Babbitt: Novel Summary: Chapters 8, 9, & 10

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Summary  
The ‘great events’ of Babbitt’s spring are listed in Chapter Eight as the secret buying of real estate for ‘certain street-traction officials’ and a dinner at his house. This dinner is to be a ‘high brow affair’ and is for 12 people. As a boy from Catawba Village, he believes this shows how he has risen socially.

His duties for the preparation for the dinner include buying the ice cream and alcohol. There are obvious difficulties purchasing alcohol because prohibition is in place. He is excited by the illegality of this act and travels to Healey Hanson’s saloon to buy the drinks.

The guests include the Swansons, Howard Littlefield, Vergil Gunch and Chum Frink. Babbitt regards Frink as the most distinguished as he is a poet and advertising agent. As for the wives, at first they all appear to look alike and say the same thing, but the longer one knows them they look more different; the opposite is true of the men.

The discussions tend to be based on prohibition, as they drink Babbitt’s alcohol, and then there is an ironic conversation about ‘small-town folks’ and the men repeatedly agree with each other that these folks say the same things.

After the cocktails begin to wear off in Chapter Nine, Babbitt begins to feel uncomfortable. This is heightened with the arguing between Eddie and Louetta Swanson (who are also Babbitt’s neighbors). We are told that many young married women in Floral Heights have nothing to do and they displaced their restlessness by nagging their husbands.

The guests play bridge for a short period of time and then they hold a séance. Once the guests have left (to the relief of Babbitt), he tells Myra he wants to go on holiday to Maine early - that is, without her and the family. She agrees when he tells her he is feeling ‘shot to pieces’. He lies awake that night with ‘primitive terror’ when he realizes he has won his freedom, but does not know what to do with it.

Babbitt and Myra visit Paul and Zilla in Chapter Ten. This is to persuade Zilla to allow Paul to go away with Babbitt. Myra tries to persuade her to let Paul and Babbitt go on ahead to Maine before their holiday begins. Zilla says how she cannot trust Paul and he admits to having deceived her. Zilla begins to howl with rage and Babbitt loses his temper with her. He tells her Paul is ‘the finest boy God ever made’ and people snigger at her behind her back. Zilla asks for forgiveness.

On their way home, Myra reprimands Babbitt for being horrid to Zilla and reminds him how Zilla is bored and broods too much. Myra’s view of Babbitt is the opposite of his expectation as he has been congratulating himself on the way he has handled Zilla. He feels guilt and then decides he does not care because he and Paul are going to have their spree.

The narrative shifts to Paul and Babbitt buying fishing tackle for their holiday and the readers only see Babbitt’s enthusiasm. On the train to Maine, they sit in a carriage with six other men and Paul is the only one who does not join in the conversations (about prohibition and business). The shared view of their ‘Romantic Hero’ is the sales manager, ‘whose title of nobility was Go-Getter’. An African-American porter enters and then leaves the carriage. Once he has left, the men make racist comments and Koplinsky (who is one of the men in the carriage) says foreigners should be kept out of the country too. When they all begin telling each other stories, Paul leaves the carriage. In opposition to Paul’s unhappiness, Babbitt is ‘very happy’ when he falls asleep in his berth that night.

 

Analysis
Paul’s disenchantment with his life becomes clearer in Chapters Nine and Ten as his antagonism towards his wife and lifestyle are given more focus. His silence in the train carriage, for instance, is notable as he refuses to follow the pack in their exaltation of business and in their hatred towards perceived outsiders. Babbitt is oblivious to Paul’s unhappiness here and this illuminates how unthinking he is and how little he questions the standards he conforms to. His agreement with the idea of the sales manager being a romantic hero ironically typifies his lack of independent thought.

Babbitt’s discomfort at his dinner party in Chapter Eight exposes a certain amount of unconscious sympathy to Paul’s predicament, but, again, Babbitt is still unable to pinpoint or articulate why he and Paul are unable to find happiness in this standardized middle-class lifestyle.

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