What has interested you the most in this class? Is it a particular writing? An image? A conversation we’ve had in class? Take inspiration from the thing that has interested you the most and do something unique with it in your writing. There are many approaches you can follow or invent: write a straightforward essay about why you are interested in the thing, write a personal reflection, write a play, write poems, write a short story – write creatively. Use your imagination. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – fear kills good writing and makes everything boring and the same. The method of good writing is to love what you write – and love and fear are opposites, aren’t they? Keep in mind that writing is a form of communication: a real person will read what you write so you want to make yourself understood, but more than that, you might want to give pleasure to your reader. Because hopefully one thing you’ve learned in this class is that reading can be pleasurable. If you enjoy yourself while you write, chances are the reader will also feel it. If instead you’re in excruciating agony, pumped full of stimulants, bitter, paranoid and unhappy – it will show, and it won’t be fun for anyone. Maybe you’ve been rewarded in school for torturing yourself while you write, but all that comes of that is a hatred for writing. How strange! – to hate a form of expression because you don’t feel free to express yourself in it. In this class writing can be what you want it to be, what it already is – yours. Pleasure and thinking, pleasure and writing – that’s the key to creating beautiful things.BABBITT
Passages of Chapter 6
Sinclair Lewis. Washington, D. C., 1922.
George Babbitt and his wife speak with their teenage son, Ted, about education.
In the living-‐room, in a corner of the davenport, Ted settled down to his Home Study; plain
geometry, Cicero, and the agonizing metaphors of Comus.
“I don’t see why they give us this old-‐fashioned junk by Milton and Shakespeare and
Wordsworth and all these has-‐beens,” he protested. “Oh, I guess I could stand it to see a
show by Shakespeare, if they had swell scenery and put on a lot of dog, but to sit down in
cold blood and READ ’em – These teachers – how do they get that way?”
Mrs. Babbitt, darning socks, speculated, “Yes, I wonder why. Of course I don’t want to fly in
the face of the professors and everybody, but I do think there’s things in Shakespeare – not
that I read him much, but when I was young the girls used to show me passages that
weren’t, really, they weren’t at all nice.”
Babbitt looked up irritably from the comic strips in the Evening Advocate. They composed
his favorite literature and art, these illustrated chronicles in which Mr. Mutt hit Mr. Jeff with
a rotten egg, and Mother corrected Father’s vulgarisms by means of a rolling-‐pin. With the
solemn face of a devotee, breathing heavily through his open mouth, he plodded nightly
through every picture, and during the rite he detested interruptions. Furthermore, he felt
that on the subject of Shakespeare he wasn’t really an authority. Neither the Advocate-‐
Times, the Evening Advocate, nor the Bulletin of the Zenith Chamber of Commerce had ever
had an editorial on the matter, and until one of them had spoken he found it hard to form
an original opinion. But even at risk of floundering in strange bogs, he could not keep out
of an open controversy.
“I’ll tell you why you have to study Shakespeare and those. It’s because they’re required for
college entrance, and that’s all there is to it! Personally, I don’t see myself why they stuck
’em into an up-‐to-‐date high-‐school system like we have in this state. Be a good deal better
if you took Business English, and learned how to write an ad, or letters that would pull. But
there it is, and there’s no tall, argument, or discussion about it! Trouble with you, Ted, is
you always want to do something different! If you’re going to law-‐school – and you are! – I
never had a chance to, but I’ll see that you do – why, you’ll want to lay in all the English and
Latin you can get.”
“Oh punk. I don’t see what’s the use of law-‐school – or even finishing high school. I don’t
want to go to college ’specially. Honest, there’s lot of fellows that have graduated from
colleges that don’t begin to make as much money as fellows that went to work early. Old
Shimmy Peters, that teaches Latin in the High, he’s a what-‐is-‐it from Columbia and he sits
up all night reading a lot of greasy books and he’s always spieling about the ‘value of
languages,’ and the poor soak doesn’t make but eighteen hundred a year, and no traveling
salesman would think of working for that. I know what I’d like to do. I’d like to be an
aviator, or own a corking big garage, or else – a fellow was telling me about it yesterday –
I’d like to be one of these fellows that the Standard Oil Company sends out to China, and
you live in a compound and don’t have to do any work, and you get to see the world and
pagodas and the ocean and everything! And then I could take up correspondence-‐courses.
That’s the real stuff! You don’t have to recite to some frosty-‐faced old dame that’s trying to
show off to the principal, and you can study any subject you want to. Just listen to these! I
clipped out the ads of some swell courses.”
He snatched from the back of his geometry half a hundred advertisements of those home-‐
study courses which the energy and foresight of American commerce have contributed to
the science of education. The first displayed the portrait of a young man with a pure brow,
an iron jaw, silk socks, and hair like patent leather. Standing with one hand in his trousers-‐
pocket and the other extended with chiding forefinger, he was bewitching an audience of
men with gray beards, paunches, bald heads, and every other sign of wisdom and
prosperity. Above the picture was an inspiring educational symbol – no antiquated lamp or
torch or owl of Minerva, but a row of dollar signs. The text ran:
$ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $
POWER AND PROSPERITY IN PUBLIC SPEAKING
A Yarn Told at the Club
Who do you think I ran into the other evening at the De Luxe Restaurant?
Why, old Freddy Durkee, that used to be a dead or-‐alive shipping clerk in my
old place – Mr. Mouse-‐Man we used to laughingly call the dear fellow. One
time he was so timid he was plumb scared of the Super, and never got credit
for the dandy work he did. Him at the De Luxe! And if he wasn’t ordering a
tony feed with all the “fixings” from celery to nuts! And instead of being
embarrassed by the waiters, like he used to be at the little dump where we
lunched in Old Lang Syne, he was bossing them around like he was a
I cautiously asked him what he was doing. Freddy laughed and said, “Say, old
chum, I guess you’re wondering what’s come over me. You’ll be glad to know
I’m now Assistant Super at the old shop, and right on the High Road to
Prosperity and Domination, and I look forward with confidence to a twelve-‐
cylinder car, and the wife is making things hum in the best society and the
kiddies getting a first-‐class education.”
WHAT WE TEACH YOU
How to address your lodge.
How to give toasts.
How to tell dialect stories.
How to propose to a lady.
How to entertain banquets.
How to make convincing selling-‐talks.
How to build big vocabulary.
How to create a strong personality.
How to become a rational, powerful and original thinker.
How to be a MASTER MAN!
PROF. W. F. PEET
SHORTCUT EDUCATIONAL PUB. CO.
Desk WA Sandpit, Iowa
ARE YOU A 100 PERCENTER OR A 10 PERCENTER?
Babbitt was again without a canon which would enable him to speak with authority.
Nothing in motoring or real estate had indicated what a Solid Citizen and Regular Fellow
ought to think about culture by mail. He began with hesitation:
“Well – sounds as if it covered the ground. It certainly is a fine thing to be able to orate.
I’ve sometimes thought I had a little talent that way myself, and I know darn well that one
reason why a fourflushing old back-‐number like Chan Mott can get away with it in real
estate is just because he can make a good talk, even when he hasn’t got a doggone thing to
say! And it certainly is pretty cute the way they get out all these courses on various topics
and subjects nowadays. I’ll tell you, though: No need to blow in a lot of good money on this
stuff when you can get a first-‐rate course in eloquence and English and all that right in your
own school – and one of the biggest school buildings in the entire country!”
“That’s so,” said Mrs. Babbitt comfortably, while Ted complained:
“Yuh, but Dad, they just teach a lot of old junk that isn’t any practical use – except the
manual training and typewriting and basketball and dancing – and in these
correspondence-‐courses, gee, you can get all kinds of stuff that would come in handy. Say,
listen to this one:
CAN YOU PLAY A MAN’S PART?
If you are walking with your mother, sister or best girl and some one passes a
slighting remark or uses improper language, won’t you be ashamed if you
can’t take her part? Well, can you?
We teach boxing and self-‐defense by mail. Many pupils have written saying
that after a few lessons they’ve outboxed bigger and heavier opponents. The
lessons start with simple movements practised before your mirror – holding
out your hand for a coin, the breaststroke in swimming, etc. Before you
realize it you are striking scientifically, ducking, guarding and feinting, just as
if you had a real opponent before you. […]
The advertisements were truly philanthropic. One of them bore the rousing headline:
“Money! Money!! Money!!!” The second announced that “Mr. P. R., formerly making only
eighteen a week in a barber shop, writes to us that since taking our course he is now
pulling down $5,000 as an Osteo-‐vitalic Physician;” and the third that “Miss J. L., recently a
wrapper in a store, is now getting Ten Real Dollars a day teaching our Hindu System of
Vibratory Breathing and Mental Control.”
Ted had collected fifty or sixty announcements, from annual reference-‐books, from Sunday
School periodicals, fiction-‐magazines, and journals of discussion. One benefactor implored,
“Don’t be a Wallflower – Be More Popular and Make More Money – YOU Can Ukulele or Sing
Yourself into Society! By the secret principles of a Newly Discovered System of Music
Teaching, any one – man, lady or child – can, without tiresome exercises, special training or
long drawn out study, and without waste of time, money or energy, learn to play by note,
piano, banjo, cornet, clarinet, saxophone, violin or drum, and learn sight-‐singing.”
The next, under the wistful appeal “Finger Print Detectives Wanted – Big Incomes!”
confided: “YOU red-‐blooded men and women – this is the PROFESSION you have been
looking for. There’s MONEY in it, BIG money, and that rapid change of scene, that
entrancing and compelling interest and fascination, which your active mind and
adventurous spirit crave. Think of being the chief figure and directing factor in solving
strange mysteries and baffling crimes. This wonderful profession brings you into contact
with influential men on the basis of equality, and often calls upon you to travel everywhere,
maybe to distant lands – all expenses paid. NO SPECIAL EDUCATION REQUIRED.”
“Oh, boy! I guess that wins the fire-‐brick necklace! Wouldn’t it be swell to travel
everywhere and nab some famous crook!” whooped Ted.
“Well, I don’t think much of that. Doggone likely to get hurt. Still, that music-‐study stunt
might be pretty fair, though. There’s no reason why, if efficiency-‐experts put their minds to
it the way they have to routing products in a factory, they couldn’t figure out some scheme
so a person wouldn’t have to monkey with all this practising and exercises that you get in
music.” Babbitt was impressed, and he had a delightful parental feeling that they two, the
men of the family, understood each other.
He listened to the notices of mail-‐box universities which taught Short-‐story Writing and
Improving the Memory, Motion-‐picture-‐acting and Developing the Soul-‐power, Banking
and Spanish, Chiropody and Photography, Electrical Engineering and Window-‐trimming,
Poultry-‐raising and Chemistry.
“Well – well –” Babbitt sought for adequate expression of his admiration. “I’m a son of a
gun! I knew this correspondence-‐school business had become a mighty profitable game –
makes suburban real-‐estate look like two cents! – but I didn’t realize it’d got to be such a
reg’lar key-‐industry! Must rank right up with groceries and movies. Always figured
somebody’d come along with the brains to not leave education to a lot of bookworms and
impractical theorists but make a big thing out of it. Yes, I can see how a lot of these courses
might interest you. I must ask the fellows at the Athletic if they ever realized – But same
time, Ted, you know how advertisers, I means some advertisers, exaggerate. I don’t know
as they’d be able to jam you through these courses as fast as they claim they can.”
“Oh sure, Dad; of course.” Ted had the immense and joyful maturity of a boy who is
respectfully listened to by his elders. Babbitt concentrated on him with grateful affection:
“I can see what an influence these courses might have on the whole educational works.
Course I’d never admit it publicly – fellow like myself, a State U. graduate, it’s only decent
and patriotic for him to blow his horn and boost the Alma Mater – but smatter of fact,
there’s a whole lot of valuable time lost even at the U., studying poetry and French and
subjects that never brought in anybody a cent. I don’t know but what maybe these
correspondence-‐courses might prove to be one of the most important American inventions.
“Trouble with a lot of folks is: they’re so blame material; they don’t see the spiritual and
mental side of American supremacy; they think that inventions like the telephone and the
areoplane and wireless – no, that was a Wop invention, but anyway: they think these
mechanical improvements are all that we stand for; whereas to a real thinker, he sees that
spiritual and, uh, dominating movements like Efficiency, and Rotarianism, and Prohibition,
and Democracy are what compose our deepest and truest wealth. And maybe this new
principle in education-‐at-‐home may be another -‐ may be another factor. I tell you, Ted,
we’ve got to have Vision –”
“I think those correspondence-‐courses are terrible!”
The philosophers gasped. It was Mrs. Babbitt who had made this discord in their spiritual
harmony, and one of Mrs. Babbitt’s virtues was that, except during dinner-‐parties, when
she was transformed into a raging hostess, she took care of the house and didn’t bother the
males by thinking. She went on firmly:
“It sounds awful to me, the way they coax those poor young folks to think they’re learning
something, and nobody ’round to help them and – You two learn so quick, but me, I always
was slow. But just the same –”
Babbitt attended to her: “Nonsense! Get just as much, studying at home. You don’t think a
fellow learns any more because he blows in his father’s hard-‐earned money and sits around
in Morris chairs in a swell Harvard dormitory with pictures and shields and table-‐covers
and those doodads, do you? I tell you, I’m a college man – I KNOW! There is one objection
you might make though. I certainly do protest against any effort to get a lot of fellows out
of barbershops and factories into the professions. They’re too crowded already, and what’ll
we do for workmen if all those fellows go and get educated?”
Ted was leaning back, smoking a cigarette without reproof. He was, for the moment,
sharing the high thin air of Babbitt’s speculation as though he were Paul Riesling or even
Dr. Howard Littlefield. He hinted:
“Well, what do you think then, Dad? Wouldn’t it be a good idea if I could go off to China or
some peppy place, and study engineering or something by mail?”
“No, and I’ll tell you why, son. I’ve found out it’s a mighty nice thing to be able to say you’re
a B.A. Some client that doesn’t know what you are and thinks you’re just a plug business
man, he gets to shooting off his mouth about economics or literature or foreign trade
conditions, and you just ease in something like, ‘When I was in college – course I got my
B.A. in sociology and all that junk –’ Oh, it puts an awful crimp in their style! But there
wouldn’t be any class to saying ‘I got the degree of Stamp-‐licker from the Bezuzus Mail-‐
order University!’ You see – My dad was a pretty good old coot, but he never had much
style to him, and I had to work darn hard to earn my way through college. Well, it’s been
worth it, to be able to associate with the finest gentlemen in Zenith, at the clubs and so on,
and I wouldn’t want you to drop out of the gentlemen class – the class that are just as red-‐
blooded as the Common People but still have power and personality. It would kind of hurt
me if you did that, old man!”
“I know, Dad! Sure! All right. I’ll stick to it. Say! Gosh! Gee whiz! I forgot all about those
kids I was going to take to the chorus rehearsal. I’ll have to duck!”
“But you haven’t done all your home-‐work.”
“Do it first thing in the morning.”
Six times in the past sixty days Babbitt had stormed, “You will not ‘do it first thing in the
morning’! You’ll do it right now!” but to-‐night he said, “Well, better hustle,” and his smile
was the rare shy radiance he kept for Paul Riesling.
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