Who wrote this book and when?
Sinclair Lewis published “Main Street” in 1920.
Has there been a film version?
A 1923 adaptation of the novel.
Who are the main characters?
Carol “Carrie” Milford Kennicott – an independent modern woman living in a small country town
Dr. Will Kennicott – Carrie’s husband, a country doctor
Bea – the Kennicott’s hired woman
Miles Bjornstead – a Swedish man who is considered a bum by the town but is actually the resident handiman
Widow Bogart – the holier-than-thou Baptist neighbor
Vida – Carol’s supposed best friend
Erik – a young man with aspirations to become a clothing designer but is trapped in Gopher Prairie
Hugh – Carol and Will’s son
Fern – a local schoolteacher and bosom friend to Carol
Uncle Whittier and Aunt Bessie – Kennicott’s annoying and intrusive aunt and uncle
What’s it about?
Carol Milford is an independent woman raised in the city of Minneapolis and trained as a librarian. She meets Dr. Will Kennicott at a mutual friend’s house and the two fall in love. Kennicott convinces her to marry him and move out to Gopher Prairie, telling her it is a quaint country town which is continuously growing in charm. Carrie arrives, excited to instigate change and renovate the entire place, but is severely disappointed in both her husband’s willingness to be modern and intelligent and the town’s ability to accept change. She is continuously looking for ways to update “Main Street”, the archetype for small American towns everywhere, but she is faced with strong opposition. Most of the women in town are completely okay with what the town is like, they gossip and inflict terrible social retribution on anyone who doesn’t follow their rules. Nevertheless, Carrie continues to battle, meeting up with a few like-minded friends along the way.
Why is this book a classic?
It was the first famous novel by an American which featured a female protagonist as well as criticized the current American society – which was usually portrayed as perfect morally and in pretty much every other way.
Why should I read this book?
To get a real life look at what American small town life was like in the first part of the 20th century.
Why did this book make your list?
It was listed as one of the Top 100 American Novels.
Has it won any awards?
Sinclair Lewis was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for this novel in 1921, but the Board of Trustees overturned the decision because they were pissed off that Lewis would criticize American society in any way. The award went to Edith Wharton for “The Age of Innocence” instead…which ironically…also criticized American society but in a different time period and with a male protagonist.
“Mrs. Bogart was not the acid type of Good Influence. She was the soft, damp, fat, sighing, indigestive, clinging, melancholy, depressingly hopeful kind. There are in every large chicken-yard a number of old and indignant hens who resemble Mrs. Bogart, and when they are served at Sunday noon dinner, as fricassseed chicken with thick dumplings, they keep up the resemblance.” – p 69
“It has not yet been recorded that any human being has gained a very large or permanent contentment from meditation upon the fact that he is better off than others.” – p 262
“It proved that the only problems with America had to face were Mormonism and Prohibition:” – p 329
“Carol reflected that the carving-knife would make an excellent dagger with which to kill Uncle Whittier. It would slide in easily. The headlines would be terrible…Carol again studied the carving-knife. Blood on the whiteness of the tablecloth might be gorgeous.” p 333, 334
Sinclair Lewis turned down his second Pulitzer Prize for “Arrowsmith” because he was still miffed about losing the first Pulitzer due to prejudice.
Sinclair Lewis, where have you been all my literary life? How can you have been this famous and this astounding an author without me ever having delved into your works? Shame on me. This novel was such a revelation – familiar and at the same time as fresh as freckles on a five year old. I related to Carol so deeply, and was afraid of her and sympathetic towards her and amazed at her – without even pausing to take an emotional breath. And I could find myself nodding as she struggled against Juanita and Widow Bogart and Vida; “I know how you feel,” I’d cry! I don’t live in as small a town as Gopher Prairie, but with some of the closed off societies I’ve been a part of (WBC, and several church settings) I can certainly understand about gossip and standards and feeling like you must conform or die trying. Bravo, Mr. Lewis. I feel we are friends.