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Babbitt: Novel Summary: Chapters 3, & 4

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Chapter Three begins with Babbitt starting his car for his drive to work. He observes his neighbors and his disapproval for the Doppelbraus originates from his view that they are ‘Bohemian’. Conversely, Howard Littlefield is revered as the ‘Great Scholar’ of the neighborhood. He and Babbitt also share the same Republican politics. Howard’s daughter, Eunice, is ‘intimate’ with Ted. Babbitt agrees when Howard says they need a ‘business administration’ when they discuss the next Republican candidate. Babbitt repeats this view as his own when he later has a conversation with a mechanic.

After the ‘drama’ of parking his car, Babbitt enters the Reevers Building where his offices are based. The people who work in the building are described as ‘the villagers’ and the entrance hall is their Main Street. Babbitt regards himself as one of the ‘squirearchy’. His employees are introduced and these include Stanley Graff and Theresa McGoun. This chapter ends with Babbitt comparing Miss McGoun to the fairy child. The readers are told that he has often admired women from afar, but has never had an affair in 23 years of married life. However, he feels restless and discontented.

In Chapter Four, the readers are made privy to Babbitt working in the office writing an advertisement. There is a description of him trying and failing to stop smoking cigars. He then calls Paul Riesling, of whom he is fonder, ‘than any one on earth except himself and his daughter Tinka’. Paul and Babbitt had been classmates and roommates at State University. Babbitt thinks of him as a younger brother and believes he could have been a great violinist, painter or writer. Instead, Paul went into his father’s business of selling and manufacturing ‘prepared-paper roofing’. They arrange to meet for lunch.

It is revealed that Babbitt knows little about architecture, but he does have, what he calls, Vision. His other limits in knowledge are listed; for example, he does not know how much teachers are paid, how large the police forces are or what conditions are like in prison. Despite his lack of knowledge, he thinks prisons should not be run like hotels.

Babbitt’s dishonest business dealings are made reference to as it is supposed that the Babbitt-Thompson company are only agents for the Glen Oriole project whereas they own 62% of it. Babbitt still believes himself to be virtuous, though. A further example of Babbitt’s shady business practice is detailed in a conference with Conrad Lyte and Archibald Purdy. Six months previously, Babbitt advised Lyte to buy the vacant property next to Purdy’s business as he knew they would profit from Purdy’s desire to own it too. Purdy is given the chance to buy this property at more than twice the value of it.

These two chapters give an introductory insight into Babbitt’s unethical business practices and they also reveal his hypocrisy in regarding himself as virtuous. Business, it appears, is more valued than fairness. Through this representation of Babbitt, it is possible to see a strong indictment of the capitalist system. The preferred ‘business administration’ referred to by Littlefield and Babbitt is portrayed as corrupt and underhand. Further to this, Babbitt’s repetition of Littlefield’s view as his own demonstrates a lack of independent thinking.

Irony is drawn upon to bring about these social criticisms. It is also used to mock Babbitt and his ilk, because they depend on a reactionary perspective to make sense of the world. His ignorance of facts (for example, about prison conditions) does not stop him offering an opinion on subjects.


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