Study Guide

Babbitt Chapter 4

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 4

(Sections I through V)

  • While Babbitt is working, in walks an ambitious young man named Chester Kirby Laylock. The guy is so squeaky clean and such a good young salesperson that Babbitt is annoyed (or even threatened) by him.
  • Chester gives Babbitt an idea for a new real estate ad, and the truth is that it's pretty good. But Babbitt rejects it anyway.
  • When Chester is gone, Babbitt feels inspired to work on a few draft ads himself, just to prove to himself he's still better than Chester.
  • The narrator walks us through the long, elaborate process that Babbitt has used to try to quit smoking. This includes everything from hiding his cigars to forcing himself to borrow cigars from other people (which he's ashamed to do). None of the plans ever seems to work, though.
  • After a frustrating morning, he calls up an old buddy named Paul Riesling and asks him to lunch. As the narrator tells us, Paul is Babbitt's favorite person in the world next to his daughter Tinka.
  • After the phone call, the narrator tells us that George F. Babbitt is a respectable guy who just happens to believe that the only purpose of the real-estate business is to make as much money as possible for George F. Babbitt.
  • The narrator again gives us a long description of Babbitt's beliefs, which include a deep dislike for all labor unions, criminals, and any bleeding heart liberals who think that society should be more compassionate toward social outcasts.
  • In case we can't imagine what kind of businessman Babbitt is, the book gives us a nice example before he heads off to lunch. It turns out that a local grocery store owner, named Archibald Purdy, is thinking of opening a butcher shop beside his store. Fair enough.
  • Babbitt finds out, though, that Purdy doesn't own the land next to his store. So he gets a rich man named Lyte to buy up the land for more than it's worth, then sell it to Purdy for more than double its value. Purdy doesn't want to pay, but when Babbitt threatens to sell it to a rival grocery store chain, Purdy has no choice but to pay up.
  • Hey. That's just mean.
  • With that job done, Babbitt gets up from his desk feeling slightly richer and sets off for lunch with his buddy, Paul Riesling.