Main Street (Lewis)

Main Street
Sinclair Lewis, 1920
~400 pp. (varies by publisher)


Summary
Sinclair Lewis's barbed portrait of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, shattered the myth of the American Middle West as God's Country and became a symbol of the cultural narrow-mindedness and smug complacency of small towns everywhere. At the center of the novel is Carol Kennicott, the wife of a town doctor, who dreams of initiating social reforms and introducing art and literature to the community.

The range of reactions to Main Street when it was published in 1920 was extraordinary, reflecting the ambivalence in the novel itself and Lewis's own mixed feelings about his hometwon of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, the prototype for Gopher Prairie. (From Penguin Signet Edition.)

More
Carol Milford is a liberal, free-spirited young woman, reared in the metropolis of Minneapolis. She marries Will Kennicott, a doctor, who is a small-town boy at heart. When they marry, Will convinces her to live in his home-town of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. Carol is appalled at the backwardness of Gopher Prairie. But her disdain for the town's physical ugliness and smug conservatism compels her to reform it.

She speaks with its members about progressive changes, joins women's clubs, distributes literature, and holds parties to liven up Gopher Prairie's inhabitants. Despite her friendly, but ineffective efforts, she is constantly derided by the leading cliques. She finds comfort and companionship outside her social class. These companions are taken from her one by one.

In her unhappiness, Carol leaves her husband and moves for a time to Washington, D.C., but she eventually returns. Nevertheless, Carol does not feel defeated:

I do not admit that Main Street is as beautiful as it should be! I do not admit that dish-washing is enough to satisfy all women!

Carol is discontented with life in Gopher Prairie, but she finds that big city life also has disadvantages. In the end, she learns to settle with Gopher Prairie and accept it for what it is. (From Wikipedia.)

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