Summary and Analysis
In the morning, Babbitt awakens cheerfully. He reconsiders his behavior of the past few weeks and debates whether or not to continue his "rebellion." He resolves to go on seeking, but promises himself that he will discontinue his futile chasing after girls. In August, Myra comes back to Zenith, but Babbitt has not missed her. He dreads being alone with her, but he tries his best to seem enthusiastic about her return.
As a result, Babbitt decides to spend his vacation alone in the Maine woods where he and Paul had such a peaceful time the year before. He hopes to be able to rejuvenate his spirit there. He tells his wife that he is going to New York on a business trip.
At Lake Sunasquam, he seeks out the company of the Indian guides, hoping to discover through them the freedom and contentment of a virile, outdoor life. He is disappointed to learn, however, that they are crass and materialistic men — just like those whom he left behind in Zenith. Even worse, the woods are not the same without Paul. One night, Babbitt begins to understand that he can never escape Zenith; the Zenith way of life is deeply imprinted on his mind and soul. He still does not comprehend what he is seeking, but he knows that there is only one place where he can really find it. A day or so later, he boards the train for home.
On the train to Zenith, Babbitt encounters Seneca Doane, with whom he had been friendly in college. They speak together for the rest of the trip, and Babbitt is surprised to discover that Doane is not the revolutionary monster that he has been portrayed to be by the conservative businessmen of Zenith. Babbitt agrees with some of Doane's beliefs and begins to feel like a fledgling idealist.
A few hours after his arrival in Zenith, Babbitt calls on Zilla Riesling. She now lives in a cheap boarding house in a poor neighborhood. He is surprised to see how her physical appearance has changed and is shocked to learn that she has become intolerantly religious. She has no mercy for Paul and refuses to cooperate in an effort to get him a pardon.
At the Athletic Club, Babbitt defends Seneca Doane when the attorney is bad-mouthed by the members. Otherwise, Babbitt's life continues in its usual fashion.
Babbitt's actions — which once were compulsively and obsessively consistent — have now become inconsistent. Babbitt the solid citizen realizes that a change has occurred and also realizes that nothing has been gained by his rebellion, but he has no answer. He knows only that he must continue his rebellion. He knows that what he is doing is impractical, but he cannot help himself. He searched for peace in the Maine woods with Paul, and he was content for awhile; he was happy when he returned to Zenith and began speaking out in behalf of his fellow realtors and promoting a successful campaign for Mayor Prout. The vice presidency of the Boosters' Club was a unique thrill. Yet Babbitt feels lost.
When Babbitt returns again to the Maine woods, it is as though he is looking for something lost; somewhere, somehow, he missed the opportunity to be happy. Babbitt determines to find a new life for himself in this basic, uncomplicated backwoods frontier. Yet he knows that this ideal is futile. Once committed to a wife, to children, and to a business firm, one must assume continuous responsibility. But at the same time, the confused child in Babbitt reasons that because he feels less of a man in the city, he can be more of a man here in the woods, where he can shed the comforts and the complexities of civilization.
Lewis notes that Babbitt approaches Joe Paradise's shack as though it were a "real home"; then he shows us the emptiness of Babbitt's homecoming. The rest of the chapter is structured with irony as Joe Paradise greets Babbitt unenthusiastically, then lackadaisically accepts Babbitt's request for a guide and reluctantly agrees to walk Babbitt to the campsite. Babbitt's idea of "real living" is squelched by Joe Paradise's confession that for sixteen years he has traveled to the camp grounds by motorboat and that, if he had a lot of money, he would open up a "swell" shoe store.
Once again, one of Babbitt's dreams eludes him. Not only is he depressed, but he is also plagued by worries about what is going on in Zenith. In a rare moment of insight into himself, he realizes that he is a Zenith citizen, a successful realtor, and a man who can never run away from himself. As trite as it sounds, Babbitt's discovery excites him. He vows to do something with his new knowledge. But we have heard him make vows before.
After the frustrating and empty Maine woods experience, Babbitt feels emotionally and spiritually depleted and is ready to grasp any hand that suggests friendship. With his usual fine sense of irony, Lewis arranges for that hand to belong to Seneca Doane — a socialist and, therefore, an archenemy of the Babbitt whom we met at the beginning of the novel. Here, Doane reveals a new side of Babbitt to himself, and, as a result, Babbitt becomes more confused than ever. In his college days, Doane reminds him, Babbitt was determined to be a lawyer who championed the poor, one who would take their cases for nothing. Here again, we are reminded of the duality within Babbitt, the dichotomy between what he was before he became a smug and financially well-off Booster and what he is today.
Doane reveals something startling to Babbitt, and Babbitt picks it up and thinks that it might be the key he has been searching for.
Heretofore, socialism has always been suspect — a dirty word — yet Doane is not dirty. Doane is a humanitarian. So goes Babbitt's reasoning process. Of course, Babbitt is not completely converted by Doane's talk about the past, yet when Doane drops the name Lord Wycombe, Babbitt suddenly reasons that one can be a socialist and also a friend to the rich and lordly. Instantly, he is ready to accept a new political label for himself.
Babbitt's enthusiasm with his new set of quasi-liberal views needs a practice run, and so Babbitt visits Zilla Riesling. Earlier, like Doane, Zilla. was an enemy of Babbitt. Lewis aligns these former enemies of Babbitt on either side of the new Babbitt. We see that Babbitt found Doane to be a far different man inside than Babbitt suspected. Now Babbitt likewise finds Zilla to be a far different woman than the shrew Babbitt believed her to be. In fact, Zilla is almost unrecognizable to Babbitt. She is poor now, she looks old, and age is ugly on her in a way that frightens Babbitt.
Babbitt cannot cope with Zilla; now she is "vicious in the name of virtue" and damns Paul and bares Babbitt's worse faults to himself. In contrast, Seneca Doane presents Babbitt with a new suit of political thought, and Zilla rips it — and Babbitt — to shreds. Babbitt's attempt to be kind and "liberal" to Zilla fails.