Thursday, July 2, 2009

Main Street (2). 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:

“She was…beholding not only the heart of a place called Gopher Prairie, but ten thousand towns from Albany to San Diego.”

“We’ll have to teach you; bridge is half the fun of life.” p. 47.

“She discovered that conversation did not exist in Gopher Prairie.” p. 49.

“During the winter Carol was to hear Dave Dyer’s hen-catching impersonation seven times.” p. 50.

“Then a rattle, a daring hope in every eye, the swinging of a door, the smell of strong coffee, Dave Dyer’s mewing voice in a triumphant, ‘The eats!’…began to chatter …had something to do …could escape from themselves …fell upon the food—chicken sandwiches, maple cake, drugstore ice cream …when the food was gone they remained cheerful …could go home, any time now, and go to bed.” p. 55.

“Noon dinner and six o’clock supper at Mrs. Gurrey’s boarding house: unsmiling, methodically chewing guests like horses at a manger.” p. 61.

“…I can’t see any use in this high-art stuff that doesn’t encourage us day-laborers to plod on.” p. 68.

“…occasionally, she was indignant that she should always have to petition him [her husband] for the money with which to buy his food…a nuisance to have to run down the street after him because she had forgotten to ask him for money at breakfast…. He liked the lordliness of giving largess.” p. 73.

“She had reached the calmness of not caring whether her guests liked the party or not….” p. 76.

“She wondered whether they could for five minutes be coaxed to talk about something besides the winter top of Knute Stamquist’s Ford, and what Al Tingley had said about his mother-in-law.” p. 81.

“Best party this town ever saw, only—don’t cross your legs in that costume, shows your knees too plain.” p. 81.

“Winter garments surpassed even personal gossip as the topic at parties…. 'Put on your heavies, yet?’ ” p, 84.

“She was a woman with a working brain and no work.” p. 86.

To be continued.

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