some dinner plans for the coming week, George and Myra argue some more about whether George will wear a fancy dinner jacket when some friends come over for dinner. While they're arguing, George throws in the fact that their daughter Verona, recently graduated from college, has gotten too socialist in her ideas.
Just before he follows Myra downstairs, George looks out his window one more time and stares at a huge office building on the city skyline. The thing makes him feel proud to be a businessman.