Summary and Analysis Chapters 22-23



Babbitt is able to see Paul at the City Prison only after using his influence with Mayor Prout. He visits Riesling in his cell, and Paul antagonistically expects Babbitt to be moralistic, but Babbitt says that he wants only to help. Paul is terribly upset and expresses remorse for his crime. He hopes that Zilla will not die, and Babbitt tries to comfort him.

For the rest of the day, Babbitt is very sad and confused. He forbids his family to discuss the case because wherever he goes, he hears or imagines the gossip and scandal-mongering, and he wants a little peace. The next afternoon, however, Babbitt discovers that he is afraid to face his friends at the Athletic Club. When he comes in for lunch, though, the men demonstrate an understanding of his feelings and no one mentions the matter. Babbitt's gratitude to them is sincere.

Zilla recovers from her gunshot sound, and Paul's trial is held. He is sentenced to three years in the State Penitentiary. Babbitt bids him good-bye at the railroad station, and then he suddenly realizes that without Paul, life has very little meaning for him.

During the next few months, Babbitt tries to keep himself busy in an effort to avoid thinking. Then, in June, Babbitt tries to organize a poker game, but he discovers that all his friends are busy. He realizes too that he doesn't want to play cards anyway. What he really wants is not a card game, nor wealth, or even social position. What he wants — and needs — is the friendship of Paul and the understanding and devotion of a woman, a woman like the fairy girl of his dreams. In the future, he decides, he will be a rebel and will do only what he really wants to do.

The next day at the club, however, Babbitt is not so rebellious as he is irritable. His friends tease him, but he is unresponsive. He continues to assert his new independence by going to the movies during business hours. Without admitting it to himself, Babbitt begins to seek female companionship — for this is what he really longs for. Unhappily, his advances to his stenographer, Miss McGoun, are unsuccessful. Later that week at a party, Babbitt attempts to befriend Louetta Swanson, having recalled her reputation as a flirt, but Louetta thinks that Babbitt is silly; she tells him that he's merely lonely for his wife.


Heretofore, when Paul erred, Babbitt has always been able to be fairly effective at staying Paul's restlessness and, afterward, he could bask in proud tiredness after the ordeal was over. But now Paul has committed a crime, and Lewis' purpose is to show Babbitt's complete inability to comprehend what has happened. Paul is guilty; he shot Zilla through the shoulder with a real bullet from a real gun, and her wound is very bloody and real. Babbitt's code of behavior doesn't allow for such acts. He fears that Paul will be strangled in a quagmire of bureaucratic red tape before anyone realizes that Paul is not really bad. Likewise, Paul himself can scarcely believe what happened. In frustration, he simply pulled a trigger and a bullet cut through Zilla's shoulder. Paul tries to explain what happened, but his words sound like those of a retarded child.

Lewis tells us that from March to June, Babbitt kept busy in order to keep himself from "the bewilderment of thinking." Babbitt has always avoided real thinking, but especially now, he avoids thinking because thinking might involve reflecting, and reflecting might necessitate an evaluation of Paul's success in business and Paul's failure as a human being. After those subjects were considered, Babbitt would have to consider the value of his own life. Thus we watch Babbitt's unhappiness pile up around him. Once upon a time, Babbitt was happy not thinking; now it seems that Babbitt dare not think. Paul's astonishing act of revolt has unsettled Babbitt far more than he knows and, as he is soon to discover, games of bridge and evenings at the movies can't fill all of his leisure hours.

With Myra gone to visit relatives, Babbitt must create diversion, but Babbitt is not creative, and it is here that Lewis shows us a man about to become very frightened of being alone with himself. Sadly, Babbitt commits little crimes (a midnight raid on the ice box) in an attempt to understand what Paul has done; Babbitt hopes that even a small act of revolt will end his feelings of frustration. It does not; his anxiety remains.

Babbitt lusts for his dreamland fairy child, and he also lusts for a fairy child in the flesh. His spirits rise and fall erratically. He tries to flirt with his secretary and fails; he tries to make a pass at Louetta Swanson, grabbing at her as though grabbing for his lost youth. He believes that he is bestowing a gift of great value upon Louetta when he identifies her with the fairy child. In return, Louetta treats Babbitt like a little boy.