Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In the kitchen, with the revolver

Current book: Babbitt
Pages read: 194-257

For a while in these pages things seem to be at a little bit of a standstill. (And no, that isn't just because I stopped reading for a couple days. Don't be snide.) Babbitt continues with his cliched businessman activities, takes an interest in the Sunday school at his church (Because it needs to be the best Sunday school in Zenith, of course. Very important.), and generally tries to get in good with the swells and impress everyone of his acquaintance with his role in civic improvement. After a while he goes off to Akron on business and runs across his friend Paul (he of the unhappy marriage), whom he catches at gambling and, to all appearances, cheating on his wife. He goes home, sort of upset about the whole thing, but writes it off as the wife's fault for nagging too much and then promptly forgets about it. After that we get a bit more information about Babbitt's kids, who seem to be running a bit wild around Zenith. His older daughter, Verona, is flirting with one of Babbitt's business associates, which is not entirely a bad thing in Babbitt's eyes, but it's his son who's the real trouble. He's graduated and still not enrolled in college, and parties and drinks every night, tooling around town on his motorcycle with his tarty girlfriend. (Yes, tarty. I said it. Also, her name is Eunice. No good can come of that.) Babbitt avoids disciplining his son, just as he avoids everything of a serious nature in his life, by pretending the problem doesn't exist.

After that we get a little realty drama when he has to fire one of his men because he made a crooked lease deal. The section ends with two of the biggest events to date in Babbitt's life: first, he's made the vice president of the Booster club (My god, the prestige! He's practically king of Zenith, is our man Babbitt. Think of the respect his fellow Zenithites must feel for him in order to bestow such an honor upon him! He's finally getting the recognition he deserves! I care! And am being completely sincere!) , and second, Paul shoots his wife. (Oh! Didn't see that coming, did you? What happened to realty and Sunday school? Bloody murder, that's what!) So, yeah, that was exciting. Babbitt goes to visit him in the lockup and Paul says he doesn't even know why he did it; he didn't mean to, but just couldn't stand things anymore. Right at the end of the chapter we discover that Paul's wife has lived through the incident and that Paul is sentenced to only three years in prison.

I was getting a little bored with things there for a while, I have to admit, but Lewis pulled it out by adding the stuff about Babbitt's children and, of course, the shooting. It was teetering on being too much of a character portrait and not enough of a story, but now that events are beginning to erode Babbitt's sense of complacency and satisfaction, both the plot and characterization are once again engaging and successful. It's interesting; there are quite a few books whose authors I would mock mercilessly for sticking in a dramatic shooting, but when Lewis does it it seems to happen with good reason. It works so well to reveal more of what Babbitt is thinking and how his worldview will be changed (or remain unchanged) that it seems less a dramatic stretch than it does a logical development of his life in Zenith.

Still no sign of the stock market crash. I'm hoping Babbitt will have a psychotic break and start dressing like a cowboy or something.

1 comment:

  1. Is it 1929 yet? The market crashed in October of that year, which I'm sure you know as it's on your right-brain US History project.



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