Babbitt is set in the modern Midwestern city of Zenith. George F. Babbitt, a 46- year-old real estate broker, enjoys all the modern conveniences available to a prosperous middle-class businessman, yet he is dissatisfied with his life. When the novel opens, Babbitt has begun to regularly indulge in fantasies about a fairy girl who makes him feel like a gallant youth. Babbitt's family consists of his three children, Verona, Ted, and Tinka, and his dowdy, devoted wife, Myra.
Babbitt's closest friend Paul Riesling is even more dissatisfied with his life. He is also more vocal about it. Although he dreamed of becoming a professional violinist in his youth, Riesling became mired in the life of the average middle-class businessman of his generation. His wife, Zilla, is equally unsatisfied with the monotonous, conventional routine of Zenith, but she vents her frustrations by constantly nagging Paul.
Riesling and Babbitt try to improve their unhappiness by taking a vacation in Maine together, but their enjoyment at their newfound freedom is short-lived.
Both men experience a growing impulse to rebel against social conventions. When Babbitt discovers that Riesling is having an affair, he preaches the value of maintaining one's good social standing in the community. Soon thereafter, Riesling and Zilla have another argument; Riesling snaps, shoots his wife, and subsequently receives a sentence of three years in the state penitentiary.
Babbitt is devastated by the loss of Riesling's steadying presence in his life. His own desire for rebellion comes to the surface when he realizes that he wants his fairy girl in the flesh. When the attractive widow, Tanis Judique, enters his life, Babbitt thinks he has found his fairy girl and begins an affair. At the same time, Babbitt becomes more critical of the conservative opinions of his friends. While Myra...