Study Guide

Zilla Riesling in Babbitt

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Zilla Riesling

Zilla Riesling is the scolding wife of Paul Riesling, a woman who isn't shy to tell the world what she wants. And to be honest, she's not all that bad when she's in a good mood. As the narrator tells us,

Zilla was an active, strident, full-blown, high-bosomed blonde. When she condescended to be good-humored she was nervously amusing. (10.1.2)

It's when she's not in good humor, though, that you really need to watch out.

One of the problems with Zilla's character is that our impression of her is totally based on what Paul tells us. When she gets a rare opportunity to defend herself, Zilla comes across very differently:

"[Paul] just pretends to be meek so he can have his own way. And me, I get the credit for being a terrible old crank, but if I didn't blow up once in a while and get something started, we'd die of dry-rot." (10.1.5)

In her eyes, she's not a nag. Paul is just irresponsible, and in a world where a woman's wellbeing is tied to her husband's income, she's more than willing to speak her mind about Paul's work… or lack thereof.

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