Summary and Analysis
Babbitt visits Paul at the penitentiary and sadly realizes that his friend's spirit is dead, even though there is life in his body. Babbitt also perceives that his own faith in the goodness of the world is dead. He unashamedly admits to himself that he is glad Myra is away.
One day, a very chic and sophisticated woman of Babbitt's age comes into his office to rent an apartment. Her name is Tanis Judique. Babbitt is charmed by her and decides to show her the rooms himself. He spends several hours with Tanis, behaving in his most suave manner. The two have many things in common, and they part on friendly terms. Afterward, Babbitt regrets that he did not develop their relationship further.
One of the manicurists in Babbitt's barber shop is a pretty young girl named Ida Putiak. For the first time, Babbitt notices that she is an attractive woman, and he makes a date with her. Later that week, he and Ida go to dinner together, but the girl is evidently not too stimulated by his company and, afterwards, she fights off his amorous advances. On his way home, Babbitt realizes that he is old enough to be Ida's father and that the poverty-stricken girl probably agreed to go out with him only in order to get a good meal. He is deeply ashamed of his foolish behavior.
Babbitt's visit to the prison accomplishes an important change. After Babbitt leaves Paul, he accepts the reality of his friend's imprisonment. Paul and he have been parted and, whether or not it is just, Babbitt is soured on the world, on success, and on the quality of his own life. He feels dreadfully old and tired. We sense that money and success are no longer as satisfying as they once were. Besides material comfort, a man needs a friend — someone he can easily talk to, can relax with — someone who appreciates him. Paul filled that role for Babbitt. Now, with Paul behind prison walls and Myra far away with her relatives, Babbitt is adrift and must look for someone real to hang onto, someone with whom to begin a new, full relationship.
Propitiously, Tanis Judique — slender, fortyish, rosy-cheeked, and smartly dressed — is also looking for a certain something, but Tanis' quest is far simpler than Babbitt's. All she needs is an apartment. And since Babbitt deals in apartments and she in friendliness, the exchange is made. But Babbitt wants more. He pursues Tanis Judique with all the eagerness of an adolescent. He changes from being a disillusioned, aging businessman into a frisky gallant youngster, and we understand Babbitt's actions, even though Lewis makes them seem ridiculous. This is Babbitt's last fling before he surrenders to old age. He brags about being vice president of the Boosters' Club and having a man's responsibility in the "world's work." He orders elevator boys about as if he were nobility. In his awkward way, although he doesn't realize it, Babbitt is asking this pretty woman to look at him, to tell him that he is still handsome, that she needs him and that she loves him.
Tanis Judique's attentiveness sparks Babbitt's zeal so keenly that Babbitt methodically decides to "practice" his newly stirring masculinity on the manicure girl at the Pompeian Barber Shop. But if Babbitt seemed bumbling in the scene with Tanis, in this scene he is ludicrous and then, finally, pitiful. He "quakes" before the manicurist; he speaks jerkily and is forced to date her in a taxi; then, as a reward, he is kissed and patted readily and mechanically. He has exchanged the price of a dinner for the manicurist's easy intimacy. The confidence that Babbitt had when he left Tanis Judique is gone.