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"Babbit" by Sinclair Lewis

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By SN from Software Nerd,cross-posted by MetaBlog


For my fiction "reading", I recently listened to "Babbitt", by Sinclair Lewis. I've wanted to read one of the better "naturalist" authors, and this was a good recording.


The protagonist, Mr. Babbitt is a middle-aged, middle-class real-estate broker, who votes Republican, goes to church, and is the member of the right club; but, he is not very zealous about any of these aspects of his life. He is even open to alternatives in morality and politics, and he explores some of them. Babbitt is not a caricature we would reject as ridiculous. He is a realistic portrayal of a man who has chosen values which are about average for his background.


Sinclair Lewis does not sympathize with Babbit's values. There are parts of the book that are satirical in highlighting Babbitt's hypocrisy. Nevertheless, Lewis appears sympathetic to Babbit the man; the man who is not quite happy with his choices, and is trying to be open to alternatives.


Lewis's book is naturalism at its best. The actors introspect, and make choices, and direct their lives... and yet, the summarizing message is that this is extremely difficult, and perhaps essentially futile. We do not see someone being absolutely carried along with the trend; but, we surely do not see any heroic battles either. The actors are not born with some inherent flaw that they cannot will away; yet, we find them constrained by their own values and choices, unable to radically change the choices they have made.


While I cannot recommend this as inspiring fiction, I think it is definitely worth reading a few such books. I think this type of naturalism has didactic (and "cautionary tale") value. While the naturalism will leave the reader uninspired, the plot carries one along as if one were watching a real reality show.


Personally, I will probably read more Sinclair Lewis, but primarily as part of my interest in that period of American history from the 1880s to WW-II.

Edited by softwareNerd
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  • 5 years later...

Thank you

Brilliant review sir. This book was pushed way up my book list after reading it. What are other "such books" with a didactic value ?

Thanks. When I wrote it, I don't think I had specific books in mind, but just meant naturalistic fiction as a genre. I haven't read any more Lewis since then, and mostly do non-fiction, and that is mostly romantic.

But, I'll offer a fiction suggestion anyway. "Trustee From the Toolroom" by Nevil Shute. This is romanticism (in the Objectivist sense), but it is very different from typical larger-than-life hero. The story is interesting to follow, but its didactic value to an Objectivist is in showing another type of "hero" (simple? low-level? ordinary?). I don't want to give much away.


Another one I remembered is Shute's "A Town like Alice". It is written like two different books put together, and the second part is didactic about economics and about what drives economic production. But, of the two, someone who is already free-market oriented will may not learn so much as see some of his existing ideas made concrete.


Third on my list is a book that I don't classify as Romanticism though it has a typical good-vs-evil backbone. "The Deceivers" by John Masters. it's about a British police/military man trying to end the "thug" criminal gangs in his area of India. What makes it different is the author's exploration of the inner thoughts of the hero, flirting with the temptation of evil.


Are you on "Goodreads"? if you are, or if you join, send me a PM and we can friend each other there to share future reviews.

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