The Nature of American Conformity

Just finished reading Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt. A fun read. I’ve only read one other Lewis novel, It Can’t Happen Here, and I suppose at some point I really should read Main Street.

So, I’ve gotten through George F. Babbitt’s crisis, the end of his rebellion, and his recommitment to the Good Fellows, and his joining the Good Citizens’ League. Which prompts this lengthy quote from chapter 34:

The Good Citizens’ League had spread through the country, but nowhere was it so effective as in cities of the type of Zenith, commercial cities of a few hundred thousand inhabitants, most of which—though not all—lay inland, against a backdrop of cornfields and mines and of small towns which depended upon them for mortgage-loans, table-manners, art, social philosophy and millinery.

To the League belonged most of the prosperous citizens of Zenith. They were not all of the kind called themselves “Regular Guys.” Besides these heart fellows, these salesmen of prosperity, there were the aristocrats, that is, the men who were richer or had been rich for more generations: the presidents of banks and f factories, the land-owners, the corporation lawyers, the fashionable doctors, and the few young-old men who worked not al all but, reluctantly remaining in Zenith, collected luster-ware and first editions as though they were back in Paris. All of them agreed that the working-classes must be kept in their place; and all of them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary. [Emphasis mine — CF.]

Again, while this novel is social satire, it isn’t wrong. This is American conformity in action, and it’s an odd thing, because this kind of conformity is frequently celebrated as freedom.

I don’t understand it. But I suppose that’s why I’m a misfit.

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