Babbitt Summary and Analysis of Chapters VII-X

Chapter VII:

After commenting to Myra that it was a "funny kind of a day" (p. 85), Babbitt decides to go to bed. He shaves while taking a bath, playing childishly with his bath things. After completing his "elaborate and unchanging" (p. 87) rites of bedtime preparation, he falls into "a blessed state of oblivion" (p. 88).

At that moment in Zenith, as George falls asleep on the porch, a vast array of illegal, immoral, or simply very serious things are occurring. Mike Monday, a prize-fighter turned scam-artist evangelist, is concluding an address attempting to defend his reputation and insult his opponents. Simultaneously, Seneca Doane, a lawyer, argues with histologist Dr. Kurt Yavitch over the merits and drawbacks of standardization of lifestyle and thought in Zenith. At this moment, George Babbitt dreams of his beloved fairy child.

Chapter VIII:

The Babbitts decide to host a "highbrow" dinner (p. 94), and George's discouragement with the effort and toil of planning the party is overcome by his excitement for procuring gin for cocktails during Prohibition. He drives to a saloon in the seedy Old Town, where he meets with Healey Hanson and pays for unexpectedly expensive gin. He is so exhilarated by the immoral act that he nearly forgets to fulfill Myra's request to pick up the ice cream.

During the party preparation, Babbitt drinks a cocktail and becomes giddily intoxicated, but he is filled with gloom again by the time the guests arrive. The guests include Howard Littlefield, Vergil Gunch, Eddie Swanson, Orville Jones, T. Cholmondeley Frink, and their wives. While drinking cocktails and eating dinner, the men discuss Prohibition and the benefits of modern city life. Under the influence of the gin, Frink confesses that he is discouraged because he cannot write his Zeeco car company ads as well as others do.

Chapter IX:

George suddenly becomes entirely bored. He wants to "get away from--everything" (p. 113). The ladies convince their husbands to engage in a séance, and the group attempts to contact Dante. Nevertheless, Babbitt is "dismayed by a sudden contempt for his surest friends" (p. 116), and he is uncharacteristically happy when the guests leave.

As George and Myra discuss the party, it becomes apparent to Myra that he did not enjoy it. The topic of the Maine trip arises, and George erupts into an uncontrolled fit of anxiety when Myra suggests going early with him. She is suddenly very understanding and pliable. George takes the sudden freedom she grants him to go early with Paul.

Chapter X:

George and Myra visit Paul and Zilla Riesling at their apartment in the Revelstoke Arms with the intent of convincing Zilla to permit Paul to leave early for Maine. When the Rieslings start to argue and Zilla criticizes Paul, Babbitt comes ardently and ferociously to his friend's defense, chastising Zilla for her "damn nonsense" (p. 123), calling her a fool, and telling her that people speak ill of her behind her back. Zilla reverts to tears and dramatic self-abasement, yet she eventually grants Paul the freedom to go without her. Afterwards, Myra scolds George for being so cruel.

On the train to Maine, George and Paul sit and talk with four men who all seem to share the same opinions about Prohibition, hotels, and the rising cost of clothing. Though Paul does not get along very well with these men, George feels "expansive and virile" (p. 132) in their presence. They stay awake talking late into the night, and when George finally goes to bed, he is "very happy" (p. 132).


In a horizontal scan of Zenith in a single moment (the moment that Babbitt falls asleep), Lewis juxtaposes the excitement, variety, and potential of city life with Babbitt's dull and mundane routine. Acts of significance are occurring everywhere around him (some political, some intellectual, some illegal, and some immoral), yet he is oblivious to his own potential to make active choices. His most daring and vivid experiences occur in his dreams, where there are no consequences for his actions. At this moment, he is cowardly and incapable of taking advantage of any of the potentialities, since he has fallen into the decision not to choose. Lewis has compared him to an infant during his evening bath, and here Babbitt's implied incompetence and lack of independence are depicted by contrast with others.

During Babbitt's dinner party, the characters exhibit one of the great hypocrisies of the Prohibition era. In private, these respected gentlemen uphold the virtues of Prohibition, presenting a moralistic and obedient stance on the matter, but in private they indulge in liquor whenever they have the opportunity. Babbitt is thrilled by his trip to illegally purchase the gin, and he is drunk before his guests arrive. Two hours before sinking into a cocktail-induced revelry, Chum Frink had written a newspaper lyric denouncing "poison booze" (p. 103) and advocating clear-headed sobriety. Orville Jones explains that he "[believes] in it on principle," but he does not "propose to have anybody telling [him]" what to think or do (p. 105). They all agree that Prohibition is appropriate for keeping the working class in line, but that the middle class should have the right to drink. The alcohol trade was thriving during the 1920s when it was supposed to be illegal, and with this small scene, Lewis illustrates the hypocrisy of a country and a decade through that of a small party and an evening.

This section also reflects upon the mass media and its apparent ability to obliterate real art. Chum Frink is admired for and successful with his "poemulations," yet Lewis offhandedly remarks that they are simple enough to be understood by most children and that they are not, in fact, actual poems. Even the advertisement that Frink reads as an example of artistic genius is rendered ridiculous by lines as bad as "TRY LIFE'S ZIPPINGEST ZEST - THE ZEECO!" (p. 110). Technological advances and the spread of mass media seem to strip the artistry from art, making it impersonal, unskillful, and without intellectual or moral integrity.

When Babbitt's restlessness and boredom reaches a climax, the only possibility that seems to fill him with any hope for enjoyment is his trip to Maine with Paul--an escape--though there is a social value in going with Paul. In fact, Babbitt's relationship with Paul is unique for Babbitt, in that it is the only one that provides any real pleasure for Babbitt. In the face of Zilla Riesling's criticism of her husband, Babbitt finds himself violently defending his friend's honor and subjecting Zilla to cruel verbal abuse. In fact, this is the first time that Babbitt has expressed deep and uncontrolled feeling. He cares for his friendship so deeply and is so desperate for time alone with a friend in the woods that he loses control; his sense of propriety is overwhelmed by his protective instincts. This trip to Maine not only represents an escape from Zenith and from the people who demand things of him, but it is also a chance for what we might today call 'male bonding,' which Babbitt hopes to find restorative. But is this escape to nature going to be that of a tourist--or something more meaningful, like that of Thoreau as expressed in Walden?