Babbitt By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 22-23

"I want to offer my services in the trial. I've got an idea. Why couldn't I go on the stand and swear I was there, and she pulled the gun first and he wrestled with her and the gun went off accidentally?"

"And perjure yourself?"

"Huh? Yes, I suppose it would be perjury. Oh — Would it help?"

"But, my dear fellow! Perjury!"

"Oh, don't be a fool! Excuse me, Maxwell; I didn't mean to get your goat. I just mean: I've known and you've known many and many a case of perjury, just to annex some rotten little piece of real estate, and here where it's a case of saving Paul from going to prison, I'd perjure myself black in the face."

"No. Aside from the ethics of the matter, I'm afraid it isn't practicable. The prosecutor would tear your testimony to pieces. It's known that only Riesling and his wife were there at the time."

"Then, look here! Let me go on the stand and swear — and this would be the God's truth — that she pestered him till he kind of went crazy."

"No. Sorry. Riesling absolutely refuses to have any testimony reflecting on his wife. He insists on pleading guilty."

"Then let me get up and testify something — whatever you say. Let me do SOMETHING!"

"I'm sorry, Babbitt, but the best thing you can do — I hate to say it, but you could help us most by keeping strictly out of it."

Babbitt, revolving his hat like a defaulting poor tenant, winced so visibly that Maxwell condescended:

"I don't like to hurt your feelings, but you see we both want to do our best for Riesling, and we mustn't consider any other factor. The trouble with you, Babbitt, is that you're one of these fellows who talk too readily. You like to hear your own voice. If there were anything for which I could put you in the witness-box, you'd get going and give the whole show away. Sorry. Now I must look over some papers — So sorry."


He spent most of the next morning nerving himself to face the garrulous world of the Athletic Club. They would talk about Paul; they would be lip-licking and rotten. But at the Roughnecks' Table they did not mention Paul. They spoke with zeal of the coming baseball season. He loved them as he never had before.


He had, doubtless from some story-book, pictured Paul's trial as a long struggle, with bitter arguments, a taut crowd, and sudden and overwhelming new testimony. Actually, the trial occupied less than fifteen minutes, largely filled with the evidence of doctors that Zilla would recover and that Paul must have been temporarily insane. Next day Paul was sentenced to three years in the State Penitentiary and taken off — quite undramatically, not handcuffed, merely plodding in a tired way beside a cheerful deputy sheriff — and after saying good-by to him at the station Babbitt returned to his office to realize that he faced a world which, without Paul, was meaningless.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

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