Babbitt

Contents:
Author: Sinclair Lewis

VI

Ted had come down from the University for the week-end. Though he no longer spoke of mechanical engineering and though he was reticent about his opinion of his instructors, he seemed no more reconciled to college, and his chief interest was his wireless telephone set.

On Saturday evening he took Eunice Littlefield to a dance at Devon Woods. Babbitt had a glimpse of her, bouncing in the seat of the car, brilliant in a scarlet cloak over a frock of thinnest creamy silk. They two had not returned when the Babbitts went to bed, at half-past eleven. At a blurred indefinite time of late night Babbitt was awakened by the ring of the telephone and gloomily crawled down-stairs. Howard Littlefield was speaking:

"George, Euny isn’t back yet. Is Ted?"

"No—at least his door is open—"

"They ought to be home. Eunice said the dance would be over at midnight. What’s the name of those people where they’re going?"

"Why, gosh, tell the truth, I don’t know, Howard. It’s some classmate of Ted’s, out in Devon Woods. Don’t see what we can do. Wait, I’ll skip up and ask Myra if she knows their name."

Babbitt turned on the light in Ted’s room. It was a brown boyish room; disordered dresser, worn books, a high-school pennant, photographs of basket-ball teams and baseball teams. Ted was decidedly not there.

Mrs. Babbitt, awakened, irritably observed that she certainly did not know the name of Ted’s host, that it was late, that Howard Littlefield was but little better than a born fool, and that she was sleepy. But she remained awake and worrying while Babbitt, on the sleeping-porch, struggled back into sleep through the incessant soft rain of her remarks. It was after dawn when he was aroused by her shaking him and calling "George! George!" in something like horror.

"Wha—wha—what is it?"

"Come here quick and see. Be quiet!"

She led him down the hall to the door of Ted’s room and pushed it gently open. On the worn brown rug he saw a froth of rose-colored chiffon lingerie; on the sedate Morris chair a girl’s silver slipper. And on the pillows were two sleepy heads—Ted’s and Eunice’s.

Ted woke to grin, and to mutter with unconvincing defiance, "Good morning! Let me introduce my wife—Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt Eunice Littlefield Babbitt, Esquiress."

"Good God!" from Babbitt, and from his wife a long wailing, "You’ve gone and—"

"We got married last evening. Wife! Sit up and say a pretty good morning to mother-in-law."

But Eunice hid her shoulders and her charming wild hair under the pillow.

By nine o’clock the assembly which was gathered about Ted and Eunice in the living-room included Mr. and Mrs. George Babbitt, Dr. and Mrs. Howard Littlefield, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Escott, Mr. and Mrs. Henry T. Thompson, and Tinka Babbitt, who was the only pleased member of the inquisition.

A crackling shower of phrases filled the room:

"At their age—" "Ought to be annulled—" "Never heard of such a thing in—" "Fault of both of them and—" "Keep it out of the papers—" "Ought to be packed off to school—" "Do something about it at once, and what I say is—" "Damn good old-fashioned spanking—"

Worst of them all was Verona. "TED! Some way MUST be found to make you understand how dreadfully SERIOUS this is, instead of standing AROUND with that silly foolish SMILE on your face!"

He began to revolt. "Gee whittakers, Rone, you got married yourself, didn’t you?"

"That’s entirely different."

"You bet it is! They didn’t have to work on Eu and me with a chain and tackle to get us to hold hands!"

"Now, young man, we’ll have no more flippancy," old Henry Thompson ordered. "You listen to me."

"You listen to Grandfather!" said Verona.

"Yes, listen to your Grandfather!" said Mrs. Babbitt.

"Ted, you listen to Mr. Thompson!" said Howard Littlefield.

"Oh, for the love o’ Mike, I am listening!" Ted shouted. "But you look here, all of you! I’m getting sick and tired of being the corpse in this post mortem! If you want to kill somebody, go kill the preacher that married us! Why, he stung me five dollars, and all the money I had in the world was six dollars and two bits. I’m getting just about enough of being hollered at!"

A new voice, booming, authoritative, dominated the room. It was Babbitt. "Yuh, there’s too darn many putting in their oar! Rone, you dry up. Howard and I are still pretty strong, and able to do our own cussing. Ted, come into the dining-room and we’ll talk this over."

In the dining-room, the door firmly closed, Babbitt walked to his son, put both hands on his shoulders. "You’re more or less right. They all talk too much. Now what do you plan to do, old man?"

"Gosh, dad, are you really going to be human?"

"Well, I—Remember one time you called us ’the Babbitt men’ and said we ought to stick together? I want to. I don’t pretend to think this isn’t serious. The way the cards are stacked against a young fellow to-day, I can’t say I approve of early marriages. But you couldn’t have married a better girl than Eunice; and way I figure it, Littlefield is darn lucky to get a Babbitt for a son-in-law! But what do you plan to do? Course you could go right ahead with the U., and when you’d finished—"

"Dad, I can’t stand it any more. Maybe it’s all right for some fellows. Maybe I’ll want to go back some day. But me, I want to get into mechanics. I think I’d get to be a good inventor. There’s a fellow that would give me twenty dollars a week in a factory right now."

"Well—" Babbitt crossed the floor, slowly, ponderously, seeming a little old. "I’ve always wanted you to have a college degree." He meditatively stamped across the floor again. "But I’ve never—Now, for heaven’s sake, don’t repeat this to your mother, or she’d remove what little hair I’ve got left, but practically, I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to in my whole life! I don’t know ’s I’ve accomplished anything except just get along. I figure out I’ve made about a quarter of an inch out of a possible hundred rods. Well, maybe you’ll carry things on further. I don’t know. But I do get a kind of sneaking pleasure out of the fact that you knew what you wanted to do and did it. Well, those folks in there will try to bully you, and tame you down. Tell ’em to go to the devil! I’ll back you. Take your factory job, if you want to. Don’t be scared of the family. No, nor all of Zenith. Nor of yourself, the way I’ve been. Go ahead, old man! The world is yours!"

Arms about each other’s shoulders, the Babbitt men marched into the living-room and faced the swooping family.

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Chicago: Sinclair Lewis, "VI," Babbitt in Babbitt (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPU3EDL66Z4M619.

MLA: Lewis, Sinclair. "VI." Babbitt, in Babbitt, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPU3EDL66Z4M619.

Harvard: Lewis, S, 'VI' in Babbitt. cited in 1922, Babbitt, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPU3EDL66Z4M619.