Babbitt: Novel Summary: Chapters 15, 16, 17, & 18

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Summary
Babbitt’s desire to rise further on the social ladder is examined in Chapter Fifteen. There is to be a university class dinner and he hopes to get ‘chummy’ with the successful Charles McKelvey and Max Kruger.

At the dinner, Babbitt is described as being ‘out for social conquest’, but he looks for Paul first. Babbitt sits next to Paul and McKelvey at dinner, and Babbitt invites McKelvey (but not Paul) to his home. This invitation is not fully accepted until Babbitt tells him he might be able to tip him off about some business.

The McKelveys finally come to the Babbitt house for dinner, but it does not go well and it is ‘without a soul’. McKelvey says they must have lunch sometime (so does not return the dinner invitation) and he and his wife leave early. After the dinner, Babbitt hears Myra weeping. For a month afterwards the Babbitts read the social column and Babbitt is disappointed that McKelvey has not invited him to meet Sir Gerald Doak who he has been entertaining all week. When Babbitt drives past their house, he feels as though the McKelveys are laughing at him.

This chapter ends with the Babbitts going to dinner at Ed Overbrook’s. This is written of ironically and is a mirror image of Babbitt’s experience with the McKelveys. Babbitt, for example, regards Overbrook as a failure. He and Myra arrive late and leave early and he says they must have lunch sometime. After a month or two, the Babbitts agree they will not invite the Overbrooks in return and do not speak of them again.

Chapter Sixteen sees Babbitt throwing himself into helping the Reverend Doctor Drew’s Sunday School, for ‘purification and publicity’. He works alongside Frink and William Eathorne (the president of the First State Bank of Zenith) on the Sunday School Advisory Committee.

Chapter Seventeen outlines how Babbitt is impressed by Eathorne; he admires his mansion and his finesse and is ambitious to be like him.

Kenneth Escott, a reporter on the Advocate-Times, is employed by the committee as a press agent for the Sunday School. Escott is invited to the Babbitt house for dinner and he gets on well with Verona. They discover they are radicals, but ‘sensible’ (which is an implication they are hypocrites).

Babbitt mentions his ‘fondness’ for Eathorne to Escott. Within a week, three newspapers report on Babbitt’s work for religion and how he has been working with Eathorne. Whilst working on the committee, Babbitt had asked Eathorne to dinner, but this was declined. Babbitt uses his manipulative skills to secure a social arrangement with him. He persuades Escott to write a tribute to Reverend Drew and when it appears Babbitt lets Drew know that he was responsible for it. He then talks him into holding a dinner and asks him to invite Eathorne. Eathorne’s attendance is secured as he will not let the pastor down.

A few months later Babbitt needs a private loan when closing a deal with the Street Traction Company and it is strongly implied this is an illegal act. He asks Eathorne for the money and receives it as a ‘private venture’.

Chapter Eighteen moves back to Babbitt’s family. He is slightly worried about Ted’s relations with Eunice Littlefield. He is also perturbed that she considers him old; sometimes, Eunice becomes his fairy child in his dreams.

Ted holds a party for his senior class and Babbitt is ‘deeply disquieted’ by their sophistication. They also seem ‘cold’ and ‘bold’. He is envious as he watches them dance, and he is also condescended to. He tells Myra that some of the guests talk to him as though he is the butler.

This chapter ends with Babbitt’s mother coming to stay for three weeks.  He feels ‘reduced to pulpiness’ when she discusses his father, ‘the mythical hero’. His half-brother also visits for two days (with his wife and child), and his favorite remark is, ‘how much did you pay for that?’ Babbitt feels as though nobody is grateful towards him and thinks of his life as mechanical. He does not want to go back to work, but does not know what else to do.

 

Analysis
Chapters Fifteen, Sixteen and Seventeen continue to exemplify Babbitt’s desire to rise socially. This desire is fuelled by a combination of ambition for status and for the increased business opportunities this will provide. Babbitt is depicted as manipulative in these sections (of Escott and Reverend Drew, for example) in order to achieve his connection with Eathorne. Furthermore, his business dealings are again portrayed as unethical and self-serving.

At the end of Chapter Eighteen, however, it is possible to see Babbitt’s vulnerability when he thinks of his life as mechanical. He feels threatened by and envious of the sophistication of the guests at Ted’s party and he has begun to see Eunice as the fairy child of his dreams. His successes in his business do not balance out the sense of loss he feels in the rest of his life. His envy of the youthfulness of Ted’s guests increases this discontentment.

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