Friday, February 13, 2009

Social intercourse

Current book: Babbitt
Pages read: 169-194

In this short section, we've pretty much been watching Babbitt cart around the city of Zenith making political speeches on the side of the conservative agenda. (Who's surprised he's a conservative? I know I'm not.) In addition to that, we see him court the social acquaintance of one the richest men in the state by having him and his wife over for dinner, which results in a silent and awkward evening. In an unsubtle bit of commentary, Babbitt and his wife are soon forced to be the dinner guests of a poorer couple, with equally awkward and silent results. Babbitt and his wife are obviously embarrassed by the circumstances of their hosts and resentful that they have to be socially connected to them, even if it's only for an evening. It's rather face-smackingly apparent that the dinner that Babbitt and his wife hosted created a similar set of emotions in their guests. Babbitt is, of course, as obliviously hypocritical about the whole thing as always.

I was a little disappointed by the lack of subtlety here. I mean, it's not like it was poorly written or that the point itself was a bad one, but it wasn't exactly couched in brilliant metaphor or anything. I didn't find it distracting, and I probably wouldn't question it from any other author, but I expect the best from Lewis, so he's let me down a little. (That'll teach you to set the bar so high, Sinclair. Next time, try the old bait and switch.)

Also, Sinclair Lewis has a lot to say about socialism. While he doesn't outright say that it's a good thing, he certainly presents a critical view of those who dismiss it as dangerous. He implies on several occasions that labor unions are not only good, but necessary for the working man to get a fair shot. Babbitt's rich character really brings this home as we watch him discuss how socialism wrongly promotes the agenda of the lower class, making it hard for those who have money to do business and therefore crippling society and the economy. By presenting Babbitt's extreme and illogical views with such utter sincerity, Lewis really brings out the absurdity of the conservative agenda. (There must have been some people who burned this book. I can't imagine it going over well in middle America. Then again, maybe some of them took it all at face value. I love it when that happens to satire.)

There probably won't be posts of any substance over the weekend, due to the fact that I'm taking part in a 50-hour radio trivia contest starting at 5pm today. I'm fairly sure that no reading will get done, but you might get some delirious 3am posts about how much I love Sinclair Lewis. I can't really be responsible for my actions during 50 hours of trivia.

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