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 Lewiss 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 Lewiss 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 Kennicotts 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 isnt 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). Carols 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, is a way that Carol does it. She also says no to a marriage proposal because she wants to be free from the chains of marriage (24).
Will Kennicott is received with open arms because he offers her a chance to make that change by residing in a small town with him. Equally important is that Carol is an orphan since the age of thirteen. Her childhood is the time period when she learns to be independent which makes her free. Being given too much freedom is not always a good thing for a young person: ..she is impulsive, undiplomatic, and ignorant of complications (Dooley 62). Because of Carols early life and her education, she has a skewed way of looking at the town and how she wants to change it. Although she wants to change the small town, she does not realize the characteristic of a small town.
Accordingly, there are different morals, values, and manners in a small town. Small towns tend to gossip more than regular towns and criticize others who do not belong in that town. For example, Carol overhears her neighbors Cy Bogart and Earl Haydock, teenage delinquents, say, ..Ma says shes stuck-up as hell. Mas always talking about her (92). Earl also adds, Theyre all laughing up their sleeves at her (93). Carol comes to a realization that people have been criticizing her instead of admiring her.
This realization is a huge blow to Carol because she believes her intentions and actions have been misinterpreted. She needs to be more involved and fit in better with the people of the town and try to understand them so she is not be as lonely as she is. This change would also help her regain her self-confidence. In effect, Carol joins the Jolly Seventeen which is for young married women and is the social status of Gopher Prairie (76). They have a meeting to make Carol a member and start to play games. The subject of maids comes up and they talk about how they get paid too much and are ..ungrateful, all that class of people (78). Carol puts herself into the conversation by showing respect for her maid, but the other women are offended and attack Carol by asking Carol, Dont you think its hard on the rest of us when you pay so much (78).
All of the women verbally attack a new member of the club and attack her views because she does not conform to them. Later that day, she gets into another argument because the librarian believes the purpose of a library is to preserve books ( 80). The librarian does not even listen to her and pushes her off to the side. Then later Carol decides to join the womens study club, Thanatopsis. She is voted into membership and makes a few suggestions about future programs. This time Carol brings up the issue of charity for the poor of the community.
Once again Carol is ganged up on by all the women. Carol suggests that the women sew clothes for the poor, but Mrs. Stowbody, snaps, Heavens and earth, they have more time than we do (126). After that Carol suggests that the Bible should not be the only book that is read and everybody cleared their polite throat (127). They just ignored her comment and kept moving on with the meeting as if not acknowledging Carol. Carol is determined to be involved in the town and make a change in it.
As a result of Carols desire to make change, she creates the Gopher Prairie Dramatic Association. The first of many problems that occur is only seven come out of the fifteen in the associations first and most important meeting (186). As Carol made suggestions to what kind of play would be put on, Ella Stowbody along with others did not listen and sat back because they believed their ideas were better than Carols (186). Carol had bought many things including the lighting equipment, paint and wood, and furniture yet no one else took the play seriously. As Carol says, They gaily came in half an hour la …