Conspicuous Consumption In Sinclair Lewis' Babbit

2120 words - 8 pages

Conspicuous Consumption in Sinclair Lewis' Babbit

   The idea of conspicuous consumption, or buying unnecessary items to show one's wealth, can be seen in Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis.  Lewis describes the main character of the book, George F. Babbitt, as a person who has his values and priorities all mixed up.  Babbitt buys the most expensive and modern material goods just to make himself happy and make people around his aware of his status.  He is more concerned about these items than about his wife or children and to him, "god was Modern Appliances" (Lewis 5).  Through Babbitt, Lewis is attempting to show how the average American person will do or buy anything, even if  unnecessary, only to show off and make peers think highly of him or her.  As seen in Babbitt, George wakes up to the "best of nationally advertised and quantitatively produced alarm-clocks, with all modern attachments" (3).  Babbitt is extremely satisfied to be awakened by this expensive clock because it raises his value to the world.  A regular alarm clock can do, but George Babbitt needs the top-of-the-line model to show off his wealth.  He, along with the rest of the citizens in the book, takes great value in his car, which to him was "poetry and tragedy, love and heroism" (22).  One must think that of his family and friends, not of a piece of metal sitting in the garage.  Babbitt continues his conspicuous consumption lifestyle by vowing to quit smoking and then going out and buying "the electric cigar lighter which he had coveted for a week" (51).  Therefore, Babbitt does not necessarily buy the lighter for himself, but to show to everyone around him that he has the money to buy it, and consequently feels superior to them.  The finest, most modern items inside the house are also of importance to Babbitt.


            Lewis describes the Babbitt house as one with all amenities and accessories, from bathroom to bedroom.  In reality, all one needs in a bathroom is a place to use the restroom, take a shower, and clean up.  But in Babbitt's house "the towel-rack was a rod of clear glass set in nickel" (5).  Even the "tooth-brush holder, shaving-brush holder, soap-dish...resembled an electrical instrument board" (5).  The Babbitt bedroom was full of things deemed valuable, like "toilet-articles of almost solid silver" and "mattresses which had cost a great deal of money" (13-14).  Their house had "the latest conveniences" such as "three plugs for electric lamps and a dining room with its admirable oak buffet and leaded-glass cupboard" (14).  Babbitt had everything at home and even the "very best of water-coolers, up-to-date, scientific, and right-thinking" (32) at the office.  To him, having all of this was why his life was worth living.  He would buy items of great monetary value, and in return, his social standing would rise.  Lewis wants to show the reader that material possessions are not everything, and can lead one...

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