Babbitt: Metaphor Analysis

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The car
In Babbitt, the possession of a car represents status: ‘In the city of Zenith, in the barbarous twentieth century, a family’s motor indicated its social rank precisely.’ The car stands for physical and social mobility and, as Ted argues, the type of car that one own is also indicative of status and income. The car is, then, a means to measure somebody by and is a reminder of the superficiality of the society Babbitt lives in.

The constant references to the car also emphasize an understanding of the modern world and contribute to this novel’s prophetic recognition of the role of technology in the twentieth century.

Dream of the fairy child
Babbitt’s dream of the fairy child is a symbolic representation of his dissatisfaction with his life. She represents youth and beauty, and her acceptance of him in his dreams signifies his desire for something other than the life he is living. She is a haven from reality.

As a symbol of youth, the fairy child (who is, of course, female) is also an emblem of Babbitt’s discontentment with choosing to live the moral, monogamous life. Even before he rebels against the system he has so admired, he looks at his secretary (Miss McGoun) with the fairy child in mind. Later, Eunice Littlefield also briefly comes to represent his dream ‘woman’.

Salesman
Babbitt describes himself grandly as a realtor, but he is essentially a salesman who now jointly owns his own company. This job is a symbol of the capitalist system as it represents the constant search for profit. The salesman also represents the necessary lies that are told to keep capitalism working as this job involves inflating the necessity of the given product (through a pitch or an advertisement) to a would-be buyer.

Later works, such as Death of a Salesman, also draw on this role to illuminate the critique of living by a system of buying and selling for profit. Babbitt is a success in terms of selling land and houses, however, he is mainly able to manage this through unscrupulous means. Through the descriptions of his lying and underhand business dealings, it is possible to see a social criticism of the effects capitalism has had on morality and ethics.

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