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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time

With Commentary by E. M. Forster, Dorothy Parker,
H. L. Mencken, Lewis Mumford, Rebecca West,
Sherwood Anderson, Malcolm Cowley, Alfred Kazin, Constance Rourke, and Mark Schorer

"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).
Published: Random House Publishing Group an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780679641674
List price: $4.99
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Caustic satire of small-town life. Although some of the concepts in the book are invariably dated, the concept and the characters are still only too familiar, and the follies of small-town living are laid bare.more
Carol Kenicott makes the move from the big city of St. Paul to the small farm community of Gopher Prairie when she marries Will, one of the town's doctors. At the beginning of her marriage, Carol has grandiose ideas of transforming this small simple town into a beautiful artistic community. She tries to redecorate, create a community theater and bring her big city life style to this town, but faces resentment and opposition. Although the immediate target of this satire is the narrow minded attitudes of small midwest towns, but much of the personalities quirks and conflicts of Main Street are found in every community, from the big city to the rural country. I thought I would find Carol's life suffocating and depressing, but I didn't find this to be a downer at all. Surprisingly good and insightful!more
One of the most developed stories I've ever read about marriage...I'm glad I finally discovered it.more
You'd think a 400+ page book about the tedium of small town life would itself be tedious, but it actually wasn't. I was engrossed! And so happy my small(ish) town is nothing like the one described in this book!more
Sinclair Lewis was seemingly unafraid to simultaneously bash small towns in the midwest, as well as religious ideals and republican tenants. I found Carol to be a character with whom I wanted to sympathize, but couldn't fully. She seemed affected and artificial, as did many of the other characters in the book. They seemed to be nothing more than the mouthpieces whereby the author voiced his opinions about the downfalls of religious, rural life, while building up the supposed beauty and nobility of the city. The story itself was fairly interesting, but I think that Lewis went too far in depicting a town of exceedingly ugly architecture as well as exceedingly ugly personalities. His liberalism, despite its being the liberalism of the 1920's, was over the top, even for this modern-day reader. And the ending, if it can be called that, was a complete cop-out - Carol should have been forced to make an irrevocable decision. Overall, I was not overly impressed.more
A literary read with a vapid protagonist. But the writing is beautiful and offers delicately cutting critique of American small town society and some very interesting points to pondermore
Main Street is about an educated, intelligent woman, Carol, who married the town doctor of a little village called Gopher Prairie, whose intelligence and opinions constantly breaks against the general feeling of the sleepy town like waves against resolute rocks. The town is politically conservative - to the point where the sheriff led the townspeople to beat up and drive out a suspected socialist speaker who wanted to speak to an assembly of speakers. Carol is liberal. The main entertainment to be had at dinners or social gatherings is petty gossip and that neighbours should spy upon each other for gossip fodder is the natural order. Carol likes to read books - Shaw, Romain Rolland, etc. company. Carol wants to enact many reforms on the town such as a new town hall, but they are all rejected and laughed off by the town.In contrast to Carol, Carol's husband has no appreciation for any of the things that Carol holds so dear, like art music or literary books or poetry - he has vague memories of having studied them in university but had no real appreciation for them, calling them "high-brow stuff". He had hoped that Carol would "settle down" and forget all that high-brow stuff and be a wife in the style of the stolid, gossiping way of Gopher Prairie women. Carol stews in this oppressive environment for most of the book.Overall, even though I didn't enjoy reading it, I think it was a very good book and very influential; the dialogue and representation of village life are all very realistic. It eloquently points out all the oppression of village life and village thought and ridicules country folk as well as de Maupassant or Flaubert. However, it can't be forgotten that this is a satirical work. Sinclair Lewis shows the foibles of every character, especially Carol and it is difficult to connect with the story. It's entirely unsentimental and a bit pessimistic. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic. Carol is the main character and is a great reader so the reader might relate to her. However, as Carol stays longer in Gopher Prairie, she unwittingly becomes like them. She acquire their way of thinking. When she goes to Minneapolis for a visit, she think and behaves just the people of Gopher Prairie would - she thinks of what the other housewives would say if they say her eating at a fancy restaurant, in a fancy hotel and other typical big city experiences. Her individuality, for lack of a better word, is being worn down by the oppression of Gopher Prairie and this process is highlighted by Lewis's narration and is quite depressing.more
The main street of the title is in Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The main character, Carol Milford, moves there from the big city (St. Paul) with her new husband, Dr. Kennicott. Carold finds the town ugly and boring and proceeds to try to change things with mixed results. The story is good, but it is a slow read because of the dense but realistic dialogue. Definitely a classic and an excellent representation of the times.more
A bit heavy-handed, true, but still a beautiful dissection of small town American faults and foibles. To appreciate it today requires only the least bit of imagination to transfer the setting from town and rural to towncenter and suburban sprawl. In the end it was delightful.more
This book tells the story of a young woman who gets married and moves to her husband’s small home town. There she finds that her “liberal” ideas (including that domestic help should get fair wages and that poetry and literature are appropriate topics of conversation at a gathering rather than gossip and conjecture) make it hard for her to fit in. She also disappointed that the town doesn’t live up to the pastoral ideal she had in mind, so she sets about on a number of reforms, which inevitably fail. I cannot help but admire the mind of Sinclair Lewis – he clearly shows in this book that he is both perceptive and visionary. He took a good hard look at what was wrong and what was right in America at his time and held nothing to be a given – whether it was the virtue of the small town over the big city or the traditional roles of masculinity and femininity (particularly in terms of their obligations to home and work). Some of his comments look to a future that has now been achieved (suffrage and space travel, for example). However, I must admit that I was not in love with this novel. Despite the interesting themes explored, I had two major problems with this book. The first was the main character, Carol Kennicott. She was rather wishy-washy, which I suppose humanized her (hey, I can’t make up my mind half the time either), but it made her a character very hard to feel strongly about and want to root for, particularly because the reader doesn’t know what to be hoping Carol will obtain in the end. Secondly, large portions of the book seemed repetitive (Carol tries some type of reform and fails, Carol tries some type of reform and fails, Carol tries some type of reform and fails, and so on). I suppose in part this may have been to get the reader to feel a bit of the oppression that Carol feels living this mind-numbing existence, but I found it difficult to not get bored with this tactic.more
Well, he's got their number, all right. This is almost a book that I'd call something like a "gray masterpiece," if that weren't so manifestly grandiloquent for a story like this one (Lewis tries to cover this with all that "Sam's store is every store" crap at the beginning, but he is wrong. This book is really good, but it is small). But it approaches "masterpiece" in places, if only the whole weren't less than some of its wrenchingest parts.And it is gray.And it really, truly does belong to it's historic moment, doesn't it? Thirty years later Carol would have been a firebrand, and this would have been a novel of rebellion and easier to love for me here in 2008, instead of so . . . pathetic. Thirty years earlier and there'd have been no story. She'd have been bored but content. In a French town she'd have been Madame Bovary.Yeah, you should probably read this. It's fucking good. It's just hard to love.Oh, PS: How can everybody call this book "satire"? Satire implies exaggeration, and if there's anything in the WORLD this book is, it's accurate. At least, if it doesn't underestimate Williams Lake in 2001 and Weitensfeld in 2008, I don't see how it can underestimate fucking Gopher Prairie, Minnesota in the WWI era. Yes. Depressingly accurate and not funny. Biting, but not satirical.more
Main Street has some absolutely brilliant moments of satire. In fact, at it's best it offers spot on cultural criticism that resounds well into the 21st century. That said, the somewhat scandalous elements are dated and the motif, although maybe not dated at the time, has been so often repeated in film and literature that one can't help but feel like they've heard it all before. Again, I think what shines are individual moments, pieces of prose where Lewis just perfectly captures certain archetypal characters (and their utterances) and experiences. Now, if Lewis had let Carol Kenicott evolve into a slightly more unsympathetic character, if he had taken a more critical, even handed eye to his protagonist it might have been a truly great work. I couldn't help thinking that in some of the more heavy handed moments Lewis must have been trying to do just this, but if so it doesn't come across clearly. While he beats us over the head with the narrowmindedness of the provincials, Lewis, it seems to me, spares the rod in Carol's case and ultimately spoils what could be a much better critical work. I say this because certainly for all their huffing and puffing the Carol Kenicotts of the world are really no more interesting and less hackneyed than the Sam Clarks. Had he subjected Carol to a bit more roasting Lewis might've better captured the underlying spirit of malaise and hopelessness.Finally, at times the novel reminded me of a funnier but less brilliant Winnesburg, Ohio. I guess given the subject matter this shouldn't be surprising, but that aside, thematically this notion of hopeless searching that Carol Kenicott takes on seems to have strong parallels in Anderson. In fact, the careful reader will notice that Lewis actually name drops Anderson when composing in a list of fiction Carol has been reading. Overall: not merely "good" but not good enough to be greatmore
sharp as a button and as true as ever - main street still has the power to connect.more
Wow. It takes a damn good writer to create characters you hate so much you love them!Main Street is a portrait of small town Midwestern farm life at the beginning of the 20th century, and the discontent of the main character who tries to change it into her own world. First line (courtesy Amazon...I'm too lazy to pull the book out and type it) "On a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago, a girl stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky." I suggest reading this one laying in the grass in summer... red wine optional :-)more
In centuries to come, people will read Lewis and find out what 20th Century America was like. His writing is substantial, nourishing and Main Street is one of his best.more
in this classic satire of small-town America, beautiful young Carol Kennicott comes to Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, with dreams of transforming the provincial old town into a place of beauty and culture. But she runs into a wall of bigotry, hypocrisy and complacency. The first popular bestseller to attack conventional ideas about marriage, gender roles, and small town life, Main Street established Lewis as a major American novelist.more
Found this book to be heavy going at first, but it was well worth sticking with!more
Read all 20 reviews

Reviews

Caustic satire of small-town life. Although some of the concepts in the book are invariably dated, the concept and the characters are still only too familiar, and the follies of small-town living are laid bare.more
Carol Kenicott makes the move from the big city of St. Paul to the small farm community of Gopher Prairie when she marries Will, one of the town's doctors. At the beginning of her marriage, Carol has grandiose ideas of transforming this small simple town into a beautiful artistic community. She tries to redecorate, create a community theater and bring her big city life style to this town, but faces resentment and opposition. Although the immediate target of this satire is the narrow minded attitudes of small midwest towns, but much of the personalities quirks and conflicts of Main Street are found in every community, from the big city to the rural country. I thought I would find Carol's life suffocating and depressing, but I didn't find this to be a downer at all. Surprisingly good and insightful!more
One of the most developed stories I've ever read about marriage...I'm glad I finally discovered it.more
You'd think a 400+ page book about the tedium of small town life would itself be tedious, but it actually wasn't. I was engrossed! And so happy my small(ish) town is nothing like the one described in this book!more
Sinclair Lewis was seemingly unafraid to simultaneously bash small towns in the midwest, as well as religious ideals and republican tenants. I found Carol to be a character with whom I wanted to sympathize, but couldn't fully. She seemed affected and artificial, as did many of the other characters in the book. They seemed to be nothing more than the mouthpieces whereby the author voiced his opinions about the downfalls of religious, rural life, while building up the supposed beauty and nobility of the city. The story itself was fairly interesting, but I think that Lewis went too far in depicting a town of exceedingly ugly architecture as well as exceedingly ugly personalities. His liberalism, despite its being the liberalism of the 1920's, was over the top, even for this modern-day reader. And the ending, if it can be called that, was a complete cop-out - Carol should have been forced to make an irrevocable decision. Overall, I was not overly impressed.more
A literary read with a vapid protagonist. But the writing is beautiful and offers delicately cutting critique of American small town society and some very interesting points to pondermore
Main Street is about an educated, intelligent woman, Carol, who married the town doctor of a little village called Gopher Prairie, whose intelligence and opinions constantly breaks against the general feeling of the sleepy town like waves against resolute rocks. The town is politically conservative - to the point where the sheriff led the townspeople to beat up and drive out a suspected socialist speaker who wanted to speak to an assembly of speakers. Carol is liberal. The main entertainment to be had at dinners or social gatherings is petty gossip and that neighbours should spy upon each other for gossip fodder is the natural order. Carol likes to read books - Shaw, Romain Rolland, etc. company. Carol wants to enact many reforms on the town such as a new town hall, but they are all rejected and laughed off by the town.In contrast to Carol, Carol's husband has no appreciation for any of the things that Carol holds so dear, like art music or literary books or poetry - he has vague memories of having studied them in university but had no real appreciation for them, calling them "high-brow stuff". He had hoped that Carol would "settle down" and forget all that high-brow stuff and be a wife in the style of the stolid, gossiping way of Gopher Prairie women. Carol stews in this oppressive environment for most of the book.Overall, even though I didn't enjoy reading it, I think it was a very good book and very influential; the dialogue and representation of village life are all very realistic. It eloquently points out all the oppression of village life and village thought and ridicules country folk as well as de Maupassant or Flaubert. However, it can't be forgotten that this is a satirical work. Sinclair Lewis shows the foibles of every character, especially Carol and it is difficult to connect with the story. It's entirely unsentimental and a bit pessimistic. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic. Carol is the main character and is a great reader so the reader might relate to her. However, as Carol stays longer in Gopher Prairie, she unwittingly becomes like them. She acquire their way of thinking. When she goes to Minneapolis for a visit, she think and behaves just the people of Gopher Prairie would - she thinks of what the other housewives would say if they say her eating at a fancy restaurant, in a fancy hotel and other typical big city experiences. Her individuality, for lack of a better word, is being worn down by the oppression of Gopher Prairie and this process is highlighted by Lewis's narration and is quite depressing.more
The main street of the title is in Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The main character, Carol Milford, moves there from the big city (St. Paul) with her new husband, Dr. Kennicott. Carold finds the town ugly and boring and proceeds to try to change things with mixed results. The story is good, but it is a slow read because of the dense but realistic dialogue. Definitely a classic and an excellent representation of the times.more
A bit heavy-handed, true, but still a beautiful dissection of small town American faults and foibles. To appreciate it today requires only the least bit of imagination to transfer the setting from town and rural to towncenter and suburban sprawl. In the end it was delightful.more
This book tells the story of a young woman who gets married and moves to her husband’s small home town. There she finds that her “liberal” ideas (including that domestic help should get fair wages and that poetry and literature are appropriate topics of conversation at a gathering rather than gossip and conjecture) make it hard for her to fit in. She also disappointed that the town doesn’t live up to the pastoral ideal she had in mind, so she sets about on a number of reforms, which inevitably fail. I cannot help but admire the mind of Sinclair Lewis – he clearly shows in this book that he is both perceptive and visionary. He took a good hard look at what was wrong and what was right in America at his time and held nothing to be a given – whether it was the virtue of the small town over the big city or the traditional roles of masculinity and femininity (particularly in terms of their obligations to home and work). Some of his comments look to a future that has now been achieved (suffrage and space travel, for example). However, I must admit that I was not in love with this novel. Despite the interesting themes explored, I had two major problems with this book. The first was the main character, Carol Kennicott. She was rather wishy-washy, which I suppose humanized her (hey, I can’t make up my mind half the time either), but it made her a character very hard to feel strongly about and want to root for, particularly because the reader doesn’t know what to be hoping Carol will obtain in the end. Secondly, large portions of the book seemed repetitive (Carol tries some type of reform and fails, Carol tries some type of reform and fails, Carol tries some type of reform and fails, and so on). I suppose in part this may have been to get the reader to feel a bit of the oppression that Carol feels living this mind-numbing existence, but I found it difficult to not get bored with this tactic.more
Well, he's got their number, all right. This is almost a book that I'd call something like a "gray masterpiece," if that weren't so manifestly grandiloquent for a story like this one (Lewis tries to cover this with all that "Sam's store is every store" crap at the beginning, but he is wrong. This book is really good, but it is small). But it approaches "masterpiece" in places, if only the whole weren't less than some of its wrenchingest parts.And it is gray.And it really, truly does belong to it's historic moment, doesn't it? Thirty years later Carol would have been a firebrand, and this would have been a novel of rebellion and easier to love for me here in 2008, instead of so . . . pathetic. Thirty years earlier and there'd have been no story. She'd have been bored but content. In a French town she'd have been Madame Bovary.Yeah, you should probably read this. It's fucking good. It's just hard to love.Oh, PS: How can everybody call this book "satire"? Satire implies exaggeration, and if there's anything in the WORLD this book is, it's accurate. At least, if it doesn't underestimate Williams Lake in 2001 and Weitensfeld in 2008, I don't see how it can underestimate fucking Gopher Prairie, Minnesota in the WWI era. Yes. Depressingly accurate and not funny. Biting, but not satirical.more
Main Street has some absolutely brilliant moments of satire. In fact, at it's best it offers spot on cultural criticism that resounds well into the 21st century. That said, the somewhat scandalous elements are dated and the motif, although maybe not dated at the time, has been so often repeated in film and literature that one can't help but feel like they've heard it all before. Again, I think what shines are individual moments, pieces of prose where Lewis just perfectly captures certain archetypal characters (and their utterances) and experiences. Now, if Lewis had let Carol Kenicott evolve into a slightly more unsympathetic character, if he had taken a more critical, even handed eye to his protagonist it might have been a truly great work. I couldn't help thinking that in some of the more heavy handed moments Lewis must have been trying to do just this, but if so it doesn't come across clearly. While he beats us over the head with the narrowmindedness of the provincials, Lewis, it seems to me, spares the rod in Carol's case and ultimately spoils what could be a much better critical work. I say this because certainly for all their huffing and puffing the Carol Kenicotts of the world are really no more interesting and less hackneyed than the Sam Clarks. Had he subjected Carol to a bit more roasting Lewis might've better captured the underlying spirit of malaise and hopelessness.Finally, at times the novel reminded me of a funnier but less brilliant Winnesburg, Ohio. I guess given the subject matter this shouldn't be surprising, but that aside, thematically this notion of hopeless searching that Carol Kenicott takes on seems to have strong parallels in Anderson. In fact, the careful reader will notice that Lewis actually name drops Anderson when composing in a list of fiction Carol has been reading. Overall: not merely "good" but not good enough to be greatmore
sharp as a button and as true as ever - main street still has the power to connect.more
Wow. It takes a damn good writer to create characters you hate so much you love them!Main Street is a portrait of small town Midwestern farm life at the beginning of the 20th century, and the discontent of the main character who tries to change it into her own world. First line (courtesy Amazon...I'm too lazy to pull the book out and type it) "On a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago, a girl stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky." I suggest reading this one laying in the grass in summer... red wine optional :-)more
In centuries to come, people will read Lewis and find out what 20th Century America was like. His writing is substantial, nourishing and Main Street is one of his best.more
in this classic satire of small-town America, beautiful young Carol Kennicott comes to Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, with dreams of transforming the provincial old town into a place of beauty and culture. But she runs into a wall of bigotry, hypocrisy and complacency. The first popular bestseller to attack conventional ideas about marriage, gender roles, and small town life, Main Street established Lewis as a major American novelist.more
Found this book to be heavy going at first, but it was well worth sticking with!more
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