Monday, July 6, 2009

Main Street (3). 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:

Carol: “Well, I’m sure you will agree with me in one thing: the chief task of a librarian is to get people to read.” Miss Villets: “My feeling, Mrs. Kennicott, and I am merely quoting the librarian of a very large college, is that the first duty of the conscientious librarian is to preserve the books.” p. 93.

Carol: “What if some children are destructive? They learn to read; books are cheaper than minds.” p. 93.

“She had tripped into the meadow to teach the lambs a pretty educational dance and found that the lambs were wolves.” p. 100.

“But Carol had never been able to play the game of friendly rudeness.” p. 101.

“She read Kipling, with a great deal of emphasis. ‘There’s a REGIMENT a-COMING down the GRAND Trunk ROAD…. He tapped his foot to the rhythm; he looked normal and reassured; but when he complimented her, ‘that was fine; I don’t know but what you can elocute just as good as Ella Stowbody,’ she banged the book and suggested that they were not too late for the nine o’clock show at the movies.” p. 121.

“But the fact is that at the motion pictures she discovered herself laughing as heartily as Kennicott at the humor of an actor who stuffed spaghetti down a woman’s evening frock…the celebrated cinema jester’s conceit of dropping toads into a sup-plate flung her into unwilling tittering…. p. 121.

“The second principle of the crammed-Victorian [house] was that every inch of the interior must be filled with useless objects.” p. 135.

“You want to do something for the town; I don’t; I want the town to do something for itself.” p. 139.

Small-town philosophy: “What we need is to get back to the true word of God, and a good sound belief in hell, like we used to have it preached to us.” ………. “All socialists ought to be hanged.”………. “Harold Bell Wright is a lovely writer, and he teaches such good morals in his novels, and folks say he’s made prett’ near a million dollars out of ‘em.” ………. “People who make more than ten thousand a year or less than eight hundred are wicked.” ………. “It doesn’t hurt any to drink a glass of beer on a warm day, but anybody who touches wine is headed straight for hell.” ………. “Virgins are not so virginal as they used to be.” ………. “There would be no more trouble or discontent in the world if everybody worked as hard as Pa did when he cleared our first farm.” p. 151.

To be continued.

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