“Babbitt” is an important book in American Literature. It mirrors a pivotal time in the history of a country that is less than 150 years old. I agree with an article I recently read that said ‘Goodreads had it all wrong when they gave “Babbitt” an undeserving low score.’ This author, whom I will have to go back and find, said that “Babbitt” is an hilarious book. True enough, but the humor is derived from a dark, satirical critique of society, which is mimicked throughout the 20th century, and now, into the 21st.
Through “Babbitt,” we see in its main character, the result of the reversal of two American political parties; Republicans and Democrats. The story takes place, in 1920, only 55 years after the party of Abe Lincoln, (kind of) freed the slaves, built the Railroad to the Wild West, and started the Homestead Act that allowed new immigrants to find a future for themselves, and their families. Business, at the end of the 19th century, in history, needed the government to get on their feet, and help them build an infrastructure. The Republican party liberally supported these small business people, but once businesses became bigger and stronger, they no longer wanted government snooping around. As a result, the Republican party, needing the support of conservative business to maintain their base, became a conservative party, and gradually began to embrace members that advocated for business enterprise. The Republicans began to undervalue the need to have social programs for the more fragile, and struggling citizens, e.g. immigrants, marginalized citizens, like African (ex-slaves, sharecroppers), and Native Americans, many of Spanish and mixed descent. By 1930, with the election of FDR, the Democrats, the party of the South completely reversed from conservative, into the liberal court, advocating for reforms, and the Republicans, in turn, became the party of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’. Today, we still see members of both parties flip-flopping amongst themselves. Bob Dole, for example, a few years ago reminded the American people ‘to not forget that the Republican party was the party of Abe Lincoln’. There are many Democrat’s who espouse liberalism, yet, when it comes to real voting, go the conservative way, which promotes the White Anglo-Saxon status quo. One could argue that the diversity of thought, within, and across party lines, is crucial to the need for a two party system. A citizen of left leaning thought would object to the white ego-centrism of both parties.
Back to “Babbitt”; its main character ‘Babbitt’ is an incarnation of the completed evolution of the extreme conservative Republican businessman, who by 1920 advocated for big business enterprise, and the acquisition of personal wealth, at the expense of the more feeble citizens, of society. Babbitt, uses false advertising, shrewdly teasing poor people into buying his real estate over its true value, and in the process, materialistically enriches himself. His purpose – to increase, and perpetuate, indefinitely his wealthy status, and image. Babbitt lacks individuality, sees only glitz, loathes Bolsheviks, for bringing down the wealthy Czars, and undervalues human beings that express themselves artistically. Sinclair Lewis with brilliant literary wit, satirically, and allegorically, created ‘Babbitt’, who hauntingly lives today, in the reality of the 21st century.
Note: Sinclair Lewis, a perceptive author, with a keen ability to write in the American English style was born, February 7, 1885. Interestingly, he was a Midwesterner, born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, but attended Yale University. He died near Rome, Italy, was buried in his hometown, and became the first American author to get the Nobel Prize, in 1930.