Monday, December 26, 2005

Book Review: Babbitt

I'm copying a friend of mine who awhile back reviewed several books he had read on his blog. Granted, his book tastes were a little more sophisticated than mine. Anyway, onward and upward, starting with Babbitt:

I have to confess, I was prepared to be unimpressed by Babbitt, written by Sinclair Lewis, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. I read it as part of my thesis research on French impressions of American novels in the 1920s and 1930s because my research was turning up numerous references (mostly praiseworthy) of Babbitt. Part of my feeling from this research is that the French were more laudatory of a book like Babbitt than of one like F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (published three-years later) because the latter was much less straight-forward, employing more symbolism and subtlety. Therefore, I was expecting Babbitt to be too simplistic, and like Lewis's earlier Main Street, plodding to get through (though I enjoyed Main Street). In fact, for the most part I enjoyed Babbitt and thought its portrayal of a 1920s real estate man in a mid-size Midwest city had some relevancy to today, even though certain aspects of the book are dated, like the slangy colloquialisms of the time and the commonality of memberships to"respectable" organizations like Kiwanis and other business societies and clubs. For one, the title character, George F. Babbitt, is relievedly not a cardboard cutout; he has emotions and doubts too. He is somewhat of a larger than life character, but this is an effective part of Lewis's portrayal since someone of Babbitt's background isn't an inherently interesting character. Lewis crafts Babbitt as one who is ironically known around town for his oratory, although it is clear that he is mainly recalling Things Heard 'Round the Athletic Club (at the beginning of the book, he goes around offering the inane comment that what the country needs is "a good business administration"). The book also does a good job of establishing and detailing a milieu, the middle-class business world, and its conformist nature. The conformity doesn't become threatening until Babbitt starts to get different ideas, and then his sympathy towards a labor leader and his reluctance to join the vaguely named Good Citizen League, which seeks to keep an eye on rabble-rousers--actually, people who don't have business interests as their top priority--becomes an issue. Babbitt is overall a satisfying read, and it is interesting to keep in mind while reading it that it was a huge popular success in Europe.

1 comment:

Wheelchair said...

Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
Wheelchair Transport

Keep Posting:)