Sinclair Lewis’ character of George Babbitt is similar to J.R.R Tolkien’s character of Bilbo Baggins, but they are also very different. These two characters are alike in two different ways: in personality and the heroic journey. However, on every other subject, these two characters are extraordinarily different. The most basic of these differences being that George Babbitt is an anti-hero and Bilbo Baggins is a hero.
In the beginning, both characters seem very much alike in the way that they are portrayed. Babbitt is shown as a well to do middle-aged man enjoying an afternoon nap. He is also shown to be extremely average. Bilbo too is shown enjoying a pleasant afternoon in a very average way. Both personalities are basically the same: neither will take major risks and both would rather stay at home rather than go off on some kind of “adventure”. Both are what are considered prominent, wealthy, normal, conforming members of their communities. However, both Babbitt and Bilbo show inner turmoil with their need to be “free”.
Here is where the differences start to appear. The hobbit refers to something as simple as climbing a tree as an adventure. The prominent businessman thinks that spending a weekend away from his wife and family is an adventure. To set forth upon an adventure of any kind person needs to be free again, both characters define freedom in different ways. Bilbo simply needs to be away from the influence of his friends and family to find out what he really wants for himself and what he wants to do about it. Bilbo finds freedom when he makes the choice to follow the dwarves into the unknown. When Babbitt is finally given freedom when he is able to go camping alone with his friends for a week he is suddenly terrified about what he is going to do with himself. Babbitt’s friends seem to bring out his inner-self when he has finally pulled away from home and on a train going to Maine. Once up in Maine the men say that they are going to “loaf by ourselves and smoke and cuss and be natural”. In other words, they are going to be free from the rules imposed on them by their wives, families and the community itself.
Each character is also tested in a different way. Bilbo was tested several different times, each dealing with his loyalty and service to the dwarves. One example of such a test was at the Lonely Mountain just before the Battle of Five Armies. Bilbo had stolen the Arkenstone from Thrain and decided to use it as a bargaining tool between Bard and the dwarves. The hobbit had to choose between his own desire for the stone and the good of everyone barricaded inside the mountain. Bilbo decided to help the dwarves and Men settle their differences. This looked like it was a bad decision at the time. Nevertheless, it was the right choice and if it hadn’t been for Bilbo’s actions the goblins would have won in the end. Babbitt’s test was of a similar kind, he had to choose between two different women and decide which one would give him a better life. Babbitt starts to cheat on his wife, Myra, with Tanis Judique. Under her influence, Babbitt starts to smoke and drink more than usual, and under the influence of these drugs, Babbitt begins to discover that his long-held opinions are crumbling before him. Babbitt refuses to join the Good Citizen’s League which is full of hypocrisy, much like Babbitt himself, because of this decision Babbitt’s entire world starts to fall apart. He is thrown into a state of indecision, not knowing whether to stay with Tanis and be rejected or to stay with Myra and go back to his unrewarding conformist lifestyle. Myra has a bout of appendicitis, which brings Babbitt home to his family and his old way of life.
When Bilbo returns home he is looked down upon by fellow hobbits because of his unnatural adventures yet he is fully satisfied and doesn’t mind this at all. This is totally different from what happens to Babbitt. He simply loses anything about him that makes him different and he is quickly accepted once more. In this way, the different returns were very different.
The hobbit and Babbitt were two very different characters with the same personality at the beginning of the story. As the two different stories progress the characters were subjected to different adventures and put through different tests. In the end, Bilbo Baggins emerges as a different hobbit and George Babbitt who had struggled to be different ends up conforming after all.
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