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Babbitt
Sinclair Lewis
Adult Fiction LEWIS

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The first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature, Sinclair Lewis was a busy and popular writer whose novels chronicle the social history of his time and constitute what Maxwell Geismar called "a remarkable diary of the middle class mind in America." The work that won him the Nobel Prize was a group of novels that realistically depicted various aspects of American life. Main Street (1920), his first important work, is a scathing picture of provincialism in the small town of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, which Lewis modeled on his hometown of Sauk Centre, while Babbitt (1922), a moving account of midlife crisis experienced by an average American businessman, actually succeeded in adding a new word to the American dictionary---babbitry, or the ultimate in shallow, middle-brow materialism. Continuing a blend of social criticism with sympathy, Lewis wrote Arrowsmith (1925), in which the idealism of a devoted scientist and physician is contrasted with the materialistic forces that try to capitalize on his discoveries. Though offered the Pulitzer Prize for this novel, he refused it. Elmer Gantry (1927) is a portrait of a dissolute but successful evangelist, while Dodsworth (1929) deals with a retired industrialist whose material success and ambitious wife have failed to provide emotional sustenance. Lewis succeeded in bringing to life the talk and actions common to the middle classes of America. Although some of the conditions he describes now seem peculiarly dated, his people remain convincingly real. Lewis's sense of responsibility to society seemed to become all the stronger after his Nobel Prize, and some of the books he wrote afterward have topical subjects that now seem rather dated. It Can't Happen Here (1935) forecast an imaginary coming of fascism to the United States, Gideon Planish (1943) exposed corruption in organized philanthropy, Kingsblood Royal (1947) was one of the first novels to deal with the evils of racial prejudice, and Cass Timberlane (1945), originally subtitled A Novel of Husbands and Wives, gave a long, clear look at the institution of marriage in its story of a Minnesota judge and his young second wife. If American novelists of this century can be divided into opposing camps of social historians and literary artists, Lewis clearly belongs to the former group. As a result, he has seemed to fade further into the past as writer after writer has taken his place as an authoritative observer of the times. However, the characters he created and the human situations he has depicted have sometimes caused him to be compared to Dickens. He remains one of the great portrayers of American middle-class life in the 1920s. Third and youngest son of country doctor Edwin J. Lewis and his wife, Isabel Warner, Harry Sinclair Lewis was born on February 7, 1885 in Minnesota. A lonely child, he immersed himself in reading and diary writing. While studying at Yale University and living in writer Upton Sinclair's communal house, he wrote for Yale Literary Magazine and helped to build the Panama Canal. After graduating from Yale in 1908, Lewis began writing fiction, publishing 22 novels by the end of his career. His early works, while often praised by literary critics, did not reach popularity but with Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), Elmer Gantry (1927), and Dodsworth (1929), Sinclair Lewis achieved fame as a writer. His style of choice was satire; he explored American small-town life, conformity, hypocrisy, and materialism. Sinclair Lewis was married and divorced twice. As his career wound down, he spent his later life in Europe and died in Rome on January 10, 1951.

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main characters George F. Babbitt
Male
Married
Successful; unhappy.
Realtor



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