Main Street

by: Sinclair Lewis

Chapters 1–3

The first chapter provides an insight into Carol's personality and her family background. The fact that she holds many unconventional opinions may be explained by the fact that she has had an unconventional upbringing. Carol strikes us as a dreamer, and she may even strike us as somewhat silly. After all, she imagines transforming villages by building Georgian houses and Japanese bungalows. She goes overboard dreaming about how she can attempt to change society. We immediately sense, therefore, that she is destined to find that reality can never measure up to her dreams. While Carol's dreaminess may be one of her main character flaws, she still possesses many admirable traits, such as her enthusiasm for life and optimistic spirit.

In the preface to the novel, Lewis writes, "This is America—a town of a few thousand, in a region of wheat and corn and dairies and little groves. [Gopher Prairie's] Main Street is the continuation of Main Streets everywhere." In Main Street, therefore, Gopher Prairie represents a microcosm of America in the early 1900s, as Lewis creates many characters as caricatures or types rather than as individuals. For many Americans in the early 1900s, the "Norman Rockwell" image of small-town America represented the best aspects of the nation's culture. However, Lewis satirizes such an image of small-town America throughout the novel. To him, Gopher Prairie represents the narrow- mindedness and old-fashioned conservatism of America. Carol, on the other hand, embodies the spirit of the Progressive movement in America in the early 1900s, under the banner of which many people took an interest in social issues, such as the labor movement and women's rights movement. Carol, in short, represents change. It is not surprising, then, that throughout the novel she finds herself out of place in Gopher Prairie—a place that resists change.

In Chapter 3, Lewis highlights the differences between Carol's and Kennicott's perceptions. While Carol sees the people on the train as poor and ignorant, Kennicott sees them as content and well off. Carol takes an interest in aesthetics while Kennicott interests himself in material things. Throughout the novel, we see that Kennicott does not feel the need for change like Carol does. The two characters, then, represent the two major groups of people in America in the early 1900s: those who supported change and those who resisted it. While perhaps the primary theme in Main Street regards Carol's rebellion against Gopher Prairie, the secondary theme of marriage examines the realities and compromises of marriage—compared to the illusions of romance—throughout the novel.