Thursday, July 9, 2009

Main Street (6). Sinclair Lewis.

Main Street (6). 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 imagine gondolas [in Venice] are kind of nice to ride in, but we’ve got better bathrooms.”

“As she went dragging through the prickly-hot street she reflected that a citizen of Gopher Prairie does not have jests—he has a jest…. For five winters Lyman Cass had remarked, ‘Fair to middlin’ chilly—get worse before it gets better’ …fifty times had Sam Clark called to her, ‘Where’d you steal that hat?’ ”

“Could this drabness of life keep up forever, then?” p. 313.

“You see, it’s so awful recent that I’ve found there was a world—well, a world where beautiful things counted.” p. 329.

“I have become a small-town woman; absolute; typical, modes and moral and safe; protected from life.” p. 342.

Carol: “I don’t belong to Gopher Prairie. …isn’t meant as a condemnation of Gopher Prairie, and it may be a condemnation of me…. I don’t care! I don’t belong here, and I’m going…not asking permission any more; I’m simply going.” p. 404.

“She had her freedom and it was empty.” p. 406.

“She discovered that an office is as full of cliques and scandals as a Gopher Prairie.” p. 408.

“Carol recognized in Washington as she had in California a transplanted and guarded Main Street; two-thirds…had come from Gopher Prairies.” p. 409.

Kennicott to Carol: “Every mail I look for a letter, and when I get one I’m kind of scared to open it; I’m hoping so much that you’re coming back…. You know, I didn’t open the cottage down at the lake at all, this past summer…couldn’t stand all the others laughing and swimming, and you not there…. Used to sit on the porch in town, and I—I couldn’t get over the feeling that you’d simply run up to the drug store and would be right back, and till after it got dark I’d catch myself watching, looking up the street, and you never came, and the house was so empty and still that I didn’t like to go in. …sometimes I fell asleep there, in my chair, and didn’t wake up till after midnight….” p. 420.

“Her active hatred of Gopher Prairie had run out.” p. 424.

“At last, she rejoiced, I’ve come to a fairer attitude toward the town…can love it now…perhaps, rather proud of herself for having acquired so much tolerance.” p. 425.

“Thus Carol hit upon the tragedy of old age, which is not that it is less vigorous than youth, but that it is not needed by youth….” p. 429.

Mark Schorer in the Afterword: “…so at the end of his novel, the husband and wife are still ‘enemies yoked.’ ”

Comment: And so ends a tale of small-town America. RayS.

No comments:

Post a Comment