Main Street

Main Street

3.8 188
by Sinclair Lewis
     
 

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The first of his major novels of the 1920s, Sinclair Lewis's Main Street satirizes the manners of the American Midwest. Here is the story of Carol Kennicott, who, to be accepted, must adapt to the ways of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. This ground-breaking novel attacks conformism, commercialism, moneygrubbing, and the decline in what Lewis saw as the American ideals

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Overview

The first of his major novels of the 1920s, Sinclair Lewis's Main Street satirizes the manners of the American Midwest. Here is the story of Carol Kennicott, who, to be accepted, must adapt to the ways of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. This ground-breaking novel attacks conformism, commercialism, moneygrubbing, and the decline in what Lewis saw as the American ideals of freedom and respect for individuality.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781573920483
Publisher:
Prometheus Books
Publication date:
03/10/1996
Series:
Literary Classics Series
Pages:
451
Product dimensions:
5.53(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.99(d)

Read an Excerpt

On a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago, a girl stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky. She saw no Indians now; she saw flour-mills and the blinking windows of skyscrapers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Nor was she thinking of squaws and portages, and the Yankee fur-traders whose shadows were all about her. She was meditating upon walnut fudge, the plays of Brieux, the reasons why heels run over, and the fact that the chemistry instructor had stared at the new coiffure which concealed her ears.
A breeze which had crossed a thousand miles of wheatlands bellied her taffeta skirt in a line so graceful, so full of animation and moving beauty, that the heart of a chance watcher on the lower road tightened to wistfulness over her quality of suspended freedom. She lifted her arms, she leaned back against the wind, her skirt dipped and flared, a lock blew wild. A girl on a hilltop; credulous, plastic, young; drinking the air as she longed to drink life. The eternal aching comedy of expectant youth.

It is Carol Milford, fleeing for an hour from Blodgett College.
The days of pioneering, of lassies in sunbonnets, and bears killed with axes in piney clearings, are deader now than Camelot; and a rebellious girl is the spirit of that bewildered empire called the American Middlewest.


II

Blodgett College is on the edge of Minneapolis. It is a bulwark of sound religion. It is still combating the recent heresies of Voltaire, Darwin, and Robert Ingersoll. Pious families in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, the Dakotas send their children thither, and Blodgett protects them from the wickedness of the universities. But it secretesfriendly girls, young men who sing, and one lady instructress who really likes Milton and Carlyle. So the four years which Carol spent at Blodgett were not altogether wasted. The smallness of the school, the fewness of rivals, permitted her to experiment with her perilous versatility. She played tennis, gave chafing-dish parties, took a graduate seminar in the drama, went 'twosing,' and joined half a dozen societies for the practise of the arts or the tense stalking of a thing called General Culture.

In her class there were two or three prettier girls but none more eager. She was noticeable equally in the classroom grind and at dances, though out of the three hundred students of Blodgett, scores recited more accurately and dozens Bostoned more smoothly. Every cell of her body was alive--thin wrists, quince-blossom skin, ingénue eyes, black hair.

The other girls in her dormitory marveled at the slightness of her body when they saw her in sheer negligée, or darting out wet from a shower-bath. She seemed then but half as large as they had supposed; a fragile child who must be cloaked with understanding kindness. 'Psychic,' the girls whispered, and 'spiritual.' Yet so radioactive were her nerves, so adventurous her trust in rather vaguely conceived sweetness and light, that she was more energetic than any of the hulking young women who, with calves bulging in heavy-ribbed woolen stockings beneath decorous blue serge bloomers, thuddingly galloped across the floor of the 'gym' in practice for the Blodgett Ladies' Basket-Ball Team.

Even when she was tired her dark eyes were observant. She did not yet know the immense ability of the world to be casually cruel and proudly dull, but if she should ever learn those dismaying powers, her eyes would never become sullen or heavy or rheumily amorous.

For all her enthusiasms, for all the fondness and the 'crushes' which she inspired, Carol'os acquaintances were shy of her. When she was most ardently singing hymns or planning deviltry she yet seemed gently aloof and critical. She was credulous, perhaps; a born heroworshipper; yet she did question and examine unceasingly. Whatever she might become she would never be static.

Her versatility ensnared her. By turns she hoped to discover that she had an unusual voice, a talent for the piano, the ability to act, to write, to manage organizations. Always she was disappointed, but always she effervesced anew--over the Student Volunteers, who intended to become missionaries, over painting scenery for the dramatic club, over soliciting advertisements for the college magazine.

She was on the peak that Sunday afternoon when she played in chapel. Out of the dusk her violin took up the organ theme, and the candle-light revealed her in a straight golden frock, her arm arched to the bow, her lips serious. Every man fell in love then with religion and Carol.

Throughout Senior year she anxiously related all her experiments and partial successes to a career. Daily, on the library steps or in the hall of the Main Building, the co-eds talked of 'What shall we do when we finish college?' Even the girls who knew that they were going to be married pretended to be considering important business positions; even they who knew that they would have to work hinted about fabulous suitors. As for Carol, she was an orphan; her only near relative was a vanilla-flavored sister married to an optician in St. Paul. She had used most of the money from her father's estate. She was not in love--that is, not often, nor ever long at a time. She would earn her living.

But how she was to earn it, how she was to conquer the world--almost entirely for the world's own good&m--she did not see. Most of the girls who were not betrothed meant to be teachers. Of these there were two sorts: careless young women who admitted that they intended to leave the 'beastly classroom and grubby children' the minute they had a chance to marry; and studious, sometimes bulbous-browed and pop-eyed maidens who at class prayer-meetings requested God to 'guide their feet along the paths of greatest usefulness.' Neither sort tempted Carol. The former seemed insincere (a favorite word of hers at this era). The earnest virgins were, she fancied, as likely to do harm as to do good by their faith in the value of parsing Caesar.

At various times during Senior year Carol finally decided upon studying law, writing motion-pictures scenarios, professional nursing, and marrying an unidentified hero.

Then she found a hobby in sociology.

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Meet the Author

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930, the first American novelist to be so honored. He was born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, the son of a doctor. After an extremely unhappy childhood, he went to Yale but left before graduation to work in Upton Sinclair’s socialist colony at Helicon Hall in Englewood, New Jersey. Unable to make a living as a freelance writer, he returned to Yale and graduated in 1908. In 1914 he published his first novel, Our Mr. Wrenn: The Romantic Adventures of a Gentle Man. But it was not until his sixth novel, Main Street (1920), that he won recognition as an important American novelist, the first to challenge the myth of the happy quintessentially American small town. His major works are Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), which won a Pulitzer Prize that Lewis refused to accept, Elmer Gantry (1927), Dodsworth (1929), and It Can’t Happen Here (1935), which he also wrote as a play in 1936. Married and divorced twice, the second time to pioneering newspaperwoman Dorothy Thompson, Lewis was a prolific writer, publishing dozens of books and innumerable articles throughout his career. He died alone in Rome on January 10, 1951, and his ashes were returned to Sauk Centre, the “Main Street” he’d rejected so many decades before but which in death took him back as its own.

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Main Street 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 188 reviews.
Kristin_MN More than 1 year ago
Full of typos, errors, starting on the copyright page. A complete disaster of an edition.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Main Street is a historical book from the early part of 1900 that definitely still applies to today. Reading about the significance it had on main stream society is amazing. There is a massive amount of detail and specificity in this book, almost to a fault. Lewis' descriptions of stores and locations as well as some meaningless conversations that take place seem a bit unnecessary at times. As far as character development and interaction, this book is top notch. I felt really connected to Carol, the main character, throughout her struggles toward improving the small town in which she resides. It was a bit disheartening to realize the parallels the author makes toward having aspirations to achieve great things, only to have to succumb to society norms and paths already in place. The many other personalities in the town are stereotypical people of all types that are still encountered today. I feel that many of the characters are in my sub-conscience as well when I am making decisions. Overall, the reason I gave this book three stars is because, even though I felt very connected with the main character and enjoyed the read, it was a very slow paced book that did not really have much of a plot besides the failed aspirations of the main character. It was a lot of "I want the world to be like this", "You can't tell me I can't have it this way", "You're right, it won't be this way". I recommend this book to someone who wants to read about historically significant fiction, but be forewarned that the story line will be a slow one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A fasinating read. The frustrations of those ordinary people of 4 generations ago rings true today.Carol Kennicott is an educated young lady who faces the tedious agony of everyday life in Gopher Prairie Minn.She struggles with the driving desire to impact the world in a significant way or accepting her current safe but impossibly unrewarding life as wife and mother.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great novel. One of my favorites. Sinclair Lewis is a fantastic writer. My version is typo free. I got the version published by Philtre Libre.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Greetings! Sinclair Lewis is one of the most under-rated American authors of the 20th century.He was a keen observer of middle America,life in the heartland.He was of Norwegin birth,and understood neighboring Sweden's military role in history.He is one of two dozen writers ,who knew the real story of the Lindbergh kidnapping.Harold Olson was the real Charles Lindbergh Jr.--I would highly recommend any of Lewis' great works, such as Babbit and Arrowsmith.Enjoy!from Mike McKenna.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AHHHH! FROOOOOST! WHO JUST MESSAGED YOU THAT ADORABLE POEM? *tackles* I'm so happy for you, love! I wish you two the best! ;D You best not forget about me, though, Frosty! IMMA WATCHIN' YEW! xD -Midnight
Guest More than 1 year ago
In 1905, 37 year old lawyer Paul Percy Harris created the Rotary Club of Chicago and launched the Service Club movement. His explicit goal was to transplant to huge, cut-throat, impersonal, low- standard Chicago the best features of friendly, uplifting, prospering, moral Wallingford, Vermont (population 1,000) where Harris had grown up. In 1920 appeared MAIN STREET, a novel by 35 year old Harry Sinclair Lewis. The novel's most obvious goal was to alert America to the negative, under-achieving, soul-shrinking aspects of small towns, particularly of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota (population 7,000). *** Trailing glorious memories of Judge Milford, her wise father and of her childhood home in Mankato, Minnesota, Carol Milford married a man a dozen years her senior, Will Kennicott, M.D., and moved with him to Gopher Prairie. Her father, who died when Carol was a teen, was a Massachusetts man, 'smiling and shabby, ... learned and teasingly kind.' And Mankato 'is not a prairie town, but in its garden-sheltered streets and aisles of elms is white and green New England reborn' (MAIN STREET, Ch. I) In college the orphaned Carol had discovered a dreamy bent for sociology and town-planning. These experiences she brought to her wedding and to her move from St. Paul where she worked as a librarian to Gopher Prairie, population 7,000. The mixture of past, present and future proved unstable in Carol Kennicott. *** Will Kennicott was not the intellectual that Carol Milford Kennicott's father had been. Will was a plodding, ordinary, hard-working country doctor. The most intellectually daring thing he ever did was to admire volatile, questing Carol and persuade her to marry him. Gopher Prairie was no transplanted Athens (as Carol remembered Mankato). And Gopher Prairie and its Main Street, representing thousands of similar American small towns, were unplanned, ugly, dirty, uncultured and a parasite on surrounding rural areas and farmers. Carol Kennicott set out to reform husband, town and 'denizens.' She played an idealistic, reforming Mary to her friend Vida Sherwin's more practical Martha. Carol sought to transform the village's architecture, school, and culture and create a sense of civic solidarity among its wealthier leaders. Her blitzkriegs all failed in the short run. But behind the scenes, with an eye to the long haul, over the years Vida Sherwin patiently won a new school. *** Meanwhile, the Kennicott marriage was neither a partnership in which husband and wife pooled resources behind the same profession nor a happy home built around a burgeoning nursery. Doctor Will retained an all male coterie of duck- hunting, tobacco-spitting friends, notably the merchant Sam Clark, 'dealer in hardware, sporting goods, cream separators and almost every kind of heavy junk you can think of' (Ch. III). The closest Carol was permitted to that circle was when Will bade her serve them food and drink on poker nights. *** Towards novel's end, yearning for freedom, a job, intellectual stimulus and romance, Carol took her three year old son off to Washington, DC in October 1918, a month before the end of World War One. There she experienced both the excitement of socializing with richly experienced, creative adults as well as the dullness of a Government office job. After a taste of strikers and the women's suffrage leaders, a more realistic Carol returned to husband, Gopher Prairie and Main Street. *** Sinclair Lewis went on to write BABBITT and other books mocking the transplanted devotion to small towns created by Rotary, Boosters, Kiwanis and other men's organizations. The duel goes on to this day, with idealized Mankato, Minnesota and Wallingord, Vermont rebuking a spirit-crushing Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, and between Paul Percy Harris and Harry SInclair Lewis. *** -OOO-
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sinclair Lewis' first novel is an eyeopener to life in a small mid-Western town during the first two decades of the 20th century. Reading this book 82 years after it was first published made me realize how lucky I am to have been born during the last half of the 20th century and have grown up in and continue to live in urban areas (and enjoy the anonymity they offer). I sympathized with Carol Kennicott's dismay at being stuck in Gopher Prairie and at her unending efforts to sophisticate the town. Unfortunately, she was up against the narrow-mindedness and gossipy nature of its citizenry, the lack of support from her contemporaries, and the general cultural emptiness of Gopher Prairie. Lewis weaves a tale of frustration and disappointment for Carol and the handful of characters, who like her, really don't belong. The 'good citizens' of Gopher Prairie are smug and insensitive as they look down on the immigrant farmers and laborers who do the real work in the community. The 'I got mine and to hell with you' attitude is amazing from those who believe they are charitable because they roll bandages during WWI while ignoring what's going on around them in their own town. But then as long as their pockets are being stuffed through the efforts of others, who cares? Main Street is a good read but full of some of the most irritating characters you'll ever come across in a novel. This novel is a good choice for book groups because it provokes a lot of conversation. I suggested it to mine and it did just that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Icetears tell them im sorry
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the story SD!))) I will go and read next chapter ASAP
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Your story at Ica all res isn't up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I fall asleep on a cloud
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sorry for not being on, I jst dont have very much intrest in rp anymore, and school is crappacked with to mch homework to keep up with, so sorry. I might it roleplay sonetime unless i see the reason not to :(
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Djdjf
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*narrows her eyes in anger* HOW. DARE. HE?! THE STUPID BI.TCH! Are you kidding me??!! *she trots around, seething* Uggggh, when he gets here! Hey, Frost, I can't stay long. I STILL don't have my nook. I'm using my computer. And everytime I wanna talk to you guys, I have to make another email. I have, like, 10 emails now. I gotta do it at least once a week, kay?? n.n -Midnight ((Nitro, if your reading this, just know that I hate you. And hate is a pretty strong word, coming for me. The Queen of no Hating.))
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stupid computer. *mumbles quietly to herself* Heey, everypony!! *looks down at Frost* Whaaaaat? Waa happened??  o0o -Midnight
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Liked iit
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*she gets up and tries to walk away but hit a barrier get shocked and gets flung back*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He flys in yawning.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stalks in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Turns on a light. Everything becomes colorful "Ahhh no!" "Why wont u eat me?!"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey, guys! Don't tell me you forgot about me already! :D HAPPY EARLY BIRTHDAY FROST! GUYS! MESSAGE ME! I CAN STILL SEE YOUR COMMENTS! WRITE TO ME, LOVES! I MISS Y'ALL. PLEASE WRITE BACK. -Midnight ((I'm begging you guys! Write to me! I LOVE YOU!))
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My songs better:<p> THE BODY BAGS AND LITTLE RAGS OF CHILDREN TORN IN TWO! AND THE JELLY BRAINS OF THOSE WHO REMAINED TO PUT A FINGER RIGHT ON YOU! AS THE MADMAN PLAYS ON WORDS AND MAKES US ALL DANCE TO HIS SONG! TO THE TUNE OF STARVING MILLIONS TO MAKE A BETTER KINDA GUN!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hellur, everypony! Did you guys forget about me? :( Anywaaaay, I wanted to check up on everythang! How's life? Any new ponies? Anything new at all? I promise that I'll be on soon, so don't worrah! Oh, yeah! And don't forget about meh B-day! I wanna have it on Frost's Birthday, okay? HAPPY EARLY BIRTHDAY, FROST! &lt;3 -Midnight