Babbit by Sinclair Lewis

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  • Topic: Sinclair Lewis, Conformity, Society of the United States
  • Pages : 5 (1800 words )
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  • Published : March 14, 2004
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Babbitt: Conformity

In the Sinclair Lewis novel Babbitt, the character of Babbitt is completely controlled by the power of conformity. Conformity is so powerful that even after babbitt realizes the stifling nature of the society in which he lives he is powerless to change his fate as a member of conformist society.

George F. Babbitt is a man who is completely controlled by the conformist society in which he lives. Pressure to conform lies in all aspects of Babbitt's life. Relationships, family, social life, and business are all based on his ability to conform to Zenith's preset standards of thought and action. All of Babbitt's thoughts are controlled by society. Thoughts that are not those of society are frowned upon. "What he feels and thinks is what is currently popular to feel and think. Only once during the two years that we have him under view, does he venture upon an idea that is remotely original-and that time the heresy almost ruins him."(Bloom)

At first the reader sees Babbitt as a person more than happy to conform to the standards set for him by the rest of society. Babbitt goes about his normal routine praising modern technology, material possessions and social status as ways to measure the worth of an individual. In fact the readers first encounter with Babbitt sees him praising modern technology. "It was the best of nationally advertised and quantitatively produced alarm-clocks, with all modern attachments, including cathedral chime, intermittent alarm, and a phosphorescent dial. Babbitt was proud of being awakened by such a rich device."(Babbitt pg.3) Babbitt praises the technology of his alarm clock only because it is a symbol of material worth and therefore social status.

All of Babbitt's actions and thoughts are controlled by the standards of Zenith. "His every action is related to the phenomena of that society. It is not what he feels and aspires to that moves him primarily; it is what the folks around him will think."(Mencken). All of Babbitt's thoughts are those of society, and thoughts that are not society's are ridiculed Babbitt works simply to raise his social status by means of increasing his material worth. Babbitt belongs to many popular clubs, the purposes of which he does not even completely understand. Why does Babbitt do these things? Babbitt does these things to perform for the other members of society. He does everything expected of him even if he does not expect those things of himself. Babbitt does these things in hope of improving his social status. This conformist man is exactly who Sinclair Lewis wanted to show the reader, a man who's life is based on the ideals and standards of others. "Villages-overgrown towns-three -quarters of a million people still dressing, eating, building houses, attending church, to make an impression on their neighbors." (Lewis). This is what Lewis thought of American society and he used Babbitt to voice his opinions to his readers. In fact that passage was intended to be included in the original introduction of Babbitt, which was never published.

Babbitt does well in conformist society because in the beginning of the novel he accepts all the standards, goals, ideals, likes, and dislikes of society. Babbitt's though mirrors all those around him and he is therefore accepted in society. At first Babbitt lives in the illusion of happiness. The happiness Babbitt experiences is not genuine because he has replaced his desires with those of society. Since Babbitt is controlled by society his goals are also controlled by it. The goals set by society are economic and material worth, social standing, and conservative thought. Since Babbitt has achieved, at least in part, these goals he is in a sense fooled into believing he is truly happy. Babbitt's true desires however are not those of society he dreams of nature instead of modernization, young women instead of his wife, adventure instead of...
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