Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Main Street (1). Sinclair Lewis.

New York: A Signet Classic; The New American Library. 1920; 1961.

Why read it? The American small town is the focus of some pretty good literature. Winesburg, Ohio, for example. The Spoon River Anthology. Our Town. To Kill a Mockingbird. The novels and stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. And one of the best novels with a small-town setting is Main Street by Sinclair Lewis.

Carol Kennicott is an idealist who wants to transform the cultural climate of Gopher Prairie. Her sophisticated tastes encounter the dullness of the people of her small town, including her husband, a doctor, who loves the small town in which he lives and its people. In the end, Carol learns to live with her neighbors. She learns a lesson in patience and tolerance.

Anyone who has lived for any time in a small American town, whether it is Quarryville, Pennsylvania, or Brant Lake, or Rouses Point or Chazy, in the state if New York where I spent considerable time, will recognize the characteristics of the people of Gopher Prairie,.

Sample quotes and ideas:

Main Street is the climax of civilization.” p. 6.

“A girl on a hilltop; credulous, plastic, young; drinking the air as she longed to drink life…eternal aching comedy of expectant youth.” p. 7.

“Every cell of her body was alive….” p. 8.

“She did not yet know the immense ability of the world to be casually cruel and proudly dull…” p. 8.

“Whatever she might become she would never be static.” p. 9.

“But how she was to conquer the world—almost entirely for the world’s own good—she did not see.” p. 9.

“I just love common workmen,” glowed Carol. Classmate Stewart Snyder: “Only you don’t want to forget that common workmen don’t think they’re common.” p. 10.

“She wanted, just now, to have a cell in a settlement-house, like a nun without the bother of a black robe, and be kind, and read Bernard Shaw, and enormously improve a horde of grateful poor.” p. 11.

“She sighed, ‘That’s what I’ll do after college…get my hands on one of those prairie towns and make it beautiful.’ ” p. 11.

“I won’t be that kind of teacher. I won’t drone.” p. 11.

“They do not read; apparently they do not think.” p. 24.

“Had she really bound herself to live, inseparably, in this town called Gopher Prairie?” p. 30.

“And this thick man beside her, who dared to define her future, he was a stranger…turned in her seat, stared at him: who was he?” p. 30.

“…loafers…unadventurous people with dead eyes.” p. 31.

To be continued.

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