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MonkeyNotes-Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
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LITERARY/ HISTORICAL INFORMATION

Sinclair Lewis has often been referred to as a writer in revolt because his novels are satiric. They expose the hypocrisy and mechanization of American society. If in Main Street, he deals with the flaws of American rural community, in Babbitt, he focuses his attention on the conservative but hypocritical business community. Babbitt, the protagonist of the latter novel, is a typical businessman with lofty aims and a desire to climb the ladder of social success.

When Lewis started writing novels, America had established itself as a super power. People were glorifying the New World and emulating it as their model. The American people, therefore, considered themselves to be a superior race. At such a time, Lewis' novels were a timely reminder that the "super" nation had its underbelly. He exposed the follies of American society courageously. His fans admired his frankness, but his critics condemned his cynicism.


Lewis started writing the first draft of Babbitt at a farmhouse in Kent. The rest of the book was finished in London. As suggested by his publisher, he undertook some research on the real-estate business before writing the novel. He was familiar with the business class residing in commercial cities like Zenith since he had been living in America for a number of years and had also traveled some, meeting many American people in the process. He translated the world of his experiences with his imagination and poured the contents into a novel. In a letter to his friend, Alfred Harcourt, he writes " [Babbitt] is all of us Americans at 46, prosperous but worried, wanting passionately to seize something more than motor cars and a house before it's too late." Babbitt represents the business class with its high ambitions, but he is also a man--an individual, craving freedom and peace. Sinclair Lewis succeeded in making a lively presentation of the commonplace through the protagonist and his circle of friends. In the words of H.G. Wells, he convincingly portrayed the vulgarity and 'vile gregariousness' of the American businessman and made it amusing.

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