Chapter Twenty Three marks the beginning of Babbitt’s rebellion against the moral life. Myra and Tinka are away, Ted and Verona are in bed, and Babbitt is outside looking into the fog. Frink appears through the fog and is brandishing his walking stick. It is clear that he is drunk and calls himself a traitor to poetry.
When he is back in his house, Babbitt wonders about the meaning of life and what he wants out of it. He wants wealth, social position, travel and servants only incidentally, but he does know he wants to see Paul. From this thought, Babbitt moves on and admits that he wants the fairy girl ‘in the flesh’. As he falls asleep, he feels he has ‘made a terrifying, thrilling break with everything that was decent and normal.’
The next day he forgets this idea, but for the first time he leaves the office to go to the cinema: ‘He comes out with a vicious determination to do what he pleased.’ At his table at the Athletic Club (the Roughnecks’ table), he is teased about his visit to the cinema in working hours. He leaves the club feeling like he wants to run to the comfort of the fairy child.
Babbitt is friendlier towards his secretary (Miss McGoun) when he returns to work, but she remains faithful to the business in hand. Later, the Swansons hold a supper and invite him along. He finds Louetta Swanson alluring and decides he wants to ‘be like one of those Bohemians’. Myra is still away and when he sits next to Louetta he identifies her with the fairy girl. They dance together and he tries to kiss her, but she mechanically tells him to stop.. She also shows she is not interested in him when they sit alone on the porch.
Babbitt visits Paul in prison in Chapter Twenty Four and he thinks of it as ‘unreal’. On his way home, Babbitt feels as though something has died in him, such as his loyalty, fear of disfavor, and pride in success.
At work, he shows Tanis Judique (a prospective client) around an apartment and she offers to teach him to dance. He restrains himself from flirting too much because he is afraid to make a fool of himself.
Generally, Babbitt is turning towards the attractiveness of youth and is weary of feeling loyal. He flirts with a young female manicurist and asks her to dinner. On the way home from dinner, he kisses her in the car but then she stops him.
Chapter Twenty Five begins with Babbitt deciding he has had enough of chasing girls, but by noon he is not so sure. Myra returns in August and this time he is sorry she has come back. He takes his holiday alone in Maine and fantasises about being a ‘Real Guy’ and living in the woods. On holiday, he realizes he cannot run away, ‘because he could never run away from himself’. Instead, he decides he is going to ‘start something’.
On the train home from his holiday, in Chapter Twenty Six, Babbitt talks to Seneca Doane (the liberal lawyer). Doane says he remembers Babbitt from college as a ‘liberal sensitive chap’. He also recalls Babbitt saying he intended to be a lawyer and would take the cases of the poor for nothing. Doane says that at this time he just wanted to be rich and Babbitt inspired him to think differently. Babbitt is (of course) flattered by this, and says how a fellow needs ‘Visions and Ideals’. Doane wants Babbitt to speak to other businessmen to go easier on ‘poor Beecher Ingram’ (a preacher who is in favor of free love). Doane’s flattery encourages Babbitt to do this and makes him think of Zilla in a more generous light.
Babbitt visits her for the first time since Paul shot her and notes that she has aged from her experience. He asks if she will help get Paul pardoned, but she replies that she has turned to religion and keeping Paul in prison will be a generous act as he will be an example to ‘evil-doers’. When Babbitt tells her he has always been liberal, she tells him he is as liberal as a razor blade.
The action then shifts as we are told that Ted has entered the State University in September, but wants to transfer to Engineering School. Babbitt states again that this does not have enough standing and he should be a lawyer, like Doane.
Babbitt’s rebellion in these chapters is double-edged. His loyalty to his wife is disappearing, so he is challenging the marriage vows. Further to this, his conversation with Doane leads him to question his automatic acceptance of his previous political views. This is a guarded, limited rebellion, however, as it is founded on Babbitt succumbing to Doane’s flattery rather than a thought-out ideological shift.
Babbitt’s fragmented approach to his rebellion demonstrates a gradual fragmentation of his beliefs. He is still tied, however, to his views on status as he continues to want his son to stay on at the university. His opinions are clearly shifting as he now wants Ted to be a lawyer because Doane is and, it is implied, because this had also been his own dream when younger. The father (Babbitt) attempts to achieve his ambitions through the son.