Babbitt's Ambition to Belong to High Society
From the outset, Babbitt’s ambition to belong to high society is so strong that it even prevents him from acknowledging his own beliefs and engaging in activity that he truly relishes. Babbitt is aware of the social structure and aspires to high society. He derives a sense of accomplishment from close association with the prominent newspaper poet, T. Cholmondeley and other high ranking individuals who "composed a club within the club, and merrily called themselves "The Roughnecks." His choice to court prominence is clear in the observation that even among the International Association of Boosters Club, “none of them was more ardent than the Zenith Boosters Club," whose membership he sought (249). However, his desire to belong pushes him to denounce his own beliefs and act against his own desires. Babbitt pushes his son, Theodore Roosevelt Babbitt to go to university, even though he confesses to having a hostile attitude towards college. He states, "There s a lot of smart college professors and tea-guzzling slobs in this burg that say I am a roughneck" and who "think they know more than Almighty God" (102). He only seeks the prestige of the state university. Also, Babbitt uses most of his time in Sunday schools at the church not because he is religious but because he wants the praise and reputations that come with being involved in the church. He advocated but didn't practice prohibition of alcohol. He praised laws against motor-speeding although he didn't obey the same. As a result of his ambitions for social affiliation, Babbitt is a man who is in constant conflict within himself. His actions and his beliefs are always running contrary to each other. In such a state, he is incapable of genuinely appreciating any progress in his life, and he is filled with a negative attitude when considering his actions. If not for the spite of hypocrisy, he despises his actions for not having landed him to the right social circles. His ambition to belong to social circles makes him incapable of having peace of mind or appreciating any progress in his life and contributes to his perspective of not being able to accomplish anything.
Babbitt's Desire to Belong to High Society
Additionally, Babbitt’s desire to belong to the high society is the genesis of the unstable social footing or support that he experiences. Babbitt is overly enthusiastic in his effort to gain acceptance within these social circles that he does not notice the negative effect his efforts are having on him. As he struggles harder to belong, Babbit becomes isolated from his usual circles who notice that he is “getting awful darn exclusive” (Lewis 65). He is therefore left without any social grounding since he has renounced his circles who can no longer associate with him without difficulty, yet he is not yet fully accepted into the prominent circles he is aspiring to join. He becomes a stranger without social support as was evident when he only had Paul to keep him company genuinely. The absence of social support bars Babbit from accomplishing much or even getting a different perspective on his own issues.
Babbitt's Actions Influenced by Economic Forces
Babbitt’s actions were often influenced by economic forces that defined the revolution of their time and which divided society into classes, as he strived to be rich. To Babbitt, business was the sole purpose of living, and he desired wealth by all means. Babbitt sees himself as part of the new wave of America. He describes the new “urbanites” with whom he wanted to be associated, as a “wise and beautiful and amusing; they were Bohemians and urbanites, accustomed to all the luxuries of Zenith: dance-halls, picture-theatres, and roadside inns” (Lewis 320). He doesn't want to be the average middle-class man but a very wealthy man recognized in America. There were changes in the country's identity accompanied by rapid urbanization, technological growth, and industrialization. This was beyond Babbitt's control and hence had to react to the changes in his economic environment. Babbitt ends up in a rat race to keep up with development, which leaves him frustrated and exhausted.
Babbitt's Political Ideologies and Affiliations
Besides the social and economic factors, Babbitt’s political ideologies and affiliations contribute to his misery and stagnation. Political issues are a feature of everyday life where there are competing interests. Pertinent public issues often arose in Zenith, and the public was split into opposing factions. Babbitt was unfortunate to be dispossessed of his social standing on account of his political affiliations. In serving his own interests, he joins the Doane’s political movement. He supports workers strike and joins liberal politics. However, this is a wrong move that pits him against the people with whom he was trying very hard to associate. He disappointed his friends in the Boosters club. He even has the courage to voice his criticism about the perspectives of a conservative congressman before Dr. Dilling, a prominent club member. His bravado attracts the interest of three very prominent individuals, Dr. Dilling, Charles McKelvey and Colonel Rutherford who pay him a visit in his office to try and sway his political opinion:
"We’ve come from the Good Citizens League. We've decided we want you to join. Vergil Gunch says you don’t care to, but I think we can show you a new light. The League is going to combine with the Chamber of Commerce in a campaign for the Open Shop, so it is time for you to put your name down" (Lewis 352).
His radical political opinion and outright rebellion against the group he has tried to associate with is self-destructive. He becomes the victim of political sabotage from the group as his associates ignore him and his business declines with his employees seeking employment elsewhere (360). Barbie is unable to survive in such an environment since it appears that he is taking two steps backward at every turn.
Babbitt's Extrinsic Locus of Identity
In addition to the unconducive environmental conditions, Babbitt’s character makes him have an extrinsic locus of identity which magnifies the effect of the external factors in his life and denies him control over his unfolding life. An external locus of identity means one draws an estimate of their value from the opinions of others. Such individuals are more likely to derive moral sanction for their actions from others than their own values and principles. Babbitt’s character of self-doubt makes him gullible. He becomes miserable when he realizes that his gullibility has led to self-destructive actions. When Babbitt realizes that the life he lives is confined to the society, he seeks to escape from his troubles on a trip to Maine with his friend Paul Reisling. This habit of escaping from the problem rather than confronting it condemns him to suffer the same dilemma over and over. When his frustration builds up, he again seeks an escape from home. Escape becomes a conditioned response so that he would even consider going to isolate himself from society in the same way his friend Paul did as he went to jail (Lewis 283). His personality is the reason Babbitt continually suffers frustration that arises out of conflicts between his actions and his desires.
Determinism in Babbitt's Life
Looking at the interaction of the external factors and the resultant behavior seen in Babbitt, the philosophy of determinism is evident. Babbitt is little more than an object whose fate is determined by the surrounding circumstances. In a deterministic perspective, all the external forces allow little room for free will. Babbit would end up making the same choices if he were given another chance on account of social conformity. Determinism is a philosophical position meaning, for every event or outcome, there are factors which could cause no other event. Everything which happens is determined by previous action(s). Determinism demands that every ongoing event is determined by external causes that and could bring about no other different event. In the case of Babbitt, every event happening was assumed to be already planned, and one has no control over that. The Presbyterian Church to be specific beliefs that all things are planned by God, and you can't change it and Babbit “naturally accepted its doctrines” (203). Due to the conformity based society in Zenith, people did not do what they felt like doing, but to do what the society expects them to. Therefore people in societies that encourage conformity tend to do what the society says but not what they desire or will to do.
In conclusion, Babbitt is a slave to his beliefs about the society. He lives to the expectations of the society and disregards his desires. At the end of the story, Babbitt seems to have realized that his conformity is a setback, but he is not ready for the change. In his society, the odds are stacked against the success of a man of Babbitt’s mindset. His son, Ted, represents the new generation of independent citizens who regard their lives as more valuable than society's ideals and are willing to rebel. His son seems to understand the necessity of independence in the determination of one’s fate as he elopes with his beloved. Unlike the conformist Babbitt, this new generation has a chance at happiness in Babbitt’s world.
Lewis, Sinclair. Babbitt. New York: Sheba Blake Publishing, 2013. Print.