Babbitt Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXXI-XXXIV

Chapter XXXI:

Although George tries to avoid Tanis and to sever the affair, she reels him back in through phone calls and letters. Though he hates his sense of obligation, he goes to see her. He is immediately drawn to her sympathy and limitless interest in him, but he becomes discouraged when she begins to talk about her own troubles, which revolve around petty misunderstandings among her friends. The conversation wanes, and Tanis suddenly reveals her fear that Babbitt does not love her. She forces him to assure her of his love, and this pressure maims his attraction and makes him want to flee. He abruptly calls off the affair, feeling guilty about hurting Tanis but rejoicing again in his freedom.

Chapter XXXII:

Back at home, when Myra confronts him about his whereabouts, George admits that he has been with a woman. But he accuses Myra of being responsible for his infidelity. He manipulates her into sharing that view.

At the Boosters' Club the next day, George criticizes a conservative congressman in the presence of Dr. Dilling, a surgeon who is considered one of the most important men in the club. This results in an office visit later that afternoon by Dr. Dilling, Charles McKelvey, and Colonel Rutherford, three extremely powerful men in Zenith. They invite George to join the Good Citizens' League and, when George responds that he has to "think it over a little" (p. 330), they become threatening. They blackmail him, using his recent impropriety as leverage and warning him that his business will no longer prosper if he does not join, but George refuses to be bullied. At home, Myra complains that he should have joined. George becomes lonely for Tanis.

Suddenly, as expected, George is being ignored by his former associates. He starts losing business. Miss McGoun leaves Babbitt-Thompson Realty for their rival company. George is filled with fear, paranoia, and stubborn defiance. Though "he would like to flee back to the security of conformity ... he would not be forced back" (p. 335). Wanting Tanis's sympathy, he appears at her door late one night, but she responds coldly and he retreats, defeated.

Chapter XXXIII:

Babbitt awakes in the middle of the night and hears Myra groaning from a pain in her side. Forgetting his resentment, he brings her ice and calls Dr. Earl Patten to come examine her immediately. When the doctor says that her appendix is inflamed and that he will return in the morning, George is "caught up in a black tempest" (p. 339) of alarm. The full vigor of his faithfulness and commitment revive in the face his wife's possible death. He stays by her side throughout the night.

Dr. Patten returns with Dr. Dilling, the surgeon from the Boosters' Club, who explains that Myra has acute appendicitis and that he must operate immediately. Babbitt is overcome by a renewed love for her, and she is overcome with relief at this change. Thus, "in muttered incoherencies they [find] each other" (p. 343). George vows to himself that his rebellion is over. They ride in the ambulance to St. Mary's Hospital.

In the waiting room, Babbitt accidentally opens the door to the operating room. He is utterly shaken by the sight, and subsequently he swears undying faith to every icon of middle-class conformity (including his wife, his city, business efficiency, the Boosters' Club, and the Good Citizens' League).

Myra returns home after seventeen days. In this time, Babbitt's former friends regain their faith in him and he joins the Good Citizens' League, "tearful with joy" (p. 346) at being invited by Vergil Gunch. Within two weeks, he denounces Seneca Doane, labor unions, and immigrants as wicked.

Chapter XXXIV:

Babbitt wins back Zenith's respect and approval through his work with the G.C.L. (which is mainly ensuring that the wealth of the city is held by a small percentage of the population, and which is enforcing conformity of thought and morals), as well as through his return to the Boosters' Club and to church.

Despite the resumed social order and peace at home (especially once Verona and Kenneth Escott are finally married), Babbitt's greatest joy is his "return to being one of the best-loved men in the Boosters' Club." When they tease him about his middle name (Follansbee), he knows that all is well. The very last "scar of his rebellion" (p. 352) is healed when he regains his most important business client. He now rejoices in all of the conformity and restraints that he had so desperately sought to escape.

But when Ted suddenly elopes with Eunice and tells George that he would rather become a mechanic than complete his college education, George displays the insight and perspective he has gained through his rebellion. He expresses approval of Eunice and tells Ted to do exactly as he wants with his life without being afraid of his family, his society, or (worst of all) himself.


Babbitt's rebellion is shallow. His behavior during his rebellion often straddles the border between principle and childish stubbornness. His refusal to join the Good Citizens' League, when asked, is not so much a matter of wanting to remain faithful to his set of liberal beliefs, but rather of not wanting to be bullied into making a decision. In fact, he reflects several times on the fact that he would actually like to join, but he will not do so if it is not clear to everyone that the choice is wholly his. Although there is an element of maturity and self-respect in his defiance, it is adolescent, and he puts himself through the grief of fearing other prominent members of Zenith society.

In this state of inner conflict, the reader is left to question Babbitt's final return to his old commitments as well. He returns like the prodigal son to his wife and his conformist republican life. But his return comes not from poverty or principle; he seems completely overcome with grief and worry when Myra falls ill with appendicitis. He feels and shows a love and tenderness for her that we have never seen, and he is driven to distraction by his concern for her life. One must wonder if Babbitt's sudden renunciation of his wicked ways and his enthusiastic return to the institutions that used to govern his life are sincerely driven by his deep love and broadened perspective, or if he is simply seeking a good excuse to do what he has been too stubborn to do. Perhaps Myra is a mere convenience, as she has been throughout the novel, and he uses her in a way that is almost as uncaring and inhuman as he typically does.

But this is one section of the novel where satire, sarcasm, and irony seem to disappear entirely. The strength of Babbitt's emotions is expressed in prose that is simple and direct. Given its uniqueness, it seems as though this section is Lewis's declaration that Babbitt does care deeply for his wife despite his unreflective social choices; Babbitt does seem to care for the life he had and which he is no longer willing to give up.

If before he jumped completely into rebellion, by the end he has jumped all the way back. Still, the process of acknowledging his dissatisfaction, trying to satisfy it, realizing that parties, liberalism, and affairs can still feel empty, and being frightened into remembering that he cares for Myra, has changed him. The process may have made Babbitt more human even if it has not made him fully reflective. This last section of the novel is not full of complaining or object worship, but it records his new acceptance and appreciation of the people and communities constituting his life.

Nevertheless, Lewis explains that, as a result of the rebellion, he is not able to participate in the most extreme campaigns of the G.C.L., nor can he completely commit himself to the church. He is no longer morally vacuous, with the ability to promote or denounce any cause at the will of others. A more solid and consistent ethical code guides his decisions.

Furthermore, his response to Ted's elopement and decision not to complete his college education reveals this change more clearly. In the face of doubt and anger expressed by the rest of the family, Babbitt is able to take his son aside and ask him what he plans to do, implying his assertion of Ted's right to make independent choices (which is something that Babbitt himself never did). Ted's response ("Gosh, dad, are you really going to be human?" [p. 355]) reveals Lewis's underlying conclusion: Babbitt has become more complete as a human who appreciates the complexities of life. Babbitt encourages his son to pursue his own path, acknowledging that he has "never done a single thing [he's] wanted to in [his] whole life" (p. 356). George Babbitt now has the perspective to realize that Ted can and should be happier.

This ending provides a new hope for a deepening in the pursuit of the American Dream. Babbitt will pass this dream on to the next generation in the hope that Ted will have the insight and determination to engage more thoughtfully and deeply with the ideals, not just with the outward appearances of success. Lewis does not provide much of an opinion about this hope that Ted will really accomplish his goals (in fact, his prospects seem bleak), but the novel's introduction of this possibility is itself a moment of triumph. Babbitt may not have changed in very many tangible ways. He is still a conformist, he is still somewhat cowardly, and he is not entirely satisfied. But he has derived a greater understanding of himself and his world from his brief period of rebellion, and Lewis's straightforward depiction of this change is an undeniable testament to the possibility of a better, more satisfying, fulfillment.