by Sinclair Lewis
- Year Published: 1922
- Language: English
- Country of Origin: United States of America
- Source: Lewis, S. (1922) Babbitt New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.
- Flesch–Kincaid Level: 7.4
- Word Count: 3,789
- Genre: Satire
- Keywords: 20th century literature, american literature
- ✎ Cite This
Lewis, S. (1922). Chapter 34. Babbitt (Lit2Go Edition). Retrieved June 03, 2023, from https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/65/babbitt/1494/chapter-34/
Lewis, Sinclair. "Chapter 34." Babbitt. Lit2Go Edition. 1922. Web. <https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/65/babbitt/1494/chapter-34/>. June 03, 2023.
Sinclair Lewis, "Chapter 34," Babbitt, Lit2Go Edition, (1922), accessed June 03, 2023, https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/65/babbitt/1494/chapter-34/.
The Good Citizens' League had spread through the country, but nowhere was it so effective and well esteemed as in cities of the type of Zenith, commercial cities of a few hundred thousand inhabitants, most of which—though not all—lay inland, against a background of cornfields and mines and of small towns which depended upon them for mortgage–loans, table–manners, art, social philosophy and millinery.
To the League belonged most of the prosperous citizens of Zenith. They were not all of the kind who called themselves "Regular Guys." Besides these hearty fellows, these salesmen of prosperity, there were the aristocrats, that is, the men who were richer or had been rich for more generations: the presidents of banks and of factories, the land–owners, the corporation lawyers, the fashionable doctors, and the few young–old men who worked not at all but, reluctantly remaining in Zenith, collected luster–ware and first editions as though they were back in Paris. All of them agreed that the working–classes must be kept in their place; and all of them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary.
In this they were like the ruling–class of any other country, particularly of Great Britain, but they differed in being more vigorous and in actually trying to produce the accepted standards which all classes, everywhere, desire, but usually despair of realizing.
The longest struggle of the Good Citizens' League was against the Open Shop—which was secretly a struggle against all union labor. Accompanying it was an Americanization Movement, with evening classes in English and history and economics, and daily articles in the newspapers, so that newly arrived foreigners might learn that the true–blue and one hundred per cent. American way of settling labor–troubles was for workmen to trust and love their employers.
The League was more than generous in approving other organizations which agreed with its aims. It helped the Y.M. C.A. to raise a two–hundred–thousand–dollar fund for a new building. Babbitt, Vergil Gunch, Sidney Finkelstein, and even Charles McKelvey told the spectators at movie theaters how great an influence for manly Christianity the "good old Y." had been in their own lives; and the hoar and mighty Colonel Rutherford Snow, owner of the Advocate–Times, was photographed clasping the hand of Sheldon Smeeth of the Y.M.C.A. It is true that afterward, when Smeeth lisped, "You must come to one of our prayer–meetings," the ferocious Colonel bellowed, "What the hell would I do that for? I've got a bar of my own," but this did not appear in the public prints.
The League was of value to the American Legion at a time when certain of the lesser and looser newspapers were criticizing that organization of veterans of the Great War. One evening a number of young men raided the Zenith Socialist Headquarters, burned its records, beat the office staff, and agreeably dumped desks out of the window. All of the newspapers save the Advocate–Times and the Evening Advocate attributed this valuable but perhaps hasty direct–action to the American Legion. Then a flying squadron from the Good Citizens' League called on the unfair papers and explained that no ex–soldier could possibly do such a thing, and the editors saw the light, and retained their advertising. When Zenith's lone Conscientious Objector came home from prison and was righteously run out of town, the newspapers referred to the perpetrators as an "unidentified mob."
In all the activities and triumphs of the Good Citizens' League Babbitt took part, and completely won back to self–respect, placidity, and the affection of his friends. But he began to protest, "Gosh, I've done my share in cleaning up the city. I want to tend to business. Think I'll just kind of slacken up on this G.C.L. stuff now."
He had returned to the church as he had returned to the Boosters' Club. He had even endured the lavish greeting which Sheldon Smeeth gave him. He was worried lest during his late discontent he had imperiled his salvation. He was not quite sure there was a Heaven to be attained, but Dr. John Jennison Drew said there was, and Babbitt was not going to take a chance.
One evening when he was walking past Dr. Drew's parsonage he impulsively went in and found the pastor in his study.
"Jus' minute—getting 'phone call," said Dr. Drew in businesslike tones, then, aggressively, to the telephone: "'Lo—'lo! This Berkey and Hannis? Reverend Drew speaking. Where the dickens is the proof for next Sunday's calendar? Huh? Y' ought to have it here. Well, I can't help it if they're ALL sick! I got to have it to–night. Get an A.D.T. boy and shoot it up here quick."
He turned, without slackening his briskness. "Well, Brother Babbitt, what c'n I do for you?"
"I just wanted to ask—Tell you how it is, dominie: Here a while ago I guess I got kind of slack. Took a few drinks and so on. What I wanted to ask is: How is it if a fellow cuts that all out and comes back to his senses? Does it sort of, well, you might say, does it score against him in the long run?"
The Reverend Dr. Drew was suddenly interested. "And, uh, brother—the other things, too? Women?"
"No, practically, you might say, practically not at all."
"Don't hesitate to tell me, brother! That's what I'm here for. Been going on joy–rides? Squeezing girls in cars?" The reverend eyes glistened.
"Well, I'll tell you. I've got a deputation from the Don't Make Prohibition a Joke Association coming to see me in a quarter of an hour, and one from the Anti–Birth–Control Union at a quarter of ten." He busily glanced at his watch. "But I can take five minutes off and pray with you. Kneel right down by your chair, brother. Don't be ashamed to seek the guidance of God."
Babbitt's scalp itched and he longed to flee, but Dr. Drew had already flopped down beside his desk–chair and his voice had changed from rasping efficiency to an unctuous familiarity with sin and with the Almighty. Babbitt also knelt, while Drew gloated:
"O Lord, thou seest our brother here, who has been led astray by manifold temptations. O Heavenly Father, make his heart to be pure, as pure as a little child's. Oh, let him know again the joy of a manly courage to abstain from evil—"
Sheldon Smeeth came frolicking into the study. At the sight of the two men he smirked, forgivingly patted Babbitt on the shoulder, and knelt beside him, his arm about him, while he authorized Dr. Drew's imprecations with moans of "Yes, Lord! Help our brother, Lord!"
Though he was trying to keep his eyes closed, Babbitt squinted between his fingers and saw the pastor glance at his watch as he concluded with a triumphant, "And let him never be afraid to come to Us for counsel and tender care, and let him know that the church can lead him as a little lamb."
Dr. Drew sprang up, rolled his eyes in the general direction of Heaven, chucked his watch into his pocket, and demanded, "Has the deputation come yet, Sheldy?"
"Yep, right outside," Sheldy answered, with equal liveliness; then, caressingly, to Babbitt, "Brother, if it would help, I'd love to go into the next room and pray with you while Dr. Drew is receiving the brothers from the Don't Make Prohibition a Joke Association."
"No—no thanks—can't take the time!" yelped Babbitt, rushing toward the door.
Thereafter he was often seen at the Chatham Road Presbyterian Church, but it is recorded that he avoided shaking hands with the pastor at the door.
If his moral fiber had been so weakened by rebellion that he was not quite dependable in the more rigorous campaigns of the Good Citizens' League nor quite appreciative of the church, yet there was no doubt of the joy with which Babbitt returned to the pleasures of his home and of the Athletic Club, the Boosters, the Elks.
Verona and Kenneth Escott were eventually and hesitatingly married. For the wedding Babbitt was dressed as carefully as was Verona; he was crammed into the morning–coat he wore to teas thrice a year; and with a certain relief, after Verona and Kenneth had driven away in a limousine, he returned to the house, removed the morning coat, sat with his aching feet up on the davenport, and reflected that his wife and he could have the living–room to themselves now, and not have to listen to Verona and Kenneth worrying, in a cultured collegiate manner, about minimum wages and the Drama League.
But even this sinking into peace was less consoling than his return to being one of the best–loved men in the Boosters' Club.
President Willis Ijams began that Boosters' Club luncheon by standing quiet and staring at them so unhappily that they feared he was about to announce the death of a Brother Booster. He spoke slowly then, and gravely:
"Boys, I have something shocking to reveal to you; something terrible about one of our own members."
Several Boosters, including Babbitt, looked disconcerted.
"A knight of the grip, a trusted friend of mine, recently made a trip up–state, and in a certain town, where a certain Booster spent his boyhood, he found out something which can no longer be concealed. In fact, he discovered the inward nature of a man whom we have accepted as a Real Guy and as one of us. Gentlemen, I cannot trust my voice to say it, so I have written it down."
He uncovered a large blackboard and on it, in huge capitals, was the legend:
George Follansbee Babbitt—oh you Folly!
The Boosters cheered, they laughed, they wept, they threw rolls at Babbitt, they cried, "Speech, speech! Oh you Folly!"
President Ijams continued:
"That, gentlemen, is the awful thing Georgie Babbitt has been concealing all these years, when we thought he was just plain George F. Now I want you to tell us, taking it in turn, what you've always supposed the F. stood for."
Flivver, they suggested, and Frog–face and Flathead and Farinaceous and Freezone and Flapdoodle and Foghorn. By the joviality of their insults Babbitt knew that he had been taken back to their hearts, and happily he rose.
"Boys, I've got to admit it. I've never worn a wrist–watch, or parted my name in the middle, but I will confess to 'Follansbee.' My only justification is that my old dad—though otherwise he was perfectly sane, and packed an awful wallop when it came to trimming the City Fellers at checkers—named me after the family doc, old Dr. Ambrose Follansbee. I apologize, boys. In my next what–d'you–call–it I'll see to it that I get named something really practical—something that sounds swell and yet is good and virile—something, in fact, like that grand old name so familiar to every household—that bold and almost overpowering name, Willis Jimjams Ijams!"
He knew by the cheer that he was secure again and popular; he knew that he would no more endanger his security and popularity by straying from the Clan of Good Fellows.
Henry Thompson dashed into the office, clamoring, "George! Big news! Jake Offutt says the Traction Bunch are dissatisfied with the way Sanders, Torrey and Wing handled their last deal, and they're willing to dicker with us!"
Babbitt was pleased in the realization that the last scar of his rebellion was healed, yet as he drove home he was annoyed by such background thoughts as had never weakened him in his days of belligerent conformity. He discovered that he actually did not consider the Traction group quite honest. "Well, he'd carry out one more deal for them, but as soon as it was practicable, maybe as soon as old Henry Thompson died, he'd break away from all association from them. He was forty–eight; in twelve years he'd be sixty; he wanted to leave a clean business to his grandchildren. Course there was a lot of money in negotiating for the Traction people, and a fellow had to look at things in a practical way, only—" He wriggled uncomfortably. He wanted to tell the Traction group what he thought of them. "Oh, he couldn't do it, not now. If he offended them this second time, they would crush him. But—"
He was conscious that his line of progress seemed confused. He wondered what he would do with his future. He was still young; was he through with all adventuring? He felt that he had been trapped into the very net from which he had with such fury escaped and, supremest jest of all, been made to rejoice in the trapping.
"They've licked me; licked me to a finish!" he whimpered.
The house was peaceful, that evening, and he enjoyed a game of pinochle with his wife. He indignantly told the Tempter that he was content to do things in the good old fashioned way. The day after, he went to see the purchasing–agent of the Street Traction Company and they made plans for the secret purchase of lots along the Evanston Road. But as he drove to his office he struggled, "I'm going to run things and figure out things to suit myself—when I retire."
Ted had come down from the University for the week–end. Though he no longer spoke of mechanical engineering and though he was reticent about his opinion of his instructors, he seemed no more reconciled to college, and his chief interest was his wireless telephone set.
On Saturday evening he took Eunice Littlefield to a dance at Devon Woods. Babbitt had a glimpse of her, bouncing in the seat of the car, brilliant in a scarlet cloak over a frock of thinnest creamy silk. They two had not returned when the Babbitts went to bed, at half–past eleven. At a blurred indefinite time of late night Babbitt was awakened by the ring of the telephone and gloomily crawled down–stairs. Howard Littlefield was speaking:
"George, Euny isn't back yet. Is Ted?"
"No—at least his door is open—"
"They ought to be home. Eunice said the dance would be over at midnight. What's the name of those people where they're going?"
"Why, gosh, tell the truth, I don't know, Howard. It's some classmate of Ted's, out in Devon Woods. Don't see what we can do. Wait, I'll skip up and ask Myra if she knows their name."
Babbitt turned on the light in Ted's room. It was a brown boyish room; disordered dresser, worn books, a high–school pennant, photographs of basket–ball teams and baseball teams. Ted was decidedly not there.
Mrs. Babbitt, awakened, irritably observed that she certainly did not know the name of Ted's host, that it was late, that Howard Littlefield was but little better than a born fool, and that she was sleepy. But she remained awake and worrying while Babbitt, on the sleeping–porch, struggled back into sleep through the incessant soft rain of her remarks. It was after dawn when he was aroused by her shaking him and calling "George! George!" in something like horror.
"Wha—wha—what is it?"
"Come here quick and see. Be quiet!"
She led him down the hall to the door of Ted's room and pushed it gently open. On the worn brown rug he saw a froth of rose–colored chiffon lingerie; on the sedate Morris chair a girl's silver slipper. And on the pillows were two sleepy heads—Ted's and Eunice's.
Ted woke to grin, and to mutter with unconvincing defiance, "Good morning! Let me introduce my wife—Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt Eunice Littlefield Babbitt, Esquiress."
"Good God!" from Babbitt, and from his wife a long wailing, "You've gone and—"
"We got married last evening. Wife! Sit up and say a pretty good morning to mother–in–law."
But Eunice hid her shoulders and her charming wild hair under the pillow.
By nine o'clock the assembly which was gathered about Ted and Eunice in the living–room included Mr. and Mrs. George Babbitt, Dr. and Mrs. Howard Littlefield, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Escott, Mr. and Mrs. Henry T. Thompson, and Tinka Babbitt, who was the only pleased member of the inquisition.
A crackling shower of phrases filled the room:
"At their age—" "Ought to be annulled—" "Never heard of such a thing in—" "Fault of both of them and—" "Keep it out of the papers—" "Ought to be packed off to school—" "Do something about it at once, and what I say is—" "Damn good old–fashioned spanking—"
Worst of them all was Verona. "TED! Some way MUST be found to make you understand how dreadfully SERIOUS this is, instead of standing AROUND with that silly foolish SMILE on your face!"
He began to revolt. "Gee whittakers, Rone, you got married yourself, didn't you?"
"That's entirely different."
"You bet it is! They didn't have to work on Eu and me with a chain and tackle to get us to hold hands!"
"Now, young man, we'll have no more flippancy," old Henry Thompson ordered. "You listen to me."
"You listen to Grandfather!" said Verona.
"Yes, listen to your Grandfather!" said Mrs. Babbitt.
"Ted, you listen to Mr. Thompson!" said Howard Littlefield.
"Oh, for the love o' Mike, I am listening!" Ted shouted. "But you look here, all of you! I'm getting sick and tired of being the corpse in this post mortem! If you want to kill somebody, go kill the preacher that married us! Why, he stung me five dollars, and all the money I had in the world was six dollars and two bits. I'm getting just about enough of being hollered at!"
A new voice, booming, authoritative, dominated the room. It was Babbitt. "Yuh, there's too darn many putting in their oar! Rone, you dry up. Howard and I are still pretty strong, and able to do our own cussing. Ted, come into the dining–room and we'll talk this over."
In the dining–room, the door firmly closed, Babbitt walked to his son, put both hands on his shoulders. "You're more or less right. They all talk too much. Now what do you plan to do, old man?"
"Gosh, dad, are you really going to be human?"
"Well, I—Remember one time you called us 'the Babbitt men' and said we ought to stick together? I want to. I don't pretend to think this isn't serious. The way the cards are stacked against a young fellow to–day, I can't say I approve of early marriages. But you couldn't have married a better girl than Eunice; and way I figure it, Littlefield is darn lucky to get a Babbitt for a son–in–law! But what do you plan to do? Course you could go right ahead with the U., and when you'd finished—"
"Dad, I can't stand it any more. Maybe it's all right for some fellows. Maybe I'll want to go back some day. But me, I want to get into mechanics. I think I'd get to be a good inventor. There's a fellow that would give me twenty dollars a week in a factory right now."
"Well—" Babbitt crossed the floor, slowly, ponderously, seeming a little old. "I've always wanted you to have a college degree." He meditatively stamped across the floor again. "But I've never—Now, for heaven's sake, don't repeat this to your mother, or she'd remove what little hair I've got left, but practically, I've never done a single thing I've wanted to in my whole life! I don't know 's I've accomplished anything except just get along. I figure out I've made about a quarter of an inch out of a possible hundred rods. Well, maybe you'll carry things on further. I don't know. But I do get a kind of sneaking pleasure out of the fact that you knew what you wanted to do and did it. Well, those folks in there will try to bully you, and tame you down. Tell 'em to go to the devil! I'll back you. Take your factory job, if you want to. Don't be scared of the family. No, nor all of Zenith. Nor of yourself, the way I've been. Go ahead, old man! The world is yours!"
Arms about each other's shoulders, the Babbitt men marched into the living–room and faced the swooping family.