Places Discussed

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Zenith

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Zenith. Fictional midwestern city in which the novel opens. Lewis created Zenith in Babbitt (1922), a novel in which the Dodsworths are a leading pioneer family and Sam creates a major automobile manufacturing company. In Dodsworth Sam is proud of his city, but Fran is dissatisfied with its cultural and social life. After selling his business, Sam agrees to spend a year touring Europe. Zenith provides the background to the novel and an implicit counterpoint to Europe.

*England

*England. For Sam, England is the land of his ancestors, the country whose literature fills his imagination, the place where he believes he will feel most at home. Some things are as expected—coaching inns reminiscent of Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), quaint London shop-fronts, and double-decker buses. However, he has much to learn—some English accents are incomprehensible to him; even in the theater he can understand only two-thirds of what the actors say. He replaces his evening clothes and hat to match British styles. Fran has little interest in sightseeing, but British society fascinates her. The high points of her visit are the weekend she and Sam spend at the home of a real English lord, arranged by a shipboard acquaintance, and taking tea with the aristocracy of England at the palatial manor house of a member of Parliament. When Sam is uncomfortable at the tea, Fran accuses him of carrying Zenith with him wherever he goes.

*France

*France. Sam finds France strange, yet appealing in its foreignness. This time the local language is almost totally incomprehensible. Nevertheless, he finds the people astonishingly human, not the stereotypes he has anticipated. Sam enjoys the sights recommended by guidebooks; Fran sneers that fashionable people avoid such places. Lewis remarks that “Paris is one of the largest, and certainly it is the pleasantest, of modern American cities,” as he and Fran encounter many expatriates. Sam learns from the journalists and businessmen he meets in Paris’s famous New York Bar. Fran admires the socially and culturally pretentious Americans attracted by her beauty and income, and arranges to spend the summer in Switzerland with them, while Sam returns to the United States to attend his thirtieth class reunion at Yale.

*New York City

*New York City. Entering New York harbor as a fog lifts, Sam is stunned by a vision of the towers and spires of an enchanted city. After landing, however, a different reality soon sets in, and Lewis uses Sam’s reactions to express his own dislike for many aspects of American cities, which he sees as overcrowded, dirty, and noisy. Restaurant food is terrible. Prohibition has ruined the pleasure of drinking. No longer a relaxed, agreeable activity, drinking has become a grim struggle to consume as much alcohol as quickly as possible.

*Europe

*Europe. Sam returns to Paris to find Fran guiltily repentant over an adulterous episode. Taking charge, he leads her on a tour of Spain and Italy, which bores Fran, while he enjoys visiting all the standard attractions. Fascinated by European domestic and monumental architecture, Sam carefully studies the structures on his route. From Italy the Dodsworths go to Germany to visit Fran’s relatives. Both enjoy their stay, and their sightseeing, guided by young Count Kurt von Obersdorf. The only exception is a brief, shocking visit to a homosexual bar while exploring Berlin’s nightlife. Nevertheless, Sam feels at home; he considers the Germans, like the English, to be his kind of people, and believes he understands how they think and act. Meeting German aristocrats especially thrills Fran.

When Fran asks for a divorce, Sam travels to Paris and Venice, then visits Naples with Edith Cortwright, who will become his second wife. Sam finds Europe more enjoyable as he relaxes among friendly Italians, and explores Capri, Sorrento, and Pompeii with Edith. Together they plan to return to Zenith and, using what Sam has learned during his European trip, build elegant suburban houses.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 244

Bloom, Harold, ed. Sinclair Lewis. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. A collection of critical essays on Sinclair Lewis, including an important study of Dodsworth by Martin Light, who sees the novel as one of Lewis’ strongest achievements and one that resolved the tension in his work between romance and realism. Bloom’s introductory essay praises Dodsworth as an underrated masterpiece. Selected bibliography.

Bucco, Martin, ed. Critical Essays on Sinclair Lewis. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986. A collection of criticism on Sinclair Lewis that begins with early reviews and goes on to later critics. A useful essay by Robert L. Coard analyzes Dodsworth as a generic popular novel of the early twentieth century.

Grebstein, Sheldon Norman. Sinclair Lewis. New York: Twayne, 1962. Standard introductory study of Lewis, with selected bibliography. Praises Dodsworth and Arrowsmith as being Lewis’ best works for having the best realized and most credible characters.

Lundquist, James. Sinclair Lewis. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1973. A general study, which places Lewis’ novels in their social context and views the writer as someone who contributed to American culture’s growing self-awareness. Examines Dodsworth as a powerful social document in which Lewis responded to social changes in the United States. Selected bibliography.

Schorer, Mark. Sinclair Lewis: An American Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961. Thoroughly researched study of Lewis’s life and work, an indispensable reference. Explores the autobiographical aspects of Dodsworth, which Schorer places in the context of Lewis’ role in the transformation of American manners, morals, and intellectual assumptions.

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