Babbitt: Novel Summary: Chapters 11, 12, 13, & 14

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Summary
In Chapter Eleven, Paul and Babbitt have to wait in New York for four hours whilst they wait for their connection to Maine. Paul explains he would like to see a liner as he has always wanted to visit Europe. When Babbitt agrees that he would like to go to ‘squint’ at some ruins and to order a drink whenever he wants, he fails to spot Paul’s anger. Babbitt thinks it is only peculiar that Paul does not go to see the liner after all.

Once in Maine, they both begin to feel at peace and share some chewing tobacco. They have a week together before their families arrive and they begin to talk as they did when they were in college. Paul says how he used to think that by now he would be living in Germany studying the violin. Babbitt’s dream of being a lawyer and politician are also referred to once more.

Chapter Twelve begins with Babbitt feeling like a changed man after his holiday and decides to stop smoking again. After rashly throwing his cigar case out of the train window, he buys a cigar at the next stop. Back in Zenith, he decides to take up watching baseball three times a week and manages to do this for one week only.

We are told that it is necessary for the ‘Successful Man’ to belong to a country club, and Babbitt is a member of the Outing Golf and Country Club. Richer men are in the Tonawanda Country Club (and the Union Club rather than Babbitt’s Athletic Club).

Chapter Thirteen focuses on Babbitt preparing and making a speech for the S.A.R.E.B. (the State Association of Real Estate Boards) conference in Monarch. He finds it difficult to write it at first, and then decides to put down what he really thinks. He has one copy sent to the editor of the local newspaper, the Advocate-Times.

At the conference, his speech is accepted with acclaim and Babbitt is described as changing from a ‘minor delegate to a personage’. The Advocate-Times gives an account of his paper and he is described as a ‘sensation’. Babbitt thinks people in Floral Heights will now sit up and take notice of him. He is appointed to be a member of the Committee on Torrens Tiles and he rejoices; he sees himself as a ‘natural-born orator’. He stays in Monarch an extra night. He drinks with other delegates and attends a burlesque show. The other men wish to go on to ‘look over the girls’ (visit prostitutes) and Babbitt feels nervous yet willing. Back home in Zenith, he feels ‘shame-faced contentment’.

Chapter Fourteen is introduced with references to Zenith local elections and Seneca Doane’s decision to stand for mayor. The Democrats and Republicans unite against Doane and support Lucas Prout. Prout is (inevitably) supported by Babbitt too. Prout wins ‘and Zenith was again saved’.

Babbitt continues to give speeches, one of which is reported in the Advocate-Times. The speech acclaims a member of the middle-class as his ‘Ideal Citizen’. It also smacks of xenophobia, warns against liberalism and is staunchly anti-communist. Gunch praises Babbitt for his speeches and Babbitt is pleased to be regarded as a ‘solid citizen’.

 

Analysis
These chapters trace the ‘rise’ of Babbitt as he moulds himself as a ‘natural-born orator’ and ‘solid citizen’. His speech, which is reported in the newspaper, is reactionary and pro-capitalist, and conformist. His support for Prout exemplifies his political beliefs and his desire to be seen to ‘do the right thing’. He reveals the ambition to be admired when he is successful at the conference and now believes people will sit up and take notice of him. This is a yearning for status and acceptance and is derided fully by the narrative. The point that Zenith was ‘saved’ after the election of Prout is a useful demonstration of how this novel critiques the unthinking reactionary stance which Babbitt embodies at this time.

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