Society's Influence on the American Dream
"Do as most do, and men will speak well of thee."
[Thomas Fuller (1654-1734):Gnomologia]
Men have a dream to improve their lives and better their social status but each man does not realize that he pursues this dream in hopes of pleasing others and not for his own well being. Fuller's quotation demonstrates that people find success and social mobility if they act and do what others want them to do. The American dream of success and happiness can not be reached independently because people need to feel accepted to achieve satisfaction. Each man strives to improve his place in the community oblivious to the hypocrisy around him. Everyone works to impress others rather than pleasing himself. Paralleling Fullers quotation, Sinclair Lewis' Babbit is a satirical portrayal of a man in search of himself enveloped by a society of hypocrisy . George F. Babbit, a middle class man, struggles to find social mobility and beatitude. Babbit overlooks the essential items of life and concentrates his attention towards material goals and impressing the upper class. Due to the loss of his best friend, Babbit realizes his life has no meaning and rebels against society's conformity destroying his reputation. Lacking the courage to be independent, Babbit's dream of true ecstasy crumbles when he succumbs to hypocritical lifestyle realizing that he needs conformity. Strongly influenced by a sanctimonious society, Babbit, a man in search for himself, realizes that he needs conformity to live.
Babbit dreams of improving his status in the community, not realizing that hypocrisy is influencing every decision or action he makes. Babbit concentrates his time and energies towards activities and events that impress the upper class. His life revolves around material items and goals. Mr. and Mrs. Babbit host a dinner party, only inviting the utmost respectable couples. They plan a "highbrow affair...with evening clothes required" in hopes of impressing their prosperous guests. The evening is filled with meaningless conversation and the men tell crude and unsophisticated jokes. Everyone seems to be having a wonderful time even though there is no real meaning in the evening. Shortly afterwards Babbits "name and face" become noticed throughout the city. In another attempt to impress the upper class, Babbit delivers a stirring speech and suddenly finds that he has become one of the most "popular and well-known figures" at the convention. Babbit's dream of improving his position is coming true, although Babbit is oblivious to society's hypocrisy. From a solid citizen, Babbit becomes an important citizen and volunteers his services as an orator for a political campaign. Babbits spirits rise because he "visualizes himself entering Zenith's most fashionable circles." In addition to his involvement in politics, Babbit gets involved with the church because he feels it is a "highly respectable activity to engage in." Babbit concentrates on the improvements the church makes in his business life when he should be concentrating on important elements such as religion. Babbits soul concerns are not for the well-being of the church but rather to make sure that "prospective customers see that he is an active church member." Babbit becomes enveloped by hypocrisy in society and focuses his attention on materialistic goals rather than thinking about his friends and family.
Although an active member of Zenith society, many incidents increase Babbits discontent with life and he revolts against conformity. After the imprisonment of his best friend Paul, Babbit realizes that his life has no meaning. His dream of acceptance becomes irrelevant so he engages in a short period of rebellion from everyday society. Not having the relationship of a good wife or a best friend, Babbit drinks and parties excessively hoping to end his frustrations but his anxiety's remains. He realizes that besides material comfort a man needs "someone to easily talk to...and someone who appreciates him" so he has an affair with a local woman. Nothing positive evolves from the temporary relationship and Babbit is not able to truly feel joy. Although Babbit recognizes that a change has occurred he also notices that "nothing has been gained by his rebellion" and is unsatisfied with his new situation. Even though unhappy, Babbit "asserts his new independence [and]...refuses to join" a new respected organization formed in Zenith. This takes much courage and Babbit prides himself for his perseverance. Although Babbit is proud of his independence, many people end their friendships with him because he will not conform to their liking. Babbit uses his free time to think through and organize his life. He realizes that he needs "the mechanical friendships [and]...organizations" in Zenith. Babbit's rebellion ends in failure because Babbit does not have the courage and persistence it takes to rebel against conformity.
Lacking the heart to be independent and live a lifestyle of nonconformity, Babbit succumbs to a hypocritical lifestyle, and eventually regains his position in society. He ultimately "agrees to join" the new club, conforming to the community's desires, realizing that the consequences of not joining would be harsher than the embarrassment of facing his old friends. Babbit realizes he needs to accept the image society wants and conform to that image if he wants to succeed. Within a few weeks Babbit regains his old position in the community. Once more he is a loud vocal speaker in the Good Citizens' League and "all the prosperous citizens and business leaders" also devote themselves to this establishment. Babbit soon regains the esteem of his old friends and things return to normal. Babbit uses what he has learned by telling his son to "be unafraid of the conventions...of the outside world and do what one sees as the right course for himself." Babbit is sorry that he has learned this valuable lesson so late in his own life. He realizes that he has grown accustomed to the daily occurrences and that he needs a regular routine. Babbit decides that he is "going to run things to...suit himself", which actually means conforming to the middle class lifestyle and to the values of men like himself. Babbit learns a valuable lesson too late. He now knows that he needs to live a life of conformity and he can not live his dream of success and happiness without the influences of a hypocritical society.
Babbit struggles with himself and the community to find a way to make himself happy and to make a place for himself in a society overshadowed by hypocrisy. He must rebel against conformity and hypocrisy and try to find activities that actually suit him. Babbit understands that the community is completely hypocritical but also discovers that it is the only way he knows how to live. He succumbs to conformity, realizing that he does not have the strength and courage to live his dream through independence. Babbit realizes that middle class Americans behave, talk and amass unnecessary material objects. American society is oblivious to the false faces they put on each day to impress others and people do not realize that they are using all their energies to reach materialistic goals. Society's conformity influences the actions, beliefs and dreams of each American.