Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

October 16, 2011

Plot summay (from the publisher): MAIN STREET follows the life of young Carol Milford, a liberal, free-spirited young woman who has moved to the backward and stultified town of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota with her conservative husband Will Kennicott. Finding life in Gopher Prairie too confining, Carol sets out to reform the town, forming clubs and speaking about progressive causes, all of which are rebuffed by the denizens of the town.

Liked:

  • Having spent a considerable amount of time in Small Town, Minnesota myself, I could readily identify with Carol Kennicott. Her observations of the town and people of Gopher Prairie rang entirely true to me. Sure, it’s probably a stereotype to consider all small town residents to be backwards, gossipy hicks who are completely resistant to change, but that was definitely my experience.
  • For some reason, I thought it was completely hilarious that Erik Valbourg’s nickname was “Elizabeth” because of his dandy-ish ways!!! Yeah, it was demeaning and all that, but totally funny for something in the 1920’s.
  • There is a real sense of timelessness to this novel. From the writing style to the words and phrases Lewis used to the themes that pervade the story — all of it could just as easily apply to today’s society. Indeed, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find references to a cell phone or golf gps finder, and had to check the publication date several times to confirm to myself that the book wasn’t far more recent than I thought!
  • Many of the characters were clearly fleshed out. Yes, there were some flat ones along the way, but Carol, Will, and Erik, Maud, and several others seemed very realistic.
  • I found myself opposing and supporting Carol in nearly equal measures throughout the book. While I agreed that Gopher Prarie could do with some changes, she really did come off as smug and snooty most of the time. If I were a Gopher Prairie resident, I probably wouldn’t have liked her at all, but she certainly makes for an interesting protagonist!
  • Not all satires hit the mark, but this one certainly does. Main Street was funny, poignant, and ultimately true to life.

Disliked:

  • I’m not gonna lie: there were some incredibly boring patches along the way. The story moved quite slowly at times, and Lewis occasionally went into such minute descriptions of seemingly unimportant things that I found my mind drifting more than I would have liked.
  • I didn’t like that Carol ended up staying with Will despite his infidelity. She was supposed to be so progressive, and yet she turned out to be pretty much like everyone else. (Yes, this was probably intentional characterization on the author’s part; but that doesn’t mean I have to like it!) She should have left Will…or at the very least, had the fling with Erik that she so desperately desired.

Rating:

Overall, I think Main Street by Sinclair Lewis definitely deserves its place as a classic of American Literature. Carol (“Carrie”) Milford Kennicott is a memorable character, and the themes that pervade the book are still relevant today. Although I would have liked this book to be at least 25% shorter, it’s still worth a read. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

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