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First Impressions of Babbitt


There’s political propaganda; but there’s fiction more political than propaganda. Babbitt is one such book. Forty pages into the book, I felt like reading the Grand Old Party’s agenda. If only we had a man like George F. Babbitt today. Sinclair Lewis’s satirical 1922 novel Babbitt became a national phenomenon. It’s a comedy but still profound and relevant when read today.

“What we need first, last, and all the time is a good, sound business administration!” This echoes pro-business boosterism of Mitt Romney. There’s prideful anti-elitism of Rick Santorum: “Irresponsible teachers and professors are the worst [menace to sound government], and I am ashamed to say that several of them are on the faculty of our great State University!” Finally, strong advocate for union with Newt Gingrich’s zeal: “There oughtn’t to be any unions allowed at all; and as it’s the best way of fighting the unions, every business man ought to belong to an employers’-association and to the Chamber of Commerce.”

A real estate agent in the fictional Midwestern city of Zenith, Babbitt is obsessed with his standing in the community, and Zenith’s standing in the world. He takes beaming satisfaction from his association with prominent local figures. But he begins to dislike this life, to dislike his family, to dislike the cultureless of the middle-class conservative community—and dislikes himself for disliking them.

The most startling thing about Babbitt today is not its satire but the haunting, if brief, moments of introspection. In one scene Babbitt, with a sudden hideous glimmer, becomes conscious of his own mortality. His way of life, he realizes, is incredibly mechanical—a mechanical job, mechanical relationships, mechanical conversations, and a mechanical religion,


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