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Main Street
by Sinclair Lewis
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"Main Street is the climax of civilization," Sinclair Lewis declared with a typical blend of seriousness and irony. "That this Ford car might stand in front of the Bon Ton Store, Hannibal invaded Rome and Erasmus wrote in Oxford cloisters." Main Street, the story of an idealistic young woman's attempts to reform her small town, brought Lewis immediate acclaim when it was published in 1920. It remains one of the essential texts of the American scene. Lewis Mumford observed: "In Main Street an American had at last written of our life with something of the intellectual rigor and critical detachment that had seemed so cruel and unjustified (in Charles Dickens and Matthew Arnold). Young people had grown up in this environment, suffocated, stultified, helpless, but unable to find any reason for their spiritual discomfort. Mr. Lewis released them."
 
Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), was born in Sauk Centre, Minne-sota, and graduated from Yale in 1907; in 1930 he became the first American recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Main Street (1920) was his first critical and commercial success. Lewis's other noted books include Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), Elmer Gantry (1927), Dodsworth (1929), and It Can't Happen Here (1935)

Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (1 of 32), Read 52 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Tuesday, September 18, 2001 10:59 PM In October, Classics Corner will discuss Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. I hope many of you will be able to join us. This is one of the many classics I have heard about for years, but never read. It should be interesting. Ann
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (2 of 32), Read 41 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Anne Wilfong anne.wilfong@gte.net Date: Wednesday, September 19, 2001 04:49 PM Ann, I started this one today. I've always thought about reading it, now I will. An acquaintance told me she was literally depressed for two years after reading this. I'm most eager to find out why! Anne
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (3 of 32), Read 44 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, September 19, 2001 09:55 PM Anne: I'm picking up MAIN STREET at the library tomorrow. It's a first-time read for me too, though I've heard the book mentioned for ages. Was interested by your friend's comment about its depressive quotient. Offhand, I'd say that those of us who made it through Nathanael West's MISS LONELYHEARTS without being totally bummed out are probably equal to the test of Lewis. Knock on wood.{G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (4 of 32), Read 46 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, September 19, 2001 10:06 PM Boy, that 'Miss Lonelyhearts' discussion was a good one. And I think this one will be just as good. I plan on picking it up from the library tomorrow, too! Beej
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (5 of 32), Read 44 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, September 19, 2001 10:51 PM Dale, It's great to see you back! Now I'm really looking forward to this discussion. Ann
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (6 of 32), Read 42 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Thursday, September 20, 2001 04:08 PM This is a first-time read for me too. I've finished a couple of chapters now and I'm finding it interesting, maybe in part because it's set just "up the road" from here in Minnesota. The small town environment is certainly something I can relate to! Lynn
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (7 of 32), Read 43 times Conf: Classics Corner From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, September 21, 2001 02:17 PM I first read this back about 1968. It sure tapped into what I was feeling about then. Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (8 of 32), Read 45 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Friday, September 21, 2001 08:15 PM I'm only a few dozen pages into this one, but have two quick observations to make: (1) Lewis sure doesn't hide his hand, does he? It's clear up front this is an indictment of a whole mindset, if not a whole culture, and yet... (2) So far, I don't feel anything mean-spirited or that seems to be poking fun at these people. They're very likeable folks. Plus, I think Lewis's fresh observation and gift for detail makes for some absolutely gorgeous prose. It'll be interesting to see if he can keep up this tightrope walk for the duration. Something tells me MAIN STREET is going to be prime for discussion. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (9 of 32), Read 50 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Friday, September 21, 2001 10:21 PM Well, maybe I spoke too soon about Lewis's even-handed approach to his material. {G} I've now been introduced to the "...creamy-skinned fat women, smeared with grease and chalk, gorgeous in the skins of beasts and the bloody feathers of slain birds, playing bridge with puffy pink-nailed jeweled fingers, women who after much expenditure of labor and bad tamper still grotesquely resemble their own flatulent lap-dogs..." I'm currently with Carol at Sam-the-Hardware-Guy's party, and would gnaw my leg off to get away from this bunch. We shall see. I still think it's very well written, though. And I'm rooting for Carol. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (10 of 32), Read 50 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Chrees . condrieu@yahoo.com Date: Saturday, September 22, 2001 03:29 PM I was going to post a quick note about the book, but I'm still laughing at Dale's comments. I first read this when I graduated high school in Montgomery, Alabama. I totally sympathized with Carol and wholeheartedly agreed with the tone of the book. I'm just a little ways through the book again and it's interesting to see what 20+ years can do to your outlook. I don't sympathize with Carol at all. Yet, anyway. We'll see if that changes or not as we go along. It's funny to see how many places the clash of cultures/desires plays through much of literature and other arts. So far I've been reminded of Madame Bovary and the recent film State and Main from David Mamet.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (11 of 32), Read 48 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Steve Warbasse wk4@qwest.net Date: Sunday, September 23, 2001 10:20 AM Through the years I have read Kingsblood Royal, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth, and of course, Main Street. Of those my own favorite is Dodsworth because it focuses more on character study. It is a wonderful anatomy of a marriage. The others are surely entertaining books. Lewis is the master of the tongue-in-cheek. However, there’s nothing subtle about them. Because he saw himself as doing battle with an overwhelming, self-congratulatory American attitude, he fought with a broad sword rather than a rapier. I know many of you would enjoy reading his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, which you can find here. Having said all that for whatever it’s worth, I think that Carol herself is a target of satire here also, whether Lewis intended that or not. The citizens of Gopher Prairie are set up as easy targets—so easy that the mockery of them strikes me as a cheap shot many times. What exactly is it that Carol craves here? A little Athenian agora in rural Minnesota? It seems to me that she fails to grasp that the “fulfillment” she wants is a solitary pursuit and a lonely one no matter what the venue. Steve
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (12 of 32), Read 45 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Chrees . condrieu@yahoo.com Date: Sunday, September 23, 2001 04:39 PM One more note now that I can turn back to this book...warning: much of this is from memory of reading the book many years ago and my conclusions may differ upon reading it again *lol* I see Carol and Will as two sides of Lewis. Carol is the side wanting to improve everything and make it better. Wake people up and promote self-improvement. Will is Lewis' practical side, realizing people don't want to be changed...a more 'go with the flow' guy, resigned to whatever life serves him. He has enough courage to reach out and change what he can, but is smart enough not to try and change what he has no control over. As mentioned before, the tone is so shrill that the true impact of any help this would have tried to engender is watered down.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (13 of 32), Read 37 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Monday, September 24, 2001 07:18 PM Steve & Chrees: Interesting comments. I agree that the author has a large emotional stake in both Carol and Will, and the book is the stronger for it. Both make some excellent points, some foolish ones, and sincerely try to accommodate the other. Just like real life. I also agree with Steve that Lewis is a mighty keen observer of marriage. Maybe my brain hit this one at just the right time, but MAIN STREET strikes me as a very powerful piece of work. He could have made Carol a one-note character and the book purely a rant, but he takes the hard road and creates much food for thought with no easy answers. The writing's strong, and there are any number of observations about the weather and the landscape that are absolute gems of description, like this one: The sunset was merely a flush of rose on a dome of silver, with oak twigs and thin poplar branches against it, but a silo on the horizon changed from a red tank to a tower of violet misted over with gray. The purple road vanished, and without lights, in the darkness of a world destroyed, they swayed on--toward nothing. Even his orations on culture, or the lack of it, don't generally fall back on cliches or other tired language, but offer images that bring the ideas to life. This is one that blew me away: Its conception of a community ideal is not the grand manner, the noble aspiration, the fine aristocratic pride, but cheap labor for the kitchen and rapid increase in the price of land. It plays at cards on greasy oil-cloth in a shanty, and does not know that prophets are walking and talking on the terrace. Amen, brother. I was disappointed that the guy who wrote the preface to my edition said Lewis was one of many American writers who had "outlived their subject," referring to the relative lack of success of his novels after 1935 or so. To me, the issues tackled in MAIN STREET are just as valid today, and in some cases prescient of how far down that road of homogeneity and one-size-fits-all we would go. If anybody here's a bit wary of reading this one, fearing (as I did) that it's a period piece, oddity, or rant, I encourage you to tackle it. 400+ pages, but I found it very easy reading. I think skeptics will be pleasantly surprised both by the quality of the writing and the level of humanity Lewis depicts. The sudden delving into the secret life of Vida, I thought, out-Andersons Sherwood Anderson re: folks who lead lives of quiet desperation a la WINESBURG, OHIO. A really virtuoso section. I look forward to hearing other folks' thoughts on this one. Questions, I've got in bunches. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (14 of 32), Read 38 times Conf: Classics Corner From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Monday, September 24, 2001 08:28 PM Main Street still lives. Absolutely. Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (15 of 32), Read 40 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2001 12:24 PM She had tripped into the meadow to teach the lambs a pretty educational dance and found that the lambs were wolves. I'm only a third way through this first read of "Main Street' but, so far, feel a bit annoyed with Carol. I think she looks down her nose at these simple folks and I cannot really blame them for responding in kind. I don't think Carol has any real malice toward the people of Gopher Prairie, but I think she's a bit presumptuous that she can swoop into their town and improve their lives. My attitude toward her might change as I progress in the novel. Beej
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (16 of 32), Read 44 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2001 12:36 PM Beej: I think Carol's heart is in the right place (Gosh, how many of life's disasters start from THAT premise?). But she's definitely presumptuous. She also feels superior to those around her, and is at times (creditably) guilty about same, but still slow to change. One of many contradictions that I saw, early on, is that at one point she's thinking it would be more satisfying to be a factory worker (?!) than a doctor's wife. But a few pages later, she's getting ready for bed and wishing she had a really nifty dressing table with fine mirror for applying her cold cream, rather than the doc's old clunker mirror. A disconnect with reality, there? Surely not.{G} I'll give her credit, she does examine herself and try to adjust her attitude. But Chree's parallel to Emma Bovary is still very apt, I think. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (17 of 32), Read 45 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2001 12:47 PM oh, absolutely..I saw the resemblance to Emma B., too. I think her heart is in the right place..she's just immature and naive. But I have to say, her little Chinese party was a bit exotic (weird?). Can't you just picture the raised eyebrows when she suggested that game where they all remove their shoes and search for them in the dark? Even when in college, Carol dreamed of making the world a better place. But I don't think, at least as far as I have gotten in the book, she was trying to improve anything for anybody, as much as she was trying to fulfill a need within herself...maybe bring some glory to herself. Beej
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (18 of 32), Read 44 times Conf: Classics Corner From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2001 01:20 PM Having spent quite a few years in a clone of Main Street, the first time around I totally sympathized with Carol. Gack, those kinds of places can be stultifying. On second reading, I began to see how presumptuous she was. Still, my sympathies are with her in the main. At least she knew there was a larger life, even though her attempts to reach it were misguided. Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (19 of 32), Read 42 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2001 01:43 PM i feel sympathetic toward her, too, if only because she really didn't mean to ruffle any feathers. Lewis says: "Whatever she might become she would never be static." And later: "then she found a hobby in sociology." (italics mine.) I think the people, just in the daily process of life in a small farming town, not only were static, but had actually become comfortable in this static state, and Carol, just by her nature, made them feel their town was her new 'hobby'. And it didn't help that she was an outsider. Beej
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (20 of 32), Read 34 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2001 02:45 PM Beej: Carol, an outsider. Yes! To folks on Main Street, I believe the term "uppity, meddling outsider" is a double redundancy. Plus, she's (a)female, (b)young, and (c)apparently very attractive, to boot. Gosh, that's six strikes against her, right there... >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (21 of 32), Read 27 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Anne Wilfong anne.wilfong@gte.net Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2001 05:29 PM I'm about two-thirds through right now, and I continue to vacillate between wanting to shake Carol till her teeth rattle and wanting to hug her and tell her everything will be okay. Main Street in the 20's didn't see the likes of her too often. It was easy for Carol to be ostracized for trying new things. But she seems to be such a conflicted character herself...almost hard to figure her out other than chalking it up to youth! Anne
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (22 of 32), Read 29 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2001 07:17 PM Anne: I agree...I'm finding both Carol and her adversaries (especially Will) to be much more complicated people than I expected, going in. By the end of the story Carol seems much less likely to revolutionize Gopher Prairie, but is actually doing things to help other people (the women in the rest area, for instance) and seems to have become a better human being in the process. Don't most of our enthusiasms get tempered, most often for good reason, as we age? One question MAIN STREET raises for me is this: isn't the division between "idealistic" and "impractical" a much finer, and grayer, line than we usually assume it to be? We point with pride to somebody as being "visionary," etc., only after the fact, when they've achieved some great boon for mankind. Up to that point, they've been mostly a pain in the rear for the folks who have to put up with them on a daily basis. I got a kick out of one commentator who described Sinclair Lewis as "a one-man anti-Chamber of Commerce." Speaking of which...one of the Chamber's campaigns in Gopher Prairie is called "The White Way," basically an extravagance of outdoor electrical lighting along the main thoroughfare that's so bright you can see it from a distance. When I was growing up (in the 1960s), our county seat created a "White Way" and made a great to-do about it. There was even a White Way Restaurant, White Way Auto Parts, and so on. I had never heard the term before, and hadn't heard it since until MAIN STREET. Has anybody else encountered White Ways, or did the Gopher Prairie concept stay in hibernation for 40 years before resurfacing with a vengeance in Jasper, Alabama? >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (23 of 32), Read 31 times Conf: Classics Corner From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2001 08:28 PM No White Way for me as a kid, just the Sunset Strip. Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (24 of 32), Read 34 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2001 11:01 PM As I continue to read Main Street, I feel a bit uncomfortable and I couldn't figure out why. Then it dawned on me that both Carol and the townspeople are sort of representative of what is almost a schizophrenia that is in all of us, and perhaps this is why we all seem to alternate between thinking of Carol as a presumptuous catalyst in a comfortable town, and thinking of the town folk as staid, gossiping, small minded and sometimes downright rude. We cannot seem to decide whose side we are on. I think we might all be a bit like both sides. I mean, we all yearn for beauty, we all hope for improvement in our lives and surroundings, and yet often we are so comfortable in the way things are, we fight change and resent others who seem to want to force change upon us. I'm not at all convinced that 'Main Street' is simply a portrayal of Small Town, USA, but that it might also be a portrait of a dichotomy in our human nature to yearn for change and improvement in life while, at the same time, finding comfort and solace in familiarity. In a way, Lewis is playing both sides from the middle. Beej
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (25 of 32), Read 34 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2001 11:07 PM Also, I find it interesting that Carol strives to change what is familiar to everybody in this town while she is basically attempting to recreate the type of surroundings with which she is most familiar. In other words, isn't Carol trying to bring about change so that she won't have to deal with change herself? Beej
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (26 of 32), Read 21 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Thursday, September 27, 2001 09:30 AM Beej: MAIN STREET as a dichotomy of the individual soul? I like it. That could be one reason the story seems so immediate to me, even though the heyday of literal Main Street life has supposedly come and gone. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (27 of 32), Read 21 times Conf: Classics Corner From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Thursday, September 27, 2001 10:56 AM >>heyday of literal Main Street life has supposedly come and gone. But the mindset is still alive and well. Sigh. Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (28 of 32), Read 23 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Steve Warbasse wk4@qwest.net Date: Thursday, September 27, 2001 11:30 AM And thank goodness for it, I suppose. If I call a repairman to work on my air conditioner, I would prefer that he be entirely fascinated with air conditioners and completely fulfilled by his work. I would prefer that he not be vaguely dissatisfied with the culture as he dreams of something better and feels intellectually superior to those who hire him. Most importantly, I do not want him standing in line for opera tickets. If enough people do that, the lines become intolerable. The world would not function if populated entirely by Carols. One is tempted to admonish her with Sam Kinneston's word. . ."Move!" Of course Carol did so temporarily and with very mixed results. Steve
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (29 of 32), Read 24 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Thursday, September 27, 2001 01:20 PM Your post makes me think of Bjornstam, Gopher Prairie's all around fixit man and furnace repairman. And I loved what he said to Carol; " Kick 'em in the face! Say, if I were a sea-gull, and all over silver, think I'd care what a pack of dirty seals thought about my flying?" Good advice from the 'lowly' repairman. Beej
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (30 of 32), Read 27 times Conf: Classics Corner From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Thursday, September 27, 2001 01:36 PM You've chastized me rightly, Steve. I guess I've a bit too much Carol in me. Altho I've given up on improving anybody but myself. I find it interesting, no actually fascinating, that so many here are finding all these depths and intricacies and hidden meanings in this book. I admit that both my readings of it were long ago, but I always thought of it as a polemic against small townism/small mindism. If I read it again after all this discussion, I'll have a different attitude. Ruth "Citizen! Consider my traveling expenses: Poetry—all of it—is a trip into the unknown. " Vladimir Mayakovksy
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (31 of 32), Read 20 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Thursday, September 27, 2001 03:10 PM Steve: Well, now. You've touched on (like a cruise missile{G}) a lingering question that MAIN STREET leaves me with. Is it really possible, or practical, for a person to be constantly self-examining, existentially minded, trying to see the bigger picture, and still focus on the detailed, deadening, time-consuming tasks that go into most any profession, whether doctor or merchant or air-conditioner repairman? And isn't it human nature, when confronted by do-gooders (such as myself, at times) evangelizing about the beauties of the arts, to get defensive and say we'd love to read books (or see the opera or ballet or whatever) if we only had the time? How much of the fault is in ourselves and how much in the capitalist society we all, if implicitly, buy into? And if the good socialist Bjornstam had the solution, staying an "agitator" and riding freights with his buddies, why did he bail out and become a good burgher? Is there really a better life we're overlooking in our obsession with stability and respectability? I'm thinking of some philosopher, whose name I can't recall, who said, "The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the over-examined life is not capable of being lived." It's the 25 million dollar question, for sure. Ruth: I came to this one expecting a straight rant, and was taken aback by what I found. I'm sure I would have judged it differently 25 years ago. Could this be one of those books that's like a hologram, whose contents change depending on the angle from which we view it? Questions, questions. One more impression...when I read the ending, two things occurred to me: (a) there was no way Hollywood could have passed this up, and (b) their (mis)treatment of it was surely a deadly soup of schmaltz. The Internet Movie Database says it was indeed made into a film in 1923...a silent one. Has anybody seen it? And do the cable outlets like Turner and AMC even touch silent films nowadays? By the way, my hat's off to whoever nominated MAIN STREET for CC. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (32 of 32), Read 17 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Katie Kleczka pkleczka@uwm.edu Date: Thursday, September 27, 2001 09:04 PM Well, I am not very far into the book yet (we are still on the train with the newlyweds), but I wanted to briefly comment on Dale's question: Is it really possible, or practical, for a person to be constantly self-examining, existentially minded, trying to see the bigger picture, and still focus on the detailed, deadening, time-consuming tasks that go into most any profession, whether doctor or merchant or air-conditioner repairman? Personally, I think it is both practical and possible to do so if what one does is what makes one happy. Maslow calls it self-actualization and the US Army calls it "be all that you can be" and anyone can "get" it. I'm reminded of a girl I worked with in a restaurant year's ago who approached every task with enthusiasm and pride. Everything from vacuuming to serving cranky customers. She once told me that it wasn't the job itself but what she put into that made her feel accomplished, satisfied and proud. A PhD in philosophy, her out of work life was very different (wonderful books, theatre, opera, etc.) and she approached it in the same way as the work she did. I think she was and still is by all accounts the happiest most fulfilled person I've ever met! Katie
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (33 of 42), Read 38 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Chrees . condrieu@yahoo.com Date: Wednesday, October 03, 2001 12:23 AM A few quick thoughts. I haven't had time much to read lately, much less bring any thoughts together on the book. I'm only halfway through the book, which disappoints me since I'm about to have less time for reading. Time to "make time." I really like everyone's comments I have read, but forgive me if I fail to attribute a quote or thought correctly. I'm trying to shake off a (hopefully) minor injury from this past weekend that is restricting reading. I agree that there is a lot more complexity to the townspeople than I expected or saw the first time through the book as a teen. Things were so much simpler then (for me) when things were black and white. As was mentioned, there are so many more shades of gray now. Will, especially, when he is allowed to say anything of depth disperses all notions of simplicity. The town strikes me as a tribe, everyone bound closely together and the success of one is dependent on the success of the whole. It is so funny for Lewis to make fun of this, when in today's world we complain that we don't even know our neighbors! "What a shame," people mouth over that fact, without realizing what the impact was for people that had to worry about *really* knowing their neighbors. Regarding Carol, I wouldn't call her behavior presumptuous at all. She is continually led on by people that the town wants to improve...that she is what the town needs...etc. If you are predisposed to feel like you can improve something, how could you not feel like it was your calling given the hints and prods she received? I think it was Dale who brought up the difference between intent and reality. It cuts both ways for the town. Carol is the obvious target for this, but what about the rest of the town? Self-improvement was the litany for many for quite a while, and many people everywhere believed that belonging to clubs, doing their "civic duty" was all that was required of them to improve their town, their own lot, and civilization in general. Not to try and drag in other recent works, but I saw this echoed in another post. What does it mean to be truly good? I realize this is a rhetorical question to some extent, but banging your head against the framework and getting nothing achieved vs. slowly changing things from within has been a debate (not to mention diverse approaches) to doing good in society. The grounding of what we can do from within holds some merit, but at what point does it become a cop-out? Another point or two before the pain medication kicks in...sorry for the stream of consciousness right now, but that's all I'm able to do. I've lived in Main Streets throughout the southern U.S. I think that is why I could identify with Carol so much on first reading. And why I can identify with Will so much more on second pass. But rather than stop there, I think it makes me realize the heroic qualities of those who were able to make a social difference **constructively**. Last point, and I'm fading fast, is the selective nature of Lewis' historical references and context. He is so willing to include many things that the small town is ignoring. But so many things are left unsaid. It's like a very selective historical context. Published in 1920, I'm wondering here how many of the families were affected by World War I? How many of the townspeople were lost to the subsequent influenza? And of course, it's hard not to judge based on what we know of upcoming (to them) world events. How was this town affected by the Depression? And aren't these the people, or their sons and daughters, who had to step forward in WW II? What we view as hard-edged, unforgiving and unChristianlike in this context (and I won't argue with you there) are some of the same qualities needed to face the next 20+ years. I understand Lewis' contempt (and have to admit I've felt it myself), but looking at it from now, devoid of context and slanted mostly from one angle, I find it hard to agree. OK, the medication is kicking in, so hopefully I'll continue this more lucidly later...
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (34 of 42), Read 39 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, October 03, 2001 07:17 AM Chrees: Enjoyed your thoughtful, and thought-filled, post. If it's a result of medication, I've got to try some of that brand...{G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (35 of 42), Read 34 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Chrees . condrieu@yahoo.com Date: Wednesday, October 03, 2001 11:50 PM Thanks Dale. Headed your way for the holidays to visit family, and I look forward to feeling "at home" for a change. Regardless of all that entails... I had most of that written in my mind before I posted, but looking at it in type now, I realize it wasn't anything like I intended to say. Oh well, time to drop some more medication. Maybe I can get Ralph Steadman to illustrate my posts, too... I remember the thing that hit me the most the first time through Main Street was the hypocrisy in the town. Moreso the "we are acting Christianlike" attitude versus the actual deeds. And that part is still as powerful today to me as it was upon first read. What hit me this time, in addition to the obvious hypocrisy, is the stratification with which everyone in the book views their town. So it's not just the elite, or the middle-class. It's the conclusions drawn by **everyone** within the book regarding people outside their "class." I won't comment on the veracity of their conclusions, but I found it interesting that everyone in the book assumed a caste system. And we probably are not that far out of that assumption (for most people, anyway) However, it is like Lewis is striking out at so may things--just like Carol--and not hitting anything directly that grates on me. You want to make a point? Stick...jab...and move on. Maybe do it another time or two. But constantly, and you wonder if the boxer has shown all his tricks too soon in the bout. I did run across a comment in the book today that obliquely mentioned world events (to address one of my complaints of last night), but it was worded so generically that it had little meaning. OK, the colors of the monitor are really pretty right now... I think I'll concentrate on that...
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (36 of 42), Read 35 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Thursday, October 04, 2001 11:38 PM I'm about a third of the way through Main Street. So far, there are sections that I find to be absolute gems. However, there are other sections that I find to be very repetitive and uninspired...those pages that leave my attention wandering and my body thinking about moving on to other things. Has anyone else here had that reaction? However, I would continue to persevere indefinitely if only for an occasional gem like the following: Mrs. Bogart lived across the alley from the rear of Carol's house. She was a widow, and a Prominent Baptist, and a Good Influence. She had so painfully reared three sons to be Christian gentlemen that one of them had become an Omaha bartender, one a professor of Greek, and one, Cyrus N. Bogart, a boy of fourteen, who was still at home, the most brazen member of the toughest gang in Boytown. Mrs. Bogart was not the acid type of Good Influence. She was the soft, damp, fat, 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 fricasseed chicken with thick dumplings, they keep up the resemblance. Ah, the acid, but I know Mrs. Bogart and I knew many more of her when I was growing up in Middletown, USA (Muncie, Indiana) which made me learn to love the anonymity of the big city. Barb
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (37 of 42), Read 35 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Friday, October 05, 2001 12:23 PM I feel somewhat the way you do Barb. I think it's why I'm languishing about 2/3 of the way through. There are moments where I chuckle or say "I know just what he's talking about!" and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. But then I hit stretches that just don't hold my interest enough to keep going. I've noticed that several others have said they seem to be having trouble finishing this as well. Is it just a matter of too many demands on your time, or difficulty maintaining your interest? Lynn
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (38 of 42), Read 29 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Anne Wilfong anne.wilfong@gte.net Date: Friday, October 05, 2001 07:01 PM Keep reading, folks. I felt the same at the point you find yourselves now, and I'm usually the first to let impatience win out and throw in the towel. But the story picked up toward the end, and I really wanted to see it through to the conclusion. Anne
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (39 of 42), Read 29 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Saturday, October 06, 2001 09:40 AM Thanks, Anne. I needed that bit of reassurance. And, you and I have similar tastes. Actually, I hadn't really thought about not finishing it. I just lose patience from time to time. Hang in there with me, Lynn! Barb
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (40 of 42), Read 28 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Saturday, October 06, 2001 05:52 PM Don't worry, I will hang in there and finish! But there are just a couple of other books claiming my attention first :-) Lynn
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (41 of 42), Read 27 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ernie Belden drernest@pacbell.net Date: Sunday, October 07, 2001 12:20 AM Barb, I know just what you mean. The book is important and has a message but I don't consider it very good literature. I did read it in my teens and at that time thought it was great. Also I read it in Europe and was fascinated by the American Way of Life. I have read about 1/4 of the book and don't quite understand the main characters. I may have mentioned that I have been around Sauk Center twice, the last time about 3 years ago when we attended my wive's family reunion. Her father grew up there and went to school with S.L. and told her that this guy was an ornery brat (in school that was). Incidentally I liked the town and the people I met, mostly Pat's cousins. The lakes and countryside were absolutely fantastic. Our group met a number of times at ancient fraternal halls, Masons or Knights of C. Yes, everything there appealed to me but mostly the people and the scenery. Ernie
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (42 of 42), Read 24 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ernie Belden drernest@pacbell.net Date: Sunday, October 07, 2001 11:46 PM After reading some of the postings I have been thinking some more about the people and the setting. First of all the the elite G.P. is not unique. A group will sociologically stratify and the upper strata often made it by being very clever and practical at the expense of what you may call cultural depth. Now these people see Carol, the doctor's wife as one who does not fit in as she does not seem to value her exclusive status. Carol let them know that she is a clever, educated, sophisticated gal who perversely seems to identify with the people the elite looks down on. They wonder about what gives with this girl? Is she "Off her rock, a mental case. a trouble maker or perhaps just a show off. In other words these smart and successful people, mostly their wives, don't know what to make of her. And all of a sudden she becomes part of the secret hyper elite led by a Scandinavian handyman of all things. So the women in this town look aghast and wonder what to make of her. At the half way mark of the book I also can't make heads or tail of Carol and what makes her tick. Well she would fit in well enough working as a University Librarian as I found out as I worked my way through UC as a Page at the Bancroft Library. These ladies were usually shy, introverted, intellectual and some of them actively worked on bringing about social changes. But can't remember any of them being on the exhibitionist side like Carol. Ernie
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (1 of 2), Read 17 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Jody Richael Date: Monday, October 08, 2001 05:18 PM This is my first reading as part of this book club and this was the first time I have read Main Street. I enjoyed it but I am not sure what to conclude from it. I have enjoyed many of the previous comments on this book and as some have stated I also am not quite sure what to make of this book. Carol obviously feels dissatisfaction with the life she wants to live and the life she leads and I was assuming Lewis would propose some solution to her dilemma. But at the end of the book her dilemma is still unresolved. Throughout the book I cannot really discern if he is promoting the Carol's of the world and wishing there were more people like her or exactly the opposite. Throughout the book he makes her appear to be no better or different than the other residents of GP with her elitism, vanity, and pettiness. Every citizen of GP feels he/she is superior to all the other residents of GP. Are we to laud Carol for her desire to improve her community or are we to condemn her for wanting to change the world to fit her personal vision of utopia? Who is to decide if her 'improvements' are really improvements at all?
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (2 of 2), Read 17 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Monday, October 08, 2001 07:23 PM Jody: Good to hear from you. You pose some very potent questions, I think. I believe the reason Will is so comparatively harsh on Carol is because of the strong emotional investment he had in Gopher Prairie and its people before she ever arrived on the scene. It's as if she and the townspeople are competing for the doc's affection, and she's clearly outnumbered. Despite the couple's difficulties and their individual weaknesses, I think Will and Carol were both basically good, well-meaning people who thought they were doing the right thing. Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from director Ingmar Bergman: "The supreme tragedy of human existence is that everyone has their reasons." >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (3 of 3), Read 17 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Thursday, October 11, 2001 10:51 PM Jody, You make an excellent point. But, I think that Carol's fallibility is one of the most appealing things about the book. She is riddled with faults and vanity herself. like all of us, but she simply wants to play on a bigger, more varied field. Barb
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (43 of 46), Read 17 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Thursday, October 11, 2001 11:09 PM With about 200 more pages to go, I feel like I've been reading some of the gold in Main Street. I love Carol and Will's visit to Minneapolis to see the plays. Lewis' portrayal of their relationship on this trip makes me understand a bit more of what kept them together. And, I loved the story of putting on "The Girl From Kankakee", Carol's dawning thought that she couldn't act and her realization just as the play begins that "...it was a bad play abominably acted." I also liked the little vignette describing the library board. I think that when Lewis fights off his temptation to preach, exude sarcasm and/or paint with a broad brush, he writes some lovely little nuggets. I don't know if I believe this sudden conversion of Miles Bjornstam. It just seemed to happen too quickly. And, I'm surprised by the prejudice felt towards Scandanavians though I've heard of it before. My mother's family were Danes who immigrated and settled in Nebraska and there were many Swedes there as well. I don't remember much talk about that kind of prejudice in her experience. Barb
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (44 of 46), Read 15 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Anne Wilfong anne.wilfong@gte.net Date: Friday, October 12, 2001 04:20 PM Barb, I agree with your assessment of Miles Bjornstam. For all his intelligence and independence, once he got married he turned completely around. Instead of maintaining his contempt for the local society, he yearned for its acceptance. I just don't see it. As far as Scandinavian prejudices, my Mom's father (and his family) were Swedes, fresh off the boat. They never had a good word to say about the Fins. Anne
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (45 of 46), Read 12 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, October 14, 2001 08:28 AM I don't agree about Miles. I think it may just have seemed like he changed overnight, but time in that part of the book was compressed. I didn't get the impression that his socialist views changed much, just his way of earning a living. Bea wanted acceptance in the community, and he wanted her to be happy. When Bea and her son became ill, it was the saddest thing to me. I had a hard time going to sleep after reading that section. I've been pondering a question since I finished this a couple of days ago. Do you think that the paradox that the people of Main Street display is a totally American affliction? Simultaneously they want to better themselves but look down on betterment. They claim to value freedom but get angry and defensive in the face of people who try to be free. I grew up in a small town community and Lewis is absolutely accurate when he shines his spotlight on these petty characteristics. He is especially good at the "good ole boy" character. Weren't you just absolutely p-o'd at that (male) character towards the end of the book who got the town all excited about "boosterism"? Since he couched his agenda in vocabulary that didn't threaten, but in the good ole boy patter, he was embraced. But because Carol couldn't speak their "language" they ignored her. Sherry
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (46 of 46), Read 10 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Anne Wilfong anne.wilfong@gte.net Date: Sunday, October 14, 2001 05:59 PM Sherry, I think you summed up the paradox well. It's infinitely easier to dream about change but maintain the status quo--whether as a society or an individual. When someone comes along to attempt the change, we're threatened by the very thing we thought we desired. Anne
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (47 of 49), Read 13 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ernie Belden drernest@pacbell.net Date: Saturday, October 20, 2001 07:00 PM Sherry, Only now at this late date read your posting and wanted to let you know that I agree with your analysis. Carol used the wrong words, she could not relate to the people, she took offense at "nothing" and did not fit in, even though she made some attempts to do so. Ernie
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (48 of 49), Read 12 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Saturday, October 20, 2001 08:19 PM What do you all think about Carol returning to Gopher Prairie? Did anyone else beside me wish she had stayed in Washington? She seemed to be bettered suited to the people there. But then she would have had to work, and I think the work bored her, too. Sherry
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (49 of 49), Read 6 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Anne Wilfong anne.wilfong@gte.net Date: Monday, October 22, 2001 07:55 PM I couldn't really figure out why she went back, except it fit with the fickleness I felt in her character. Perhaps it was an example of "absence makes the heart grow fonder" or maybe she really missed her husband? In any event, I wonder what kind of old lady Carol would grow to be--a hateful woman full of unarticulated regret, or just another flighty, intolerant housewife raising kids she didn't particularly want. Anne
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (4 of 4), Read 11 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ernie Belden drernest@pacbell.net Date: Saturday, October 20, 2001 06:49 PM I may have posted at one time that I did not see Sinclair Lewis as being a literary genius deserving of the Nobel price. Well, I changed my mind. He presented an excellent picture of conflicts within and between people. I see Will as the happier and healthier of the two. Carol is the daughter of a judge and her intellect and college background have added to her wish to re-create the world in her own image. I have the feeling that if she actually would have accomplished that feat, she would continue to feel unhappy and dissatisfied. Yet she made various attempts to compromise, keep her mouth shut when she listened to out-rageous and over simplified view of life on Gopher prairie. But then she goes upstairs to her room, probably cries for a bit, and returns downstairs to will and "the enemy". I feel I understand her and her unhappiness and really feel she can't be helped. Perhaps she would have been better off had she stayed with the Library or some University position. She is one of the many people on this earth who can not really perceive life on a deeper and more profound level than meets the eye. Everything she wants of society and people is really there, but she is has a large blind spot for it. Is she half educated??? Why can't see that on the basic level what she wants and is looking for is really there. In real life, I would have been very ambivalent about her. I would have admired her wish to go beyond the obvious and ugly, but may have noted that she does not see beauty and profundity when she meets up with it. When she watched her husband perform a serious and difficult piece of surgery she seems please and admiring. But, this is gone in a minute or two and she becomes her true self once more, condemning the people and culture of Gopher Prairie. Ernie
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (50 of 53), Read 9 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, October 28, 2001 05:08 PM Checking in late once again, as I finished Main Street, I had lots of conflicting feelings. I kept thinking of the people who live in a small town near here who always say that no one ever leaves their town forever, that they always come back, that no place ever lives up to this one. It's an okay town, but incredibly boring and mediocre. I instinctively have always wanted to slap them when they slip into that smug tone. Halfway through Main Street, I realized that the people in Gopher Prairie had that same complacent content with mediocrity and I understood Lewis' anger at more of a gut level. However, something stands in the way of him being able to truly develop these characters with any depth, even Carol. My edition has some short commentaries on Lewis by various writers and Lewis Mumford hits on some of what bother me in his article. I'll try to excerpt a bit of it here: ...Lewis' satires have the value of photography, and to say this is not to disparage his achievements but to reinforce the claims of photography. His best satirical effects are obtained simply by holding in sharp focus something that actually exists, and forgetting, for the moment, all that historically or spatially enters into the object to qualify it....All the phenomena that Mr. Lewis shows are real; but, by the nature of his method, he is unable to indicate a more comprehensive reality....The pursuit of his particular satiric gifts, however, has led him to neglect his larger opportunities as a novelist. Sorry that sounds a bit choppy, but I wanted to excerpt the main things that spoke to what troubles me without requiring everyone to read a long quote. What do you all think...that is, if you still feel like talking about the book? Barb
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (51 of 53), Read 10 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, October 28, 2001 07:09 PM That's a very interesting quotation, Barb. I'm not exactly sure I really understand it (but maybe that's because I'm on the second glass of wine for the evening). Let me give it a shot: he criticized and satirized, but never got to the heart of the matter, or the "art" of the matter. His characters were in focus, but without depth. Is that anywhere near where you are? Sherry
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (52 of 53), Read 10 times Conf: Classics Corner From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, October 28, 2001 10:45 PM That's how I read it anyway, Sherry. And I think it's a pretty good summing up of SL as a writer. Although I have to admit, that people here found much more depth to these characters than I was aware of on my previous readings of the book, so perhaps depth is in the eye of the beholder? Ruth "I don't have a favorite song. I only have the song I'm singing today" Berenice Reagon
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (53 of 53), Read 2 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, October 29, 2001 08:37 AM I got about 50 pages into this book and couldn't get motivated to read further because I didn't have any feelings for the characters. In all probability I didn't give it enough of a chance, but I didn't get any further when I tried to read Lewis when I was young. From the discussion, I think this book is a lot more interesting if you grew up in a small town. I grew up in a much more cosmopolitan setting :) -- a small city of about 60,000. Ann
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (54 of 55), Read 1 times Conf: Classics Corner From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Monday, October 29, 2001 11:53 AM I loved this book when I was in my 20s. I grew up in the small town of Los Angeles. But I was living then in the small city of San Bernardino, about 100,000 at the time, and I thought I saw all kinds of correspondences to SB. Ruth
Topic: October: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (55 of 55), Read 13 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Monday, October 29, 2001 09:58 PM I probably made Mumford a bit hard to understand by just excerpting pieces of what he said. Basically, what I got was that Lewis does an exceptionally good verbal picture of the surface of what is there but very little of the human depth and complexity underneath. And, that jives with my feelings about it. It also probably is another reason why you had trouble relating to it, Ann. Barb

 
Sinclair Lewis
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