500 AP English Literature Questions to know by test day

CHAPTER 5. American Fiction

 

Passage 5. Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt

 

He was busy, from March to June. He kept himself from the bewilderment of thinking. His wife and the neighbors were generous. Every evening he played bridge or attended the movies, and the days were blank of face and silent.

In June, Mrs. Babbitt and Tinka went East, to stay with relatives, and Babbitt was free to do—he was not quite sure what.

All day long after their departure he thought of the emancipated house in which he could, if he desired, go mad and curse the gods without having to keep up a husbandly front. He considered, “I could have a reg’lar party to-night; stay out till two and not do any explaining afterwards. Cheers!” He telephoned to Vergil Gunch, to Eddie Swanson. Both of them were engaged for the evening, and suddenly he was bored by having to take so much trouble to be riotous.

He was silent at dinner, unusually kindly to Ted and Verona, hesitating but not disapproving when Verona stated her opinion of Kenneth Escott’s opinion of Dr. John Jennison Drew’s opinion of the opinions of the evolutionists. Ted was working in a garage through the summer vacation, and he related his daily triumphs: how he had found a cracked ball-race, what he had said to the Old Grouch, what he had said to the foreman about the future of wireless telephony.

Ted and Verona went to a dance after dinner. Even the maid was out. Rarely had Babbitt been alone in the house for an entire evening. He was restless. He vaguely wanted something more diverting than the newspaper comic strips to read. He ambled up to Verona’s room, sat on her maidenly blue and white bed, humming and grunting in a solid-citizen manner as he examined her books: Conrad’s “Rescue,” a volume strangely named “Figures of Earth,” poetry (quite irregular poetry, Babbitt thought) by Vachel Lindsay, and essays by H. L. Mencken— highly improper essays, making fun of the church and all the decencies. He liked none of the books. In them he felt a spirit of rebellion against niceness and solid- citizenship. These authors—and he supposed they were famous ones, too—did not seem to care about telling a good story which would enable a fellow to forget his troubles. He sighed. He noted a book, “The Three Black Pennies,” by Joseph Hergesheimer. Ah, that was something like it! It would be an adventure story, maybe about counterfeiting—detectives sneaking up on the old house at night. He tucked the book under his arm, he clumped down-stairs and solemnly began to read, under the piano-lamp...