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Main Street

Sinclair Lewis

Chapters 14–16

Chapters 11–13

Chapters 17–20

Summary

One night, Carol and Kennicott have their first argument as a married couple. When she questions him about the other doctors in town, Kennicott tells her that they are not entirely honest and skillful practitioners. However, when Carol asks him if there is any professional jealousy between him and the other doctors, he feels very offended. While she tries to pacify her husband, he begins accusing her of not understanding him or the townspeople. Furthermore, Kennicott complains that Carol acts as if she feels superior to everyone else and expects everyone to do whatever she wants. He then accuses her of spending too much money, but she points out that she needs a regular allowance to prepare a budget. Kennicott agrees to give her a personal checking account, but he continues to list his grievances.

Kennicott tells Carol that she makes his friends feel uncomfortable whenever they visit, as she adopt what he feels is a highbrow attitude, refusing to allow them to smoke or put their legs up on a chair. Telling her that he plans to build a new house, he asserts that she will drive away all his friends and patients before he can build it. Insulted, Carol remarks that Kennicott can have a divorce if he wants. He tries pacifying her, saying that she just does not see the hidden virtues in his friends. He also remarks that he has ambitions, just as she does, because he wants to build her a new house and works hard to provide her with a comfortable income. Carol feels very repentant.

After the argument, Carol begins romanticizing about her husband as a heroic doctor. She watches him as he gets up in the middle of a December night to perform an appendectomy on a farmer's wife. Wanting to surprise her husband, she takes coffee and snacks to his office one day. When she notices his plain- looking office and waiting room, she decides to refurnish the rooms.

At Kennicott's suggestion, Carol even decides visit her neighbor Mrs. Bogart. Mrs. Bogart gossips thoroughly about everyone in town and suggests that Bea, Carol's maid, acts too friendly with the grocer boy. Mrs. Bogart proclaims that everyone in town would be better if they followed the Bible rather than dancing and socializing with members of the opposite sex. Unable to endure any more opinions from her neighbors, Carol manages to escape after half an hour.

Kennicott takes Carol along to visit his patients in the country. Suddenly, Kennicott learns that a farmer has just had an accident, leaving him with a crushed arm that has to be amputated. As Kennicott examines the man, he instructs Carol to give the anesthesia. As the farmer lies on the kitchen table and the farmer's wife holds a lamp for light, Kennicott skillfully operates on the arm. On the way home, Carol expresses her admiration for her husband's strength and courage.

On Christmas Day, Carol and Kennicott attend a neighbor's party to play cards. Feeling nostalgic about her childhood Christmas parties, Carol cries in private for all the fun she now misses in her adult life. Kennicott spends time engaged in his five hobbies: his work as a doctor, his wife Carol, his car, hunting, and investing in real estate. Carol, however, cannot bring herself to share her husband's enthusiasm for his hobbies.

Carol continues to feel frustrated that she cannot reform the town. One evening, she invites Guy Pollock and Vida Sherwin to her house to discuss her ideas. When Carol tries to discuss her idea of utopia to Guy, he fails to understand her dreams. Guy assumes that Carol wants to return to the past, to an age of tranquility and charming manners. Carol is disappointed that Guy does not really understand her and that she must reform the town by herself.

Miles Bjornstam arrives at Carol's house to cut wood. She goes outside to talk to him and invites him to have lunch inside. While Bea and Miles have lunch in the kitchen, Carol eats alone but later decides to join them. After lunch, she joins them and discovers that Bea and Miles are quite attracted to one another.

Analysis

In these chapters, Lewis throws more light on the personalities of Carol and Will Kennicott. Because both are "real" characters, both have character flaws. Carol sees herself as superior to all the other women in Gopher Prairie and often acts in a childish manner. Kennicott is rather dull and unimaginative, and feels superior to the other doctors in town. Although Lewis presents his two main characters with flaws, he does not satirize them as he satirizes the other townspeople, such as the religious hypocrite Mrs. Bogart and the materialistic, socially unconscious bank president, Ezra Stowbody.

As marriage proves to be one of the major themes of the novel, Lewis portrays a realistic modern marriage rather than an idealistic romance. Although Carol loves her husband fondly, she catches herself fantasizing about a "Prince Charming" in Chapter 14. Furthermore, the two possess sharply contrasting personalities. Whereas Carol prefers being lively and spontaneous, Kennicott follows a monotonous routine. However, Kennicott is more easygoing and possesses many friends, unlike Carol. Whereas Carol reflects change and the progressive spirit of her time, her husband represents Gopher Prairie and its stability.

In Chapter 15, Lewis delves into Kennicott's profession in much detail, recording his fine training and skill as a doctor and his ability to handle emergencies. Lewis knew much about the medical profession, as both his father and elder brother were physicians, and his father encouraged him to become a doctor himself. Lewis wrote about the medical profession in even greater detail in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel Arrowsmith (1925), in which the protagonist is also a Midwest physician. Lewis wrote that he based Kennicott on his father, a strict man whom he both feared and respected. In fact, Lewis claimed that he based the incident of Kennicott amputating the arm of a patient on an actual event that occurred when he accompanied his father on a professional call.

In Chapter 15, Carol (and we as readers) first observe Kennicott playing the role of a hero. Indeed, he proves to be both a skillful physician and a humanitarian. Although he has many ambitions and is somewhat materialistic, he does not charge high fees and does not force his patients to pay their fees on time. Kennicott can even communicate to the farmers in their native German. However, the picture Lewis paints of Kennicott is not idealistic or romantic: the doctor smokes, once chewed tobacco before he met Carol, and does not speak German fluently or even correctly. Consistent with his tack in the novel as a whole, Lewis portrays Kennicott with both admirable qualities and flaws

In Chapters 14 and 15 Carol thinks about her dead father in brief episodes, memories that recur throughout the novel. Carol idealizes her father and longs to return to her animated childhood, and she feels disappointed whenever she recognizes that Kennicott does not remind her of her father. Although Lewis does not fully analyze Carol psychologically or provide much information about her childhood, we recognize that her father's death was a traumatic loss for her from which she has never really recovered. Indeed, father figures haunt the novel: after all, Lewis based the character of Kennicott on his own father.

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