Babbitt Summary and Analysis of Chapters XI-XIV

Chapter XI:

During their layover in New York, Paul wants to see the Aquitania, declaring that he "Always wanted to go to Europe" (p. 133). As they stare at the line, Paul becomes so tense and agitated that they have to leave.

In Maine, George and Paul spend their time relaxing and sitting at the edge of a wharf. For the week before their families arrive, the men indulge themselves by sleeping late, chewing tobacco, playing poker late into the night, and (for George) not bathing every day. They view the vacation as a chance to get "a good rest... and start over again" (p. 136). Over the course of the week, Paul becomes increasingly relaxed and cheerful, whereas George becomes increasingly weary and overwrought. When his family arrives, he is agitated again and reminded of his troublesome sense of obligation, though he is able to enjoy spending time with Ted and feels somewhat rejuvenated.

Chapter XII:

Returning from Maine, George is convinced that he is "a changed man" and that he is "converted to serenity" (p. 139). He vows to pursue interests and hobbies, such as baseball and movies, and to stop smoking. But he can never remember not to smoke, and he stops attending baseball games within one week. He becomes entangled, once again, with the hustle of life in Zenith.

Chapter XIII:

Cecil Rountree convinces Babbitt to write and present a paper at the State Association of Real Estate Boards's (S.A.R.E.B.) annual convention in Monarch, Zenith's rival city. After much toiling, he is finally able to complete the paper, and he presents it to Ira Runyon.

The delegates and their wives arrive at the station for the midnight train to Monarch wearing badges and buttons and singing songs about the superiority of Zenith. Babbitt is "stirred to hysteric patriotism" (p. 147), feeling proud, important, and eager to tout all of Zenith's charms.

The convention meetings take place in the Allen House ballroom, but "the real convention [consists] of men muttering in hotel bedrooms or in groups" (p. 149). The delegates are entertained by a continuous stream of entertainment, such as banquets and teas. Though Babbitt is nervous about presenting his paper, it is well received by everyone, and the Advocate-Times deems it a sensation. Babbitt is appointed a member of the Committee on Torrens Titles.

Babbitt decides to stay one final evening in Monarch with W.A. Rogers in order to have tea with Jered and Mrs. Sassburger. After tea, they drink excessive amounts of alcohol and go to see a burlesque with strippers. Babbitt dances with a woman and feels a "hot raw desire for more brutal amusements" (p. 158). He returns to Zenith, and his family never learns of the excursion.

Chapter XIV:

During the local election, Babbitt becomes a popular orator, advocating for Lucas Prout for mayor. Prout is a mattress manufacturer who supports "the banks, the Chamber of Commerce, all the decent newspapers, and George F. Babbitt" (p. 160). Babbitt speaks out against Seneca Doane, a lawyer and fellow graduate of the State University, who is running on an "alarming labor ticket" (p. 160).

When Prout defeats Doane, Babbitt's reputation as an effective orator is established. He thus is invited to give the annual address at the dinner of the Zenith Real Estate Board (since the original orator has cancelled due to illness). In this speech, he paints a portrait of the ideal American citizen as a humble and hard-working family man who contributes to "the prosperity of the city and to his own bank-account" (p. 165) and has extensive knowledge of politics and religion. Liberals, he explains, are the "worst menace to sound government" (p. 170). He goes on to explain that Zenith, in addition to being statistically impressive and very modern, has the greatest population of these ideal men, and he applauds the commercial standardization among cities as highly beneficial. He is determined to become a recognized orator and is greatly admired by his wife and friends.


In Maine, a more intimate dynamic emerges between Babbitt and Paul. They feel a genuine sense of contentment together, wishing that they could spend the rest of their lives alone in the woods with just each other. Standing by the wharf, Babbitt winks at Paul, and they chew tobacco together. The language in this section is erotic: they spit solemnly together in the "placid water," stretch "voluptuously, with lifted arms and arched backs," and sigh in unison (p. 135). Their friendship seems platonic, but Lewis gives it a homosexual air. There is no other whom Babbitt prefers to be with, and though he is attracted to women, this particular relationship is the most fulfilling and meaningful one in his life. These feelings are never directly and unequivocally stated in the novel, but Lewis alludes to them several times. Later in the novel, Babbitt truly feels that his days are meaningless if they do not include Paul, and this suggests a level of intimacy that may have been unusual among American males at the time.

Although Babbitt is convinced that his trip to Maine will propel him into a healthier and happier lifestyle, he almost immediately reverts to his former habits. Moreover, his fixation on social status becomes more pronounced as his career as a recognized orator evolves. In fact, the rise of his prestige marks his rapid moral decline. He is overcome with pride and bigheadedness at this sudden acknowledgment, and he extends his trip in order to stay in Monarch, flirt with Mrs. Sassburger, drink too much alcohol, and visit a brothel, where he presumably has sex with one of the girls. For a man so outwardly focused on morality and propriety, this trip marks a significant turning point for Babbitt. The event is "not officially recognized even by himself" (p. 159), but it suggests that something in Babbitt has suddenly changed and that he is now capable of severing some of the chains that have bound him to his life as a respectable Republican family man.

In light of his recent transgressions, Babbitt's address to the Zenith Real Estate Board is rendered extremely ironic and hypocritical. In this self-serving and narrow-minded speech, Babbitt offers an image of the Ideal Citizen (which he alternately refers to as a Solid American Citizen and a Standardized Citizen). This man, according to Babbitt, is productive, hard-working, and an exemplary husband and father. He is "a supporter of the hearthstone which is the basic foundation of our civilization, first, last, and all the time" (p. 165). He goes on to argue that Zenith holds a monopoly on these men, and the implication is, of course, that Babbitt himself is the paragon of this Ideal Citizen. It seems as though, on some level, this is actually the view of himself that he nurtures and maintains, yet because this speech immediately follows an account of moral debauchery and a disregard for fundamental family values, his speech becomes a biting commentary on his own declining moral integrity.

Even aside from these obvious moral ironies, the speech is a powerful work of satire that exposes the prejudices of such persons in middle-class, postwar America. In comparison to Zenith, Babbitt describes the European population as "moth-eaten, mildewed, out-of-date, old, European dumps" (p. 167). He also appropriates the work of talented Europeans, claiming that the United States is responsible for "the best operas, such as Verdi" (p. 165). With every sentence, Babbitt reveals even greater depths of ignorance and intolerance, and this speech serves as a compact version of the novel's overall satiric agenda.