Babbitt: Novel Summary: Chapters 19, 20, 21, & 22

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Summary

Chapter Nineteen begins with details of Babbitt’s involvement in unethical business practice with the Street Traction Company and with reference to his loan from Eathorne, which did not appear on the bank books. His company has also bought property that does not use their names (Babbitt-Thompson). Babbitt expresses concern about unethical practice but his partner and father-in-law, Thompson, disagrees and Babbitt continues to profit from their dealings.

Babbitt’s hypocrisy is highlighted further when he discovers one of his outside salesmen, Stanley Graff, has been dishonest with a customer. Babbitt is ironically described as being ‘overwhelmed’ to find he has a dishonest person working for him and sacks him.

Graff defends himself by accusing Babbitt of also being crooked and calls him a ‘damn skinflint’. He warns him that if he were to inform the prosecuting attorney of the dealings with the Street Traction Company, both he and Babbitt would go to prison.

Jake Offutt asks Babbitt to bid on land for him on the outskirts of Chicago. Babbitt agrees and takes Ted for a trip. They bond as men, rather than father and son, whilst together. When Ted returns to Zenith, Babbitt becomes lonely and then realizes he is sitting next to Sir Gerald Doak in the hotel lobby. Doak and Babbitt get on well and they go to the cinema together, then share a drink in Doak’s room. After their drinks, ‘Jerry’ tells Babbitt that he has been the only one in the United States to treat him like a friend.

The next evening Babbitt sees Paul dining with a woman he does not know. Babbitt insists that he will meet Paul that night at Paul’s hotel. In Chapter Twenty, Babbitt waits for Paul at his hotel and begins to worry that Paul has committed suicide. When Paul arrives, he tells Babbitt not to interfere or moralize. He also says that he just wants comfort. Babbitt backtracks then and says he will do anything he can for him.

Babbitt decides to send Zilla a postcard from Akron and lets her know that he has seen Paul (in Akron, not Chicago). He also visits her when he returns to Zenith, and she promises to ‘restrain herself’ when arguing with Paul. On Paul’s return home, he and Zilla and Babbitt and Myra go out together. When they are alone, Paul tells Babbitt that there is nothing left and he will leave Zilla ‘somehow’.

Chapter Twenty One is concerned with the most important Boosters’ Club meeting of the year. It is to be followed by the election of officers. Frink wants them to accept his proposition for a Zenith Symphony Orchestra and says that this will bring more visitors to the city. The elections are then the focus of the meeting and Babbitt discovers he has been nominated as a candidate for vice-president. He wins the election and returns a missed call from Myra to let her know. She eventually manages to tell him that Paul is in prison for shooting Zilla, and she may not live.

Babbitt visits Paul in prison in Chapter Twenty Two. Initially, Paul does not want to see him, but Babbitt gets an order from the mayor which overrides Paul’s decision. Paul had not wanted to see him in case he moralized over what he had done, but he refrains from this. Afterwards, Babbitt visits Zilla in hospital and we are told she is not likely to die now.

Babbitt then goes to see Paul’s lawyer (Maxwell) and offers to lie for Paul. Maxwell says he does not want Babbitt involved as he talks ‘too readily’ and Paul is pleading guilty anyway.

Paul’s trial is over in 15 minutes. He is evaluated as having been ‘temporarily insane’ and is sentenced to three years in the State Penitentiary. On his return to the office, Babbitt realizes he is facing a ‘meaningless world’ without Paul.

 

Analysis
In these chapters, Paul’s shooting of Zilla is central to the action. As is hinted at the end of Chapter Twenty Two, this is a pivotal moment for Babbitt as his world has now become ‘meaningless’ and this marks the beginning of his rebellion in the next chapters. Babbitt has been elected as vice-president of his Boosters’ Club prior to this shooting and he has achieved an ambition he never expected. With Paul’s imprisonment, Babbitt’s value system has become eroded.

It could also be argued that Babbitt’s view of the world now being meaningless is an ironic swipe at Babbitt’s earlier preoccupations of wanting to be noticed and esteemed. If read ironically, it is possible to see that his world was already without meaning.

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