Babbitt: Novel Summary: Chapters 27, 28, 29, & 30

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Summary
In Chapter Twenty Seven, the main focus is the strike in Zenith. This has divided opinion into ‘two belligerent camps’. The National Guard is called out, ‘and Babbitt chose this time to be publicly liberal’. At first he is against the agitators, but then discovers the telephone girls are starving on their wages. In church, he says ‘rot’ when listening to Reverend Drew’s reactionary views. As he watches the strikers march he realizes they look the same as anyone else. He repeats this opinion at the Athletic Club (to Captain Drum, Gunch and others at the table). These men question Babbitt’s views and he is frightened later when he hears Gunch and Frink talking about him. Babbitt is also conscious of Gunch’s ‘hostile eyes’ after he stops to listen to Beecher Ingram.

Babbitt becomes frightened that his opinions are not well received by others such as Gunch and Frink, but at home he tells Myra a fellow should be liberal now. She tells him he sounds like a socialist and he should be careful. He tells her he does not care what others think, but does not visit Doane in case Gunch sees him.

Chapter Twenty Eight begins with Tanis Judique calling to say she needs a leak fixing and Babbitt offers to help. He invites himself to supper and he stays till dawn.  Chapter Twenty Nine reveals Babbitt’s continued questioning of the monogamous life. He sees Tanis regularly and even visits her on the afternoon of Christmas day. When New Year is over, Myra tells Babbitt she is going to stay at her sister’s and he has to pretend he is regretful.

He gets to know Tanis’s friends, who are known as ‘the Bunch’. They all know each other’s movements and all are expected to ring each other at least once a week (which suggests that they too are tied to conformity).

He develops a new view of his neighbors, the Doppelbraus, and now regards them as respectable and industrious; he even visits their home for drinks. On a drive after the drinks, he sits with Louetta Swanson once more and this time he ‘makes love’ to her. He is out every night whilst Myra is away and his ambition is to become the ‘livest’ of the Bunch. He carries on seeing Tanis, but he also has affairs with other women.

When he takes Tanis to lunch at Hotel Thornleigh, he senses Gunch watching him from a nearby table. Later that day, Gunch visits him in his office and asks if he wants to join the Good Citizens’ League, which is a society for ‘bucking’ the socialists. Gunch talks of social boycotts and forming delegations to inform people they should conform to standards. Babbitt asks if Doane would be targeted and Gunch replies yes. Gunch adds that he does not believe Babbitt meant it when he defended Doane and the strikers; he hopes Babbitt was joking. Babbitt tells him Doane is his friend and will have to think about the offer (of joining the League), but Gunch replies that one has to give up on friendships when faced with ‘red ruin’. He also tells him he has to live up to his position in the community and should reconsider joining the Good Citizens’ League.

Chapter Thirty is concerned with the return home of Myra. Babbitt is attentive to her for a week and then starts to spend at least two evenings a week with the Bunch. Myra is described as having her own small rebellion when she challenges him about the amount he is drinking. When he says he is tired of fretting about accounts, she replies that she is bored with her life.

To counteract this boredom, she asks him to come with her to Mrs Mudge’s New Thought meeting. At the meeting, the others sit with ‘adoring attention’ whereas Babbitt sits and suffers. Myra thought it was inspiring and they start to argue again. This chapter ends with Myra saying that they cannot go on like this. Babbitt drives on in silence and we learn that he does not want a divorce, but would like more independence.

 

Analysis
Chapter Twenty Seven marks the beginning of Babbitt’s public ideological shift towards a more liberal point of view. It also highlights the way his friends in the Athletic Club feel threatened by his different stance. Gunch is particularly hostile to his inability to see the dangers of ‘red ruin’.

Through Gunch’s hostility to socialism, it is possible to see this novel as satirizing the reactionary and paranoid perspective of the determinedly conservative element of the pro-capitalist. Gunch’s visit to Babbitt’s office is ostensibly to invite him to join the Good Citizens’ League. There is also a veiled threat aimed at Babbitt as he is also reminded of the perceived necessity to conform to ‘standards’.

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