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George F. Babbitt lives in a society that prohibits creativity at the cost of wealth, but grants only supposed happiness. Every block that has made up his life has been affected by the pressure of conformity. Success in relationships, family, social life, and business are all based on his ability to conform to Zenith's preset standards of thought and action. Everything that Babbitt did was a reflection of what society told him to be. Also, the only time that Babbitt provided an opinion different from the other citizens of Zenith was when he took the side of the union strikers. His opinion was swiftly shot down by his friends and colleagues, and as he leaves the meeting he overhears his friends beginning to question his objections to social law.
At first Babbitt is portrayed as a person happy with conforming to the standards set for him by the rest of society. He is repeatedly found talking about modern technology, material possessions and social status as ways to measure the worth of an individual. The first of there occurrences comes early in the book when Babbitt boasts about his luxurious alarm clock. "It was the best of nationally advertised and quantitatively produced alarm-clocks, with all modern attachments, including cathedral
chime, intermittent alarm, and a phosphorescent dial. Babbitt was proud of
being awakened by such a rich device."
All of Babbitt's actions and thoughts are controlled by the standards of those around him. He does not act because it was what he is inspired to do, he acts for the acceptance of the rest of Zenith. Babbitt does everything expected of him by others because he hopes to improve his social status. By doing this, he moves quickly up the rungs on the ladder of success, feeling hollow happiness as he accomplishes the social goal of getting richer and richer.
However, Babbitt soon realizes that his rising hierarchal status, (along with his widening wallet,) aren't his honest aspirations. He begins to feel a yearning for his real dreams, such as nature and adventure.
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Babbitt finally comes to his senses about the nature of conformist society from his good friend Paul Riesling. Paul is Babbitt's only true friend and is the extreme example of the stifling conformity in Zenith. Paul is one of the only characters who can see Zenith for what it really is. Paul explains to Babbitt how Zenith's uniformed culture and backstabbing people ruined his dreams of becoming a fiddler, and instead forced him to become a tar roofing salesman. Babbitt, in attempts to lift Paul's spirits, plans a trip to the wood of Maine to "smoke," fish, and hunt. He hopes the trip will help Paul, but instead, the refreshing burst of nature into his otherwise monotonous cityscape inflames his desire to dislodge from conformist society and not sink to Paul's level of unhappiness. The final straw comes when Paul plants a bullet into his wife's brain out of unhappiness and Babbitt realizes that he can either escape his daily routine or live with the possibility of becoming the next Paul.
Babbitt's first attempt at rebellion is that he changes his political outlook and joins the political crusade of Seneca Doane. Next, Babbitt supports the telephone girls and linemen in a strike. Babbitt's attempt at rebellion leaves his colleagues frowning upon him and talking behind his back. His next act to rebel against the system was to disregard his wedding ring and start an affair. He takes comfort in an old friend, Tanis Judique, a member of a wild group called "the bunch". Babbitt tries to convince himself that he is happier living a life of non-conformity. However, because he chose methods of rebellion that were so radical to society, he became like a leper among his friends. Babbitt loses many friends because of his non-conformist actions, and is cast out by the rest of conformist society. Even in his highly non-conformist ways, Babbitt still finds himself unhappy.
One evening Myra, Babbitt's wife, starts complaining of pains that she can feel in her side. She is diagnosed with acute appendicitis. Seeing such an unfortunate pitfall occur for his wife left Babbitt drained of any fight left in him. Out of worry for the health and well being of his wife, he pledges allegiance once again to conformist society.
The end of the story leaves Babbitt wallowing through the helpless mire of routine in which we found him. The only difference is that now he realizes that there is no way for him to be happy in Zenith. He concludes that he has already followed the redundant track Zenith has laid for him and could never successfully escape. He becomes just another miserable member of conformist society.
You can see the change in Babbitt, however, when his son asks if he can run off and elope, and Babbitt says yes, explaing the hope that his son will have a better life than him, "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 maybe you can carry things on further. I don't know but I do get a sneaking kind of pleasure out of that 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 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!" " -Izabella