I was wary of this novel of 1920s America, given what very little I knew of it, which was only that its title has become a metaphor, now fairly little-used, for an entirely conventional and complacent middle-class man. I thought that it would be very satirical, and very much of its time and place, and both of these things are true. However, though some of the zing may have gone out of particular references, there is a clear and universally comprehensible movement of the spirit of the central character into attempts towards more liberal attitudes both personal and socio-political, and then back into his cage, but with more self-awareness. It is that self-awareness that helps him in the last chapter to deal with his (mildly) non-conformist son.
At first I found the plan of the novel a little too methodical. At least up to the 60% mark, the chapters seemed just to be ticking off satirical bullet points: Babbitt's conservatism and conformity at home; Babbitt's conformity at his real estate workplace; Babbitt's conformity with his "Booster Club" associates; Babbitt's conformity at church; Babbitt's conformity with the rough fraternity of commercial travellers on the train, etc. etc. However, seeds were planted: Babbitt's best friend Paul is given the role of foil, a man profoundly unhappy in those same circles - and it is a violent incident involving Paul that sets Babbitt off on his hesitant journeys into self-determination.
A man is at the centre of this novel, and its women, although not unsympathetically portrayed (except for obvious caricatures) will not give any great joy to the modern female reader's heart. The wife and the mistress are both essentially mirrors for particular aspects of Babbitt's character and aspirations; indeed most of their value to him appears to be in how well they listen to and mirror him. One minor character actually calls herself a feminist, but she is given no platform. To be fair, most of the supporting male cast are there to reflect back aspects of Babbitt too (or, fitter-in that he is, to provide something for him to reflect), so I didn't find the novel misogynistic in any way.
I was a little startled by the sudden end of the novel (Babbitt's eldest son elopes with his girlfriend and drops out of college in favour of a manual job - and in the very last sentence Babbitt is about to support him in the face of conservative family wrath). But actually I think Lewis was right to stop there, point made. A Babbitt may not be able to change himself, but at least he can learn a little and support the next generation.