Main Street

Summary

Chapters 17–20

Summary Chapters 17–20

Kennicott's Uncle Whittier Smail and Aunt Bessie decide to move to Gopher Prairie and stay with Carol and Kennicott for three weeks. They prove a constant source of vexation to Carol. They laugh at her liberal ideas, question her constantly, read her private mail, and relentlessly offer their opinions. Carol finds escape by attending the Jolly Seventeen Club.

Carol becomes pregnant and finds the pregnancy disagreeable. When she gives birth to a son, she initially dislikes the infant for causing her a difficult labor. Soon, however, she feels overwhelming love for him and makes him the center of her universe. She names her son Hugh after her dead father. Carol and Kennicott enjoy playing with their son together. Carl also enjoys taking Hugh to play with Olaf, the Bjornstams' son, although Carol's friends make her feel ashamed for visiting the poor Bjornstams.

Analysis

These chapters highlight the difference in perception between Carol and the townspeople regarding cultural enlightenment. While the townspeople, including Kennicott, prefer motion pictures of cowboys and slapstick comedy, Carol enjoys serious theater. She hopes use her drama club to bring a sense of refinement to Gopher Prairie. However, even the drama club members themselves resist her efforts to "enlighten" the town, deciding to perform a juvenile farce instead of a serious play. Carol proves powerless to change the townspeople's preference for entertainment over education. She finds the level of cultural entertainment in Gopher Prairie, including the motion pictures and the traveling lecture series, to be very low. To her, the townspeople, who cannot even acknowledge that her play is awful, lack good taste. Furthermore, the people lack interest in world affairs, such as World War I, because they only care about regional issues.

In Chapter 19, Lewis describes the Chautauqua, the traveling lecture series, with tongue-in-cheek sarcasm. The "lecture" series actually consists of vaudeville comedy, music, and rags-to-riches stories. The lectures consider informing people that Abraham Lincoln was a great President to be enlightenment. On the whole, the lecture series merely caters to the townspeople's taste for entertainment over edification. Because the people of Gopher Prairie give importance to money above everything else, they feel elevated intellectually by listening to stories about how poor people may grow up to become wealthy.

Carol's ideas of reforming Gopher Prairie may seem more realistic than when she first arrived. She no longer dreams about rebuilding the entire town. Now, she concentrates her energy at enacting small reforms like starting a drama club and trying to get the town library to purchase more books. However, Carol may continue to strike us as childish in her constant uncertainness of herself and her incessant dreaming about running away. As all her efforts have failed so far, we may also make the conclusion that Carol will never really be able to change Gopher Prairie. Her experiences thus far suggest that she has only two real options in life: to leave Gopher Prairie or to conform.

At this point, Carol has lived in Gopher Prairie for three years but still has not been able to fit into the town. Carol longs for escape but now finds herself rooted to the town because of her husband and baby. At the end of Chapter 20, Lewis comments that small towns like Gopher Prairie exist everywhere. All such small communities resemble one another, so even those people who do leave their hometown only end up settling in another town that resembles the one they left. Perhaps the reason Carol does not insist on leaving Gopher Prairie at this point is because she knows that there is no escaping a Main Street that is the same in small towns everywhere in America.