The 20s And Sinclair Lewis Essay

This essay has a total of 1707 words and 11 pages.

The 20s And Sinclair Lewis


The theme in books by Sinclair Lewis1 relates to the time in which they were written. In
both Babbit (1922) and Main Street (1920) Lewis shows us the American culture of the
1920's. He writes about the growing cities, the small towns, the common American man, the
strong American need to conform, cultural integration, morals (or lack of in some cases),
and he touches upon the women lib movement. All of these and more successfully describe
the 1920's.


"The parties were bigger... the pace was faster, the shows were bigger, the
buildings were higher, the morals were looser..."2


- F. Scott Fitzgerald



Lewis attacks the American middle class business man in Babbit. As Sheldon Grebstein once put it:

"They ( Lewis's characters ) become puppets rather than performers." ( S. Lewis, Amer. Author Series 68 )



He uses the ideas and attitudes already in existence and gives them a plot. He uses
sarcasm to show the readers the error of their ways and then makes the main character
suffer some how to show the consequences of being the way George F. Babbit is.


Americans felt a need to rise in social status in the 1920's. Things like art and religion
did not even make it in the maybe pile. Money and social acceptance was number one in
every household.


"His ( Americans ) only way to assume protective coloration, to loose
himself in the crowd, and then to be approved by one of its members." ( S.
Lewis, Amer. Author Series 78 )






George F. Babbit. A forty-six, middle class, overweight, suburban real estate dealer. To add to the mix he is a father

and a husband. Babbit is Lewis's picture of the middle class businessman. H.L. Menekan states:

" The fellow simply drips with human juices... Every American city swarms
with his brothers" ( 20th Cent. Views 20-21 )




Babbit , along with several others of his social status, belong to a club entitled the
Athletes Club in which they prominently display their uniform narrow minded views with
meaningless chatter. Like his business associates and colleagues, he values painstaking
work in an effort to succeed.


"The thing which sets off the American from all other men and gives a peculiar
colour not only to the pattern oh his daily life but also to the play of his
inner ideas, is what, for want of a more exact term, maybe called social
aspiration. That is to say, his dominant passion is apart- a passion to
improve his position, to break down some shady barrier of caste, to achieve the
countenance of what, for all his talk of equality, he recognizes and accepts as
his betters." ( The American Credo 59 )3




Babbit's hometown of Zenith provides an example of the ideal 1920's community. The very
first paragraph in the book states:




"The towers of Zenith aspired above and cement and limestone, sturdy as
cliffs and delicate as silver rods. They were neither citadels nor churches but
frankly and beautifully office buildings." (Babbit )




Lewis describes these towers in the first sentence by appearance and then uses sarcasm to
cut into his dissatisfaction that these buildings are used for business rather than
gathering people to






prayer. This clearly shows the transition of priorities from church to work.

During this time thing for the middle class to do was to take the grand tour of Europe.
Also World War I was over and the boys just came back from Europe where they were for over
a year. With the combination of these two, America was seeing a lot of European culture be
incorporation into their own. When describing the Athletes Club he used the following:


"The entrance lobby was Gothic, the washroom Roman Imperial, the lounge
Spanish Mission, and the reading room in Chinese Chippendale, but the gem of the
club was the dinning-room, the masterpiece of Ferdinand Reitman, Zenith's
busiest architect. It was lofty and half-timbered, with Tudor leaded
casements, an oriole, a somewhat musician less musician's- gallery, and
tapestries believed to illustrate the granting of the Magna Charta..."(
Babbit 59)4



Continues for 6 more pages >>




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