Skip over navigation

Main Street

Sinclair Lewis

Chapters 11–13

Chapters 7–10

Chapters 14–16

Summary

In March, Carol attends a meeting of the Thanatopsis Club, the women's study group. She is disappointed, however, when the ladies decide to discuss the whole subject of English poetry in one session. The ladies read dull, biographical statistics about English poets rather than reading or discussing actual poetry. The minister's wife reads a paper on Burns and Byron that criticizes the loose morals of the poets. Careful to avoid offending the ladies, Carol suggests that they should discuss more poetry during the next meeting. The ladies then elect Carol as a new member.

Carol decides to start reforming the town by rebuilding the small city hall. Visiting the town library, she looks through architectural magazines and dreams about turning ugly Gopher Prairie into a beautiful New England village. Carol approaches several people about how ideas, but the townspeople do not express any interest in a new city hall. The minister's wife tells Carol that the town really needs a united church. Then, the school superintendent's wife tells her that the town needs a new school instead.

During the next meeting of the Thanatopsis Club, the ladies discuss the whole history of English literature in one session. Carol feels thwarted in her attempts to rebuild the town. She decides to concentrate on smaller projects, such as refurnishing the rest room for farmers' wives, but again meets no success. At another Thanatopsis meeting, Carol proposes that the club provide self-help programs for the poor, like creating an employment office and providing housing loans, so that the poor do not need to depend so much on charity. The ladies once again shoot Carol's ideas down. When the ladies decide to choose topics of conversation for their next meetings, Carol suggests that they discuss relevant social issues like the labor movement. The ladies ignore her idea and choose to discuss the subject of "Furnishings and China." Disheartened, Carol decides to give up her dreams of transforming the town. Most of the townspeople object to her reforms because they possess a deep-rooted aversion to change and are loathe to spend any money.

One beautiful day in May, Carol walks out into the country and meets Bjornstam in a gypsy camp. He tells her that he is going to leave town for the summer, and Carol envies his freedom. Summer arrives, and she finds the heat and flies stifling. Kennicott purchases a summer cottage by a lake. The whole social circle of the Kennicotts owns cottages, and Carol enjoys the outdoor life, making picnics and having dances and going swimming. In September, they all move back to their homes in town and return to their usual routines.

On her first wedding anniversary, Carol invites Vida Sherwin and Guy Pollock to dinner. After meeting the Perrys, Gopher Prairie's first settlers, Carol begins taking an interest in the pioneer days of the Midwest. Carol calls on the Perrys frequently, much to their delight. When Carol suggests that Gopher Prairie should return to the spirit of its pioneer days, the Perrys agree. They suggest that everyone in town should be Baptists and Republicans. They also say that people need to work hard and do not need science and socialism. Carol's admiration of the Perrys dwindles when she hears their opinions, but she continues to visit them out of respect.

One November evening, Carol goes walking and happens to find herself at Guy Pollock's law office. Although she remembers that decent women do not pay social calls to men in Gopher Prairie, she decides to enter anyway. As they talk about the town, she realizes that Guy does not find anything wrong with the fact that she has visited. Guy tells Carol that the townspeople are like people everywhere else. He relates his personal past to her, telling her that he has the "Village Virus," as he is comfortable in a small town and does not desire change. When Guy reveals to Carol how lonely and miserable he is, she feels his desire for her. When he invites her to stay for coffee, she points out that people will gossip if she stays much longer. Guy therefore invites his neighbors for coffee so that people will not gossip. Carol returns home.

Analysis

The main conflict of the novel—Carol's desire to change the town in the face of the town's resistance to change—creates an atmosphere of hostility in this section. Though Carol cannot bring about any radical changes, she does triumph in the sense that she puts up a fight. The heroine of the novel, she reflects the spirit of reform of Lewis's time, and in many ways represents the author himself. Lewis, attacking his contemporary society of conformity and conservatism in his novels, expresses the need to escape the confines of provincial life. Lewis himself did not fit in well with his Midwest hometown and escaped by attending college in the East.

Carol's unwavering spirit of optimism endures as one of her most noble characteristics. However, Carol still remains quite naïve and dreamy, believing that she can revolutionize the whole town into Georgian townhouses and Japanese bungalows virtually overnight and that the townspeople will support her. Despite her radical ideas, however, Carol remains conventional in many ways. She does not allow herself to have a love affair with Guy Pollock or do anything else that might cause a scandal. Although Lewis sympathizes with his heroine's plight to find individual happiness and create social reforms, many modern readers and critics have found Carol a somewhat silly and superficial character. Though we may sympathize with her mission, we may feel that the rebuffs she encounters are not proof of the town's crudity but of Carol's own shortcomings.

In Chapter 11, the ladies of the Thanatopsis Club are quite content with maintaining the status quo. After all, they represent the town's upper class: married to the richest and most influential men in town, they do not really have much to complain about. While Carol represents change, the other ladies represent old-fashioned values and resistance to change. They do not even support woman's suffrage, like Carol does. The fact that the ladies of the Thanatopsis Club prefer to discuss "Furnishings and China" rather than contemporary social issues reflects their outdated resistance to contemporary social changes. On the other hand, Carol finds true liberal radicals only among the laborers, like Miles Bjornstam.

In Chapter 12, Lewis draws attention to the Minnesota countryside and the state's pioneer past, two recurring motifs throughout the novel. Carol's interest in the outdoors and the pioneer past is a manifestation of her desire for freedom and escape, one that she does not allow herself to admit. Carol finds beauty in nature that she does not find in Gopher Prairie. The fact that she admires the simplicity of nature also suggests that she is not as materialistic and showy as the people of Gopher Prairie, or we ourselves as readers, may think. Indeed, Carol does enjoy fine clothes, fine food, and fine furniture, but she also loves the simplicity of nature.

Lewis often references the pioneer past of Minnesota in order to record the state's "growing pains." The town of Gopher Prairie still shows scars of its early days, as settlers have lived in the town for only fifty years. Many of the townspeople also reflect the pioneer spirit of the early settlers, particularly the outdated Perrys, who literally live in the past. On the other hand, the city-bred and educated Carol reflects the spirit of progress in the early twentieth century.

In Chapter 13, Guy Pollock emerges as an important character. In fact, Lewis once wrote that he originally intended the character of Guy Pollock to be the main character of Main Street. The concept of the "Village Virus," which Guy explains to Carol, is an important idea throughout the novel. According to Guy, "The Village Virus is the germ which—it's extraordinarily like the hookworm—it attacks ambitious people who stay too long in the provinces." People suffering from the "Village Virus" enjoy a life without challenges and ambitions, as they no longer make any efforts to lead a better life and no longer desire to escape uncomplicated small-town life. Throughout the novel, Carol tries desperately to avoid catching the Virus herself.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us