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Saying Goodbye to George Babbitt

I'm about to finish Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt, and I'm a bit saddened to have to say goodbye once again to the book's wondrous protagonist, George Babbitt. To me, he's one of the greatest characters of American literature, every bit the equal of Captain Ahab, Huck Finn, Sal Paradise, Holden Caulfield and others in that pantheon. Sure, he's a cartoonish, bigoted, hypocritical buffoon - all qualities which I'd like to believe that I don't share - but I've thoroughly enjoyed his company and savored living in his little world for the past several weeks. For all his negatives, deep down he's a regular guy, not unlike most of us: he doesn't know where all his money goes or why he over-indulged so much the night before; he's vaguely dissatisfied with his career, his friends and his family life but doesn't know how to make a real change; he settles for the familiar comforts of conformity instead of boldly and unreservedly embracing the unknown.

Once I read that final page and close the book on George Babbitt, I'm really going to miss the old blowhard. But I'll take great comfort in knowing that he'll always be there for me, on my bookshelf - ready at any time to transport me back to 1920 and the fictional city of Zenith, to the funny but sad life of a real estate agent who's thoroughly established yet still trying to find his place in the world, to a lost era of hand-cranked motor cars and bathtub gin - whenever I'm ready for him again. And for that I'm grateful.

August 13, 2007 in Books | Permalink

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