Babbitt By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 13-14

 III

Besides the five official delegates to the convention — Babbitt, Rountree, W. A. Rogers, Alvin Thayer, and Elbert Wing — there were fifty unofficial delegates, most of them with their wives.


They met at the Union Station for the midnight train to Monarch. All of them, save Cecil Rountree, who was such a snob that he never wore badges, displayed celluloid buttons the size of dollars and lettered "We zoom for Zenith." The official delegates were magnificent with silver and magenta ribbons. Martin Lumsen's little boy Willy carried a tasseled banner inscribed "Zenith the Zip City — Zeal, Zest and Zowie — 1,000,000 in 1935." As the delegates arrived, not in taxicabs but in the family automobile driven by the oldest son or by Cousin Fred, they formed impromptu processions through the station waiting-room.

It was a new and enormous waiting-room, with marble pilasters, and frescoes depicting the exploration of the Chaloosa River Valley by Pere Emile Fauthoux in 1740. The benches were shelves of ponderous mahogany; the news-stand a marble kiosk with a brass grill. Down the echoing spaces of the hall the delegates paraded after Willy Lumsen's banner, the men waving their cigars, the women conscious of their new frocks and strings of beads, all singing to the tune of Auld Lang Syne the official City Song, written by Chum Frink:

Good old Zenith, Our kin and kith, Wherever we may be, Hats in the ring, We blithely sing Of thy Prosperity.

Warren Whitby, the broker, who had a gift of verse for banquets and birthdays, had added to Frink's City Song a special verse for the realtors' convention:

Oh, here we come, The fellows from Zenith, the Zip Citee. We wish to state In real estate There's none so live as we.

Babbitt was stirred to hysteric patriotism. He leaped on a bench, shouting to the crowd:

"What's the matter with Zenith?"

"She's all right!"

"What's best ole town in the U. S. A.?"

"Zeeeeeen-ith!"

The patient poor people waiting for the midnight train stared in unenvious wonder — Italian women with shawls, old weary men with broken shoes, roving road-wise boys in suits which had been flashy when they were new but which were faded now and wrinkled.

Babbitt perceived that as an official delegate he must be more dignified. With Wing and Rogers he tramped up and down the cement platform beside the waiting Pullmans. Motor-driven baggage-trucks and red-capped porters carrying bags sped down the platform with an agreeable effect of activity. Arc-lights glared and stammered overhead. The glossy yellow sleeping-cars shone impressively. Babbitt made his voice to be measured and lordly; he thrust out his abdomen and rumbled, "We got to see to it that the convention lets the Legislature understand just where they get off in this matter of taxing realty transfers." Wing uttered approving grunts and Babbitt swelled — gloated.

The blind of a Pullman compartment was raised, and Babbitt looked into an unfamiliar world. The occupant of the compartment was Lucile McKelvey, the pretty wife of the millionaire contractor. Possibly, Babbitt thrilled, she was going to Europe! On the seat beside her was a bunch of orchids and violets, and a yellow paper-bound book which seemed foreign. While he stared, she picked up the book, then glanced out of the window as though she was bored. She must have looked straight at him, and he had met her, but she gave no sign. She languidly pulled down the blind, and he stood still, a cold feeling of insignificance in his heart.

But on the train his pride was restored by meeting delegates from Sparta, Pioneer, and other smaller cities of the state, who listened respectfully when, as a magnifico from the metropolis of Zenith, he explained politics and the value of a Good Sound Business Administration. They fell joyfully into shop-talk, the purest and most rapturous form of conversation:

"How'd this fellow Rountree make out with this big apartment-hotel he was going to put up? Whadde do? Get out bonds to finance it?" asked a Sparta broker.

"Well, I'll tell you," said Babbitt. "Now if I'd been handling it — "

"So," Elbert Wing was droning, "I hired this shop-window for a week, and put up a big sign, 'Toy Town for Tiny Tots,' and stuck in a lot of doll houses and some dinky little trees, and then down at the bottom, 'Baby Likes This Dollydale, but Papa and Mama Will Prefer Our Beautiful Bungalows,' and you know, that certainly got folks talking, and first week we sold — "

The trucks sang "lickety-lick, lickety-lick" as the train ran through the factory district. Furnaces spurted flame, and power-hammers were clanging. Red lights, green lights, furious white lights rushed past, and Babbitt was important again, and eager.

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At the end of the novel, Babbitt rotely endorses the notion that America's world-famous equality




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