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Main Street

Summary

Chapters 11–13

Summary Chapters 11–13

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of the Thanatopsis Club prefer to discuss "Furnishings and China" rather than contemporary social issues reflects their outdated resistance to contemporary social changes.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.