Summary and Analysis
One evening, Babbitt and his wife visit the Rieslings in their modern apartment. They spend an enjoyable few hours until Zilla begins her usual complaints about Paul, criticizing and nagging him until he becomes nasty. The Babbitts try to patch matters up, but have no success. At last, Babbitt can stand it no longer. Rising to his feet, he shouts a series of denunciations at Zilla, causing her to break into tears. He demands that Zilla allow Paul to go to Maine with him, and she sobbingly agrees. She begs Babbitt to understand that she is sorry, that she means no harm, and that she will try to be a better wife in the future.
On the way home, Myra accuses Babbitt of bullying Zilla and suggests that his only motive for doing so was to feel noble and self-righteous. Babbitt denies the charge, but later he realizes that Myra may have been right. The thought troubles him for a while, but he finally decides that his over-sensitivity is due to his nervousness. After the trip to Maine, both he and Paul will be emotionally healthier.
Like two excited young boys, Babbitt and Riesling purchase all their fishing and camping equipment, and after a few more days, they begin their journey. They board the New York Express and ride in the smoking car with a number of other businessmen. Paul remains aloof and spends most of his time reading; Babbitt, however, has a rousing, satisfying time with some newly met cronies, discussing politics, business problems, and telling off-color jokes.
This chapter contains another of Lewis' sharp-edged portraits of smart, modern living, here exemplified by the Rieslings' apartment. The hidden sink, the hidden refrigerator, and the hidden bed are all caricatured. But the tone of the satire changes as soon as Zilla Riesling begins speaking. Bleached and rigidly corseted, Zilla Riesling shrieks, gibbers, and howls. She bays; her voice is a "dagger of corroded brass." She revels in ridiculing her husband's quietness; she is "vicious in the name of virtue," and she wallows in melodramatic, egotistical shame after Babbitt chastises her.
In contrast, Paul Riesling is a quiet man, rubbing his fingers and twitching his hands; Mrs. Babbitt is maternal, fussy but placid, and she condemns her avenging husband for his outburst; and Babbitt himself is smug about his success in taming the shrew. We enjoy watching Zilla receive Babbitt's tongue-lashing; it is a perfect punishment for her, and it does not matter that she is neurotically enjoying Babbitt's upbraiding; she is getting exactly what she deserves. Yet the feeling that justice is being meted out is destroyed when Babbitt, scolded by Myra, begins to doubt his own actions. He sulks, he is outraged; then, excusing his actions on the grounds of fatigue, he makes a final effort at speaking the truth: he did it for his friend Paul.
Ending Chapter 10, Lewis zeroes in on the man's world. The man's world, according to literary cliché, is one of rough, potent virility; in this chapter, however, the man's world is a smoking car. Babbitt and the men whom he talks with in the car become, under Lewis' pen, big men, the "council"; they give "verdicts" and nod "sagely." Babbitt and his friends seem quite serious about their newfound fraternity, but it is not a man's seriousness; it is the seriousness of little boys bragging to one another. These men, like Babbitt, are Lewis' satirical targets, his representatives of the American middle-class male, displaying all the bad qualities of their social group; they are patriotic to the point of being chauvinistic, poorly educated, materialistic, intolerant, and conformist in all their ideas. Basically, they have never bothered to examine or evaluate any of their beliefs, but they are supremely self-confident and sanctimonious in their ignorance.