Babbitt: Novel Summary: Chapters 5, 6, & 7

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Summary  
Driving to lunch, Babbitt passes the ‘decayed blocks’ and ignores them as usual and thinks about how much money he makes. He also decides to buy himself a new cigar lighter. At lunch, at the Zenith Athletic Club, Babbitt socializes with Vergil Gunch, the president of the club, and we see Babbitt attempt to climb the social ladder. When Paul enters, Babbitt calms down. They sit alone together, although ‘privacy was very bad form’ at the club. The two men tell each other of their discontentment with their lives. Paul details his unhappiness with his wife Zilla and says he tells only Babbitt how this ‘sweet, clean, respectable, moral life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be’; other men would think he is cowardly for questioning it.

When Babbitt speaks up in favor of morality, as monogamy, Paul says he would have killed himself if it had not been for Babbitt, playing the violin and three or four ‘darling girls’. Paul also questions business dealings and says it is all about cutting each other’s throats. Babbitt warns him that he is sounding like a socialist and Paul responds by saying he bets only a third of the men in the club are happy. They plan to have a short holiday together without their partners.

In Chapter Six, before leaving for home, Babbitt refuses to give Stanley Graff a raise in pay and reminds him the men are back from the war (so there are more potential employees to choose from). Babbitt feels guilty after this, though, as he does not like to lose the approval of his employees.

At home, Babbitt considers how he is privately proud that his neighbors know he is so prosperous his son never has to work around the house. Whilst at dinner, Babbitt tells his family he is thinking of buying a new car. His family all argue in favor of a ‘closed’ car, because everyone else has one.

The action shifts to Ted doing his homework and his complaint that he should not have to study ‘old-fashioned junk’ like Milton and Shakespeare; Myra agrees with him. Babbitt is reading the comic-strip in the newspaper and is annoyed at the interruptions. Although he has no opinion of Shakespeare, he still joins in the discussion and tells Ted he has to study it to get into college and then go to law school. Babbitt says how he never had the chance to do this. Ted argues that he would prefer to study via a correspondence course and shows Myra and Babbitt some advertisements he has saved. Babbitt still wants him to go to college, though, as this will make Ted one of the ‘gentleman class’. Ted agrees and then leaves, saying he will finish his homework in the morning.

After Ted’s departure, more details of Babbitt’s background are given. He had wanted to be a lawyer after graduating from State University, and even had the ambition of being Governor. He worked as a real-estate man whilst studying law and his friendship with Paul was a refuge until Paul was ‘bespelled’ by Zilla. Babbitt found comfort with Paul’s second cousin, Myra Thompson.

After seeing each other for a while, Myra raised the subject of marriage. He saw her more as a ‘dependable companion’ and did not want to tell her that he did not love her. Their marriage still took place and she became a ‘Good Wife’. Babbitt gave up on his law studies and ‘trudged on in a rut of listing real estate’.

Chapter Seven is firstly concerned with a description of the living room. The style used is similar to that of an advertisement, and this shows how their house is generic rather than personal. There is nothing interesting in the room, but also there is nothing offensive.

Before going to bed, Babbitt tells Myra that he is thinking of going on a road trip and when she agrees he realizes he does not want her to come. He regards this as a day of ‘veiled rebellions’. His preparations to sleep on the sleeping-porch are made and we are told that it is not known if he sleeps there for the fresh air or because it was ‘standard’ to have such a sleeping-porch.

Whilst he tries to sleep, the narrative shifts across the city and lists the activities of various other people. Lucile McKelvey, for example, is having an affair with Horace Updike and a prostitute is murdered in a saloon. Jake Offutt and Henry T. Thompson are discussing how they want Seneca Doane run out of town, and a young unemployed man in the slums kills himself and his wife. The chapter ends with Babbitt asleep and instantly dreaming of the fairy child.

 

Analysis
Chapters Five, Six and Seven give the readers a greater insight into Babbitt’s make-up. His marriage to Myra is revealed to have its origins in companionship rather than love, and his job as a realtor is clearly not the profession he dreamed of having. This sense of disappointment is highlighted all the more when Babbitt has lunch with Paul, as Paul is able to vocalize his and Babbitt’s dissatisfaction. The life of conformity is criticized through their unhappiness.

When comparing Paul to Babbitt at this stage, it is evident that Babbitt’s unhappiness is constantly being repressed. This repression is observable in his reluctance to look at the ‘decayed blocks’ and in his preference for thinking of the money he makes instead. His dream of the fairy child is an example of his unconscious desires and, therefore, of the desires he cannot fully repress. His dreams are a negation of the conformity that he espouses in the daytime (for example, when he talks of morality and monogamy to Paul).

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