Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Main Street

I am once again rereading this classic of 1920's American life in the Midwest written by Sinclair Lewis. Having grown up in the Midwest (in the 1950's) I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about this subject. While I recognize certain aspects of my home town in Lewis's fictional Gopher Prairie I miss other things. The good things. The better side of life. Oh, it is there in Main Street, but Lewis too often uses his acerbic wit and sly satirical style to skewer the foibles of the little people with little minds in his fictional world. Do they exist? Sure they do, but you do not have to look too hard to find them in the urban metropolis as well. I think Lewis's skewed view of life in Gopher Prairie is a symptom of a bigger problem that he has. His view of mankind is slanted to focus on the dark side and results from his naturalistic style. My world is brighter, filled with heroes and hope. More descriptive of the book I share the following information:

From: Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. Ed. Bruce Murphy. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 1996.

"This book, which first established Lewis's reputation as an important writer, is both a satire and an affectionate portrait of Gopher Prairie, a typical American town, undoubtedly suggested by Sauk Centre, Minnesota, where Lewis was born. The heroine, Carol Kennicott, chafes at the dullness and sterility of her existence as the wife of the local doctor, and she tries unsuccessfully to make the townspeople conscious of culture and refinement. For a time, she leaves to lead her own life but eventually returns to make a kind of peace with 'Main Street.' "

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. 1961, New American Library, New York.


Anonymous said...

Just passing through. I love to recommend Main Street to the "English Only" crowd who are so proud of maintaining that their ancestors learned English immediately upon arrival. Lewis' portrayal of prejudice and class divisions against Northern European settlers (Scandinavians) is so telling of the true history of assimilation in this country.

James said...

Thanks for your observation. I agree with you that Lewis is good at skewering the class distinctions in small town life.