Study Guide

Babbitt Chapter 6

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 6

(Sections I through IV)

  • After parting with Paul Riesling, Babbitt drives in a car with one of his clients in the passenger seat. The two of them talk about the merits of Babbitt's new electric cigarette lighter.
  • After dropping the client off, Babbitt picks up his father-in-law and business partner, Henry T. Thompson, on his way back to work.
  • The narrator gives us a brief description of how Babbitt and Thompson are two different types of American businessmen. Thompson is the older type, very masculine, stubborn, and rugged. Babbitt, on the other hand, is smoother, more charming, and more efficient.
  • Babbitt knows, though, that it's possible to become too fancy-pants and too smooth. That's why he likes to think of himself as a happy medium between stubborn ruggedness and "girlish" smoothness.
  • For a moment, Babbitt realizes once again that he doesn't want to go back to work.
  • Back at the office, Babbitt is annoyed by a young salesperson named Graff who wants a bonus for all the work he's been doing.
  • Babbitt calls him an ingrate and tells him that it doesn't take any special talent to sell real estate in his (Babbitt's) office because his listings are so good. He also tells Graff that if he really took pride in his work, he wouldn't care about the money—ha, we've all heard that one before. And finally, the boss's favorite dodge: Babbitt tells Graff that if he got a raise, then everyone else would start wanting one, too.
  • Once Graff if gone, though, Babbitt feels bad about talking so harshly to him. He wants everyone in his office to like him, but now he suspects that they'll all be talking about what a cheap jerk he is for the rest of the afternoon.
  • He forgets all his troubles once again, though, when he drives back home and sees the roofs of the houses in Floral Heights.
  • Dinner is served soon after he gets home. His daughter Verona immediately jumps on him about buying a new car, specifically a sedan to replace their current convertible.
  • When the discussion about the car dies down, Babbitt informs his wife Myra that he needs to go to New York to meet with a client about a land deal. The truth is, though, that he plans on going all the way up to Maine with his friend Paul.
  • After supper, Babbitt's son Ted sits down to his high school homework. He doesn't think there's any value in studying Shakespeare and stuff, though. He'd much rather learn something practical.
  • Babbitt tells him straight out that it's necessary to study Shakespeare because Ted needs to know that stuff in order to get into college. He admits, though, that it'd be more useful for Ted to learn "business English," like how to write an ad or a cover letter.
  • Ted, though, says he doesn't even want to go to college. He wants to be an engineer and an inventor. Back in those days, you see, engineering school was separate from most universities.
  • Ted also says that he's interested in some of the mail-order courses they advertise for in flyers. Most of the ads he shows his dad, though, are for a bunch of get-rich-quick schemes. His dad, while impressed, still thinks it's best to go the traditional way of college. This makes Myra Babbitt happy.
  • Next, Ted wants to sign up for a mail order course on how to fight. Babbitt, though, tells him that he'll do no such thing. He and Ted do talk, though, about how some of the courses might be a good idea. Mrs. Babbitt steps in, though, and says that they're all just a sham. This stupefies the two Babbitt men.
  • Babbitt shoots back and says it's perfectly possible to get a good education through the mail. He accuses his wife of not being up-to-date with the latest teaching techniques (as if he is).
  • In the end, though, Babbitt knows that it's important to get a university degree because people respect it more than a high school diploma.
  • With that, Ted runs out of the house because he remembers that he needs to go take some girls to a choir practice. Yup, sounds like a lie. But oh well. Babbitt lets him go anyway.
  • When Ted's gone, Babbitt talks to Myra about how good a boy he is. But he wonders, though, what kinds of girls he's hanging around with. Myra blushes and asks Babbitt if it's time for him to sit Ted down and talk to him about sex. Ted's already seventeen, though, so that ship might have already sailed.
  • When he parts with Myra, Babbitt is excited to think that he'll soon have some time to spend alone with Paul Riesling. For a split second, he wishes he were a pioneer like his grandfather. Then again, he wouldn't have the fancy house that he does if that were the case.
  • Babbitt reflects on his younger college days, when he used to dream about becoming a lawyer so he could fight to protect poor, downtrodden people from greedy, rich landowners.
  • He also remembers kissing Myra one night before they were married. Myra took the kiss as meaning that the two of them were now engaged. Rather than correct her error, Babbitt just went along with things.
  • Next thing you knew, Babbitt was stuck in a job selling real estate with a wife and kids—his dreams of helping the common people were gone.
  • In a moment of tenderness, Babbitt goes into the living room where Myra is sitting and he strokes her hair.

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