A Case of the Babbitts: How Modern Workplace Satire Takes Inspiration from Babbitt College

The evolving workplace of 1920s America presented industries and businesses with an innovative new standard of operation: work smarter, not harder. These innovations included the popularization of the assembly line, the right for women to vote (and, thereafter, the quest for the right to equal pay), and the invention and mass production of the automobile. It seemed as though all aspects of the American workforce were accelerating towards progress, but the practices were not so wholly appreciated by the American public. Once the Great Depression rattled the country, work became so much more than just a day at the office; it proved that any day could be an employee’s last, and that in order to keep your job safe, you would have to toe the line at all times. Such a dire situation may reinstate the country’s depression into the people, but for authors like Sinclair Lewis, an injection of cynicism and self-deprecation is therapeutic to the ills of the time.

In Lewis’ Babbitt, the eponymous protagonist is a well-to-do Middle American real estate agent with the most mediocre and unambitious ambitions possible, and his existence is evidence of the way that the relationship between work and worker had radically shifted. Babbitt is also...

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