Babbitt By Sinclair Lewis Summary and Analysis Chapters 16-17

Summary

Babbitt is unhappy that the McKelveys and their circle have not accepted him. In reaction to this snub, he strives even harder to become an even more prominent citizen. He continues to make speeches on important issues whenever the opportunity arises, and he is active in the Elks and other organizations to which he belongs. Babbitt is a member of one of Zenith's largest and richest churches — Chatham Road Presbyterian. The eloquent and efficient pastor, the Reverend Doctor John Jennison Drew, is highly esteemed and respected by all the better people of the city. Reverend Drew is intelligent and amiable; he is a staunch defender of business and an advocate of modern, manly Christianity.

One Sunday, after a particularly inspiring service, Dr. Drew has a private conference with Babbitt, Chum Frink, and William

W. Eathorne, president of the First State Bank of Zenith, and the 71-year-old scion of one of the city's wealthiest and most ancient families. The pastor explains to the three men that he wants them to form a committee to devise ways to enlarge the Sunday School attendance and gain increased publicity for the church.

Babbitt agrees to help, although he is the sort of man who has never bothered to think much about religion. Babbitt believes that churchgoing is a highly respectable activity to engage in and that it is good for prospective customers to see that he is an active churchgoer. He usually understands very little in the poetic and complicated sermons of Dr. Drew, but he feels that, in some mystical way, listening to them will do him good and draw him nearer to God.

As a member of the Sunday School Advisory Committee, Babbitt spends several weeks observing the classes and examining the textbooks. He finds everything very sincere, very devout, and very dull. After reaching this conclusion, he spends a few evenings at home reading Sunday School journals and church magazines. He is deeply impressed by the intelligent and businesslike attitude toward Christianity that these publications demonstrate. Babbitt resolves to take an active part in the affairs of his church.

One afternoon, there is a committee meeting in the imposing Eathorne mansion. Babbitt and Frink attend with an air of awe, for outsiders are rarely invited to this house. Eathorne outlines his ideas for the advancement of the Sunday School. Babbitt disagrees with him, however, and tactfully suggests his own program for church school improvement. Babbitt's system takes advantage of all the latest innovations in public relations and advertising. His ideas include the introduction of contests and a number of other educational novelties. Most of these promise to be effective in increasing attendance, although they have little to do with religion and might seem even a bit irreverent to some people. Eathorne turns out to be less conservative than Babbitt had suspected and enthusiastically agrees to the program. After the meeting ends, Babbitt takes a long drive home, exulting privately over his triumph.

Following Babbitt's advice, Kenneth Escott, a young reporter on the Advocate-Times, is secretly hired as part-time press agent for the church. Not long afterward, articles praising Chatham Road Presbyterian and Dr. Drew begin to appear in all the city's newspapers. Babbitt's program is adopted in full by the Sunday School. Before long, attendance has leaped from fourth largest in the city to second largest. The pastor and all the members are very pleased with Babbitt's achievement.

Babbitt brings Escott home for dinner once or twice, and the young reporter and Verona quickly become good friends; they share the same concern for "culture" and "serious ideas" and are both "sensible radicals." In order to please Babbitt, Escott continues arranging for Dr. Drew to get favorable publicity.

After awhile, the pastor arranges a small dinner for the members of the Sunday School committee. Babbitt uses this opportunity to strengthen his acquaintance with Eathorne. Some months later, he takes advantage of this new friendship by taking out a private loan from Eathorne's bank in order to finance a dishonest and clandestine real-estate deal he is involved in. He and Eathorne both make a nice profit from this transaction. Babbitt continues to attend church whenever it is convenient, and he loudly announces to his family and friends that there is no better place to make respectable and profitable acquaintances than in church.

Analysis

Without a doubt, Babbitt's name is becoming well-known in Zenith and, probably more important, in his own estimation. A successful business, the right kind of home, and the right kind of wife and children used to be Babbitt's goals — but he attained them. Now his horizons are expanding: Babbitt is on the verge of becoming just a mere shadow of the orator that he once hoped to become. Also, he is checking the daily editorials less frequently and Howard Littlefield's opinions aren't as important as they used to be. However, Babbitt is not independent of Littlefield or newspaper editorial; he has been nurtured on them, and he is, in a large sense, a product of newspaper editorials and Howard Littlefield's opinions.

At this point, Lewis takes us backstage, behind Babbitt's newfound rhetorical brilliance and exposes the same old Babbitt for us. Babbitt's church affiliation is, as we might expect, with a church that is both wealthy and manly. Babbitt's pastor denounces labor unions, just as Babbitt does, and he confides to Babbitt, with humble pride, just as Babbitt does to selected people, that he too was once a poor boy. Naturally, Babbitt is sympathetic to such seemingly humble honesty.

Babbitt is given a chance to hobnob with W. W. Eathorne, the quintessential symbol of Zenith's Old Money. This kind of money is best of all; it is far better than Charles McKelvey's money, which is Zenith's New Money. Babbitt swells with happiness as he accepts Dr. Drew's offer to help Frink and Eathorne make their Sunday School attendance Number One. Babbitt is in his element: while his theology is vague, he does know buying and selling. A Sunday School record attendance is just that: a matter of buying and selling. Selling God is just another challenging merchandising problem to solve.

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