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Babbitt: chapter 13

Babbitt enjoys a moment of glory. He is asked to address S.A.R.E.B., the State Association of Real Estate Boards. The theme of Babbitt\'s talk: real estate men are as worthy of respect as are doctors and professors.

Babbitt\'s speech will be only ten minutes long, but he goes through agony writing it. If you\'ve ever delayed starting an assignment for school, you\'ll probably appreciate Babbitt\'s meaningless outlines, his doodles, his wasted time. The S.A.R.E.B. meeting is to be held in the city of Monach, Zenith\'s chief rival in the state. Babbitt and the other delegates gather at Union Station, wearing buttons that proclaim, \"We Boost For Zenith,\" singing the Chum Frink anthem, \"Good Old Zenith,\" and following Babbitt in cheers. Meanwhile other Zenith residents look on silently--\"Italian women with shawls, old weary men with broken shoes, roving road-wise boys in suits which had been flashy when they were new but which were faded now and wrinkled.\" These people are reminders that Zenith possesses citizens who can\'t share in the realtor\'s idiotic optimism, people who have problems that Babbitt and his friends will never understand.

Just as Zenith contains people too poor to belong to Babbitt\'s world, it contains people too rich to want to belong to it: when Babbitt spies the wealthy Lucile McKelvey in her compartment, he\'s overcome by a feeling of insignificance that he tries to conquer by lording it over delegates from towns smaller than Zenith.

The S.A.R.E.B. meeting is an incredible, hilarious combination of boredom and stupidity. Lewis has fun with the speeches, the slogans, even the names of the cities--Galop de Vache, for example, is pidgin French for \"cow gallop.\" Babbitt\'s own speech is hailed as \"a sensation,\" but by now you may suspect that description merely reflects the low standards of Babbitt\'s world.

At the convention\'s final session, cities noisily vie to be next year\'s convention site. To advertise Zenith, the delegates parade on stage costumed as cowpunchers, bareback riders, Japanese jugglers. At the end of the parade marches Babbitt, dressed as a clown and beating a big bass drum. The restless, sensitive Babbitt we\'ve occasionally seen before is taking back seat to the booster.

After all the hoopla, the following year\'s convention is awarded to the city of Sparta because it promised to spend the most money to entertain the delegates. Says one realtor, \"Money talks.\" it does talk, very loudly indeed, in Babbitt.

Instead of going straight home to Zenith, Babbitt lingers for a drink in a fellow delegate\'s hotel room. In between their drinking and laughter, Lewis reminds us again that this is a world of failed dreams. Just as Babbitt wanted to be a lawyer and Paul Riesling a violinist, a young delegate from Sparta sadly remembers how he wanted to be a chemist but became a kitchenware salesman instead.

The group goes to dinner, then staggers to a burlesque show and then on to a speakeasy (where liquor can be bought). The night has been long and Babbitt is tired. He feels \"nothing but a hot raw desire for more brutal amusement\"--and doesn\'t object to the suggestion that they visit a brothel.

Notice the way Lewis mocks Babbitt\'s boosterism here. All through the book Babbitt has been boasting about clean, proper, prosperous Zenith. Now he continues to boast, but instead of praising industries or libraries or anything Zenith might legitimately be proud of, he boasts about Zenith\'s large number of bars and brothels.

This chapter shows the humor and enthusiasm of Babbitt\'s world, but it also shows that world\'s meanness and hypocrisy. The real estate men are in many ways laughable. But they\'re also pathetic, haunted by failed dreams. They can be cruel. And they\'re hypocritical: they enjoy by night the things they disapprove of by day. Babbitt has spent an evening he will never admit to.



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