Babbitt: Novel Summary: Chapters 31, 32, 33, & 34

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Summary
In Chapter Thirty One, Babbitt continues to see Tanis, although he is beginning to think of her as old (and not as attractive to him) and decides to finish their relationship. In Chapter Thirty Two, he takes out his anger on Myra and bullies her by claiming she makes him feel old. He feels guilty momentarily, but decides again that he is going to run his own life.

At the Boosters’ Club the next day, Babbitt continues to feel this sense of independence. A congressman gives a talk that is racist and xenophobic, and insists that ‘ignorant forces’ should be kept out of the United States. Babbitt says that he has a hunch that they are all descended from immigrants. Dr Dilling hears Babbitt and glowers at him, so Babbitt is quick to praise the speaker’s wit to cover up his faux pas.

That afternoon, Dr Dilling, Charles McKelvey and Colonel Rutherford Snow (the owner of the Advocate-Times) come to Babbitt’s office. They are described as having ‘the air of a Vigilante committee in frontier days’. They have decided they want Babbitt to join the Good Citizen’s League and he replies he will have to think it over. He then loses his temper and says he will not be bullied. The Colonel says Babbitt cannot expect his newspaper to still support him if he continues to behave this way. At home, Myra also says he should join the League, but Babbitt repeats that he will not be bullied and the League stands for the suppression of free speech.

Eathorne is ignoring Babbitt now, and at work his father-in-law (Thompson) asks if he is trying to wreck the firm. Clients stop coming to them and Miss McGoun leaves for a rival company. Although frightened at the thought of unpopularity and of being snubbed, he continues to be defiant.

Babbitt has been avoiding Tanis, but he decides to see her again. However, she is like ‘an ice-armoured woman’ when he visits her. He receives his first comfort from Ted and Eunice Littlefield, who praise him for his rebellion.

Chapter Thirty Three focuses on Myra and her sudden illness. Babbitt calls the doctor in the night after hearing her moans of pain. All his worries now seem absurd as he concentrates on his fears for her health. In the morning, he stops seeing her as A Woman to compare with other women and instead sees her as ‘his own self’. They are told that she has acute appendicitis. Whilst she is being operated on, Babbitt swears his faith to his wife and his clubs.

During Myra’s recuperation, Babbitt is impressed once more by his neighbors and club friends. The men at the Athletic Club ask about Myra’s health daily. Furthermore, Gunch and his wife visit Myra and Gunch asks Babbitt once more if he will join the Good Citizens’ League. This time Babbitt agrees and within two weeks he is the most ‘violent regarding the wickedness of Seneca Doane’ and immigration.

In the final chapter, Chapter Thirty Four, we are told the Good Citizens’ League has spread throughout the country, but it is the most effective and ‘well-esteemed’ in Zenith. Babbitt is involved in all their ‘activities and triumph’ but then decides to ‘slacken up’ somewhat. He visits Reverend Drew to ask if he will go to heaven and both Drew and Sneeth pray with him.

He is pleased to return to the Boosters’ Club and knows he is accepted once more when the others make fun of his middle name (Follansbee). The State Traction Company comes back to Babbitt’s office and he is initially unsure about this as he considers them to be dishonest. He finally comes to terms with it and believes he will do ‘things his own way’ once he has retired.

The novel ends with the news that Ted and Eunice have secretly married and everybody except Babbitt is horrified. Ted says again that he also wants to leave the university to study to be a mechanic. Babbitt is sympathetic about this too because, as he says, ‘I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to in my whole life!’ He tells Ted that he will support him and advises him to not be scared of the opinions of the family ‘nor all of Zenith’.

 

Analysis
Babbitt’s short-lived rebellion against conformity comes to an end, for the most part, in these chapters. His turning point comes with Myra’s illness and his recognition of his love for her. The narrative has continually pointed out that Babbitt has been in fear of the opinion of others and this has contributed to his desire to conform. He seeks acceptance from others and this is reflected in his hesitation at continuing to rebel when there is the threat of losing business and status.

Although Babbitt is welcomed back by his old friends once he reneges his liberal views, it is possible to see that he retains a vestige of his new-found (but mostly lost) spirit of independence in the way he reacts to the marriage of Ted and Eunice. His support for Ted’s decision to leave the university to study his particular interest in mechanics signifies that Babbitt is not entirely unchanged after his experiences.

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