Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Main Street (4). 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:

“I wonder if the small town is not, with some lovely exceptions, a social appendix. …some day these dull market-towns may be as obsolete as monasteries.” p. 153.

“We have nature beaten; we can make her grow wheat; we can keep warm when she sends blizzards; so we raise the devil just for pleasure—wars, politics, race-hatreds, labor disputes.” p. 156.

“They say that marriage is a magic change…. I’m not changed.” p. 159.

“…tries to argue his patients into having whatever he diagnoses them as having!” p. 163.

“Trouble with women like you is, you always want to argue; can’t take things the way they are.” p. 166.

“Every time he speaks of the weather you jump him because he ain’t talking about poetry or Gertie [Goethe] or some other highbrow junk.”

“What you want is a nice sweet cow of a woman who will enjoy having your dear friends talk about the weather and spit on the floor!” p. 170.

“What’s the reason you’re so superior…can’t…take folks as they are?” p. 171.

“Mrs. Erdstrom begged her to sit in the parlor, where there was a phonograph and an oak and leather davenport, the prairie farmer’s proofs of social progress.” p. 184.

“Tell you Carrie: There’s just three classes of people: folks that haven’t got any ideas at all; and cranks that kick about everything; and Regular Guys, the fellows with sticktuitiveness, that boost and get the world’s work done.” p. 195.

“I think we want a more conscious life…tired of drudging and sleeping and dying.” p. 197.

“In fur coats and mufflers tied over caps they were a strange company, bears and walruses talking.” p. 201.

To be continued.

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