Main Street


Main Street

Sinclair Lewis was a queer boy, always an outsider, lonely. Once he had
become famous, he began to promulgate an official view of his youth that
represents perhaps an adult wish for a inoffensive life that never was. He was
Sinclair Lewis (Hutchisson 8). In the years from 1914 to 1951 Sinclair Lewis, a
flamboyant, driven, self-devouring genius from Sauk Centre, Minnesota, aspired
in twenty two novels to make all America his province. (Hutchisson 9). Although
his star has now waned, he was in his time the best-known and the most
controversial of all writers and through a number of books remarkable for their
satiric bite and for their ambivalent love and hatred of the land and the people he
took as his domain, he helped to make Americans known to themselves and to
the world. Lewis was a descendant of the line of Cooper, Emerson, Thoreau,
Whitman and Twain (Mencken 17). Like them, he railed against the insidious
effects of mass culture and the standardization of manners and ideas. Lewis
dreamed of a better America and in his best novels he turned the light of his
critical gaze upon our most hallowed institutions including the small town. He
became the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature for his
works on American life (Mencken 19).
Many of Lewis?s books had relevance to his life growing up. He grew up in
a small town with all the small town qualities and wrote mostly satirically about
them. One of many books that satirize small towns is Main Street. In this novel,
many themes are presented such as the use of satire as an urge to reform, family
life of the period as portrayed in the novel, and World War I and its impact on the
main streets of America. During the period Lewis wrote the novel, World War I
sparked in Europe. During this time the United States was pushed into the war
and many soldiers were needed and drafted by the United States military. This
time affected many young boys and many families. It also brought on a new
feeling of nationalism and patriotism not only in the big cities, but also in the small
towns. Some of these characteristics were satirized by Sinclair Lewis in this
book. Much of what goes on during Sinclair Lewis?s life goes into his books
including his marriages, important dates, and early life. Small towns grew
numerous across the country because during this period many immigrants
traveled west. Small towns are much different than big cities because they have
different values, goals, and morals. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis satirizes the
small town lives and values of Americans through the idealistic view of Carl
Kennicott.
Carol Kennicott?s view of Gopher Prairie, the small town, is skewed
because of her past and her biased way of looking at it. Much has been written
and said about Carol. She is Lewis himself in feminine guise, as he admitted in
1922: "... [She is] always groping for something she isn?t capable of obtaining,
always dissatisfied...intolerants of her surroundings, yet lacking any clearly
defined vision of what she wants to do or be" (Schorer 273). Carol Kennicott is
more advanced and intellectual than any of the people in the town. She
graduates from Blodgett College, a religious institution, which protects its
students "from the wickedness of the universities" and censors them from
whatever they do not want them to learn (2). Carol?s first meeting with the
townspeople is a different experience for her. Because of her intelligence and
sophistication, she brings up topics such as labor unions and profit-sharing (42).
The townspeople react differently as one of the conversationalist says, "All this
profit sharing and welfare work and insurance and old-age pension is simply
poppycock" (43). She is interested in sociology and wishes to participate in
village improvement. (3). "She did not yet know the immense ability of the world
to be casually cruel and proudly dull, but if she should ever learn those dismaying
powers, her eyes would never become sullen or heavy or rheumily amorous" (2).
This quote demostrates how Carol is put into a bad situation because of her
surroundings and how she has to change the town if she wants to be fulfilled
mentally.
Furthermore, Carol also wants change and she wants to be the one who
makes it in Gopher Prairie where she lives. She goes there and wants to make it
pretty and modern without knowing much about it herself (Dooley 63). She thinks
that because of her education, she has to make change and do something to
fulfill her life. Using the town as a means to do this,