Main Street

by: Sinclair Lewis

Chapters 7–10

Carol returns home and decides to attempt to make Kennicott interested in poetry. She reads to him, but notes his bored expression and gives it up. When Carol next attends the Jolly Seventeen, she refrains from expressing her opinions and finds herself more accepted by the ladies.

Analysis

These chapters emphasize Carol's loneliness. Carol's friendships with Bjornstam and Bea demonstrate that she may not be as snobbish as we, or the townspeople, have thought. Carol finds a kindred spirit in Bjornstam because they are both nonconformists. She also likes Bea and Bjornstam because they are individuals rather than manufactured products like the conservative townspeople seem to be. Bjornstam's ideas and criticisms of Gopher Prairie closely resemble Lewis's own ideas about his own hometown.

In Chapter 7, Lewis writes that Carol is "a woman with a working brain and no work." In the early 1900s most married women of the middle class did not seek employment, but rather were expected to raise children and to do housework. However, Carol's "working brain" cannot find satisfaction in gossip and housework, the main activities of the women in the town. Although Carol is not exactly a feminist, she does seem like a feminist by Gopher Prairie's standards.

Lewis paints a scathing portrait of small town life as he presents the townspeople as suspicious spies—far from the archetype of warm and trusting people. The people are materialistic, self-righteous, and narrow- minded. The women of the Jolly Seventeen, who represent the town's upper class, criticize Carol because she dares to be different from them. While Carol demands humane treatment of laborers and the poor, the others prefer to maintain the status quo. Suspecting anyone who does not conform to their standards, they unfairly expect Carol to dress like them, think like them, and talk like them.

At the time, many Americans were upset by Lewis' portrait of small town life. However, the novel functions as a document of social history because Lewis faithfully captures the spirit of his times. Main Street was written after World War I (1914–1918), an event that left many people, especially artists, disillusioned and cynical. It was a time of revolution against the ideals, values, and beliefs of the past. At the time, America established itself as a world power but chose to isolate itself from the world's affairs after taking part in the war. Many Americans considered themselves and their country superior, but Lewis's novels in the 1920s frankly exposed the follies of American society—its materialism, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, and self- satisfaction.

Lewis also records the relentless changes to the social fabric of American life in the early 1900s. New technology—electricity, the automobile, home appliances, motion pictures, radios, and telephones—changed everyday life. Many people moved from small communities to big cities. The small, rural community of Gopher Prairie thus began to appear outdated even in 1920, as it appears outdated to us today. Throughout the novel, Lewis references the Progressive political movement that surfaced in America in the early twentieth century. Progressive politicians supported social causes like the labor movement and the women's rights movement.