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on 6 February 2017
Sinclair Lewis wished in Carol to depict a revolutionary in Carol, but her success was limited; it is never easy to achieve radical change. It seems to me that the strength of the novel is the incredibly accurate depiction of small-time life in the American Middle West in the first quarter of the twentieth century; hence the incredible popular success which followed. Lewis is not famed as a stylist, but his vivid descriptions of the prairies indicate that the criticism is not always tenable.
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on 14 August 2017
After almost 100 years everything has already been said about this example of great American literature, but it still the window through which we are able to experience the life of a young women in a mid-west town in the early years of the 20th century. Read it for the pleasure of its narrative, the pleasure of its prose and to understand how far women have come since the days when even middle class American women had to beg their husbands for house keeping money. Underlying themes include the narrow selfish outlook of small town people and the great labour struggles of the day. I loved the honesty of this great classic novel.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 October 2010
Sinclair Lewis's Main Street was something of a literary phenomenon when it was first published in 1920, the book rather daringly satirising good wholesome smalltown values that were very much in vogue at the time. While it is therefore very much of its time in its theme, and certainly old-fashioned in its writing style, the manner in which Main Street depicts American traditional social values and attitudes in tremendous detail, showing where they derive from and how they persist, means that the novel still has a great deal of relevance.

Lewis more or less states his purpose in a brief introduction where he sets out that he is going to examine the proposition that the Main Street of small mid-western towns represent "the climax of civilisation". That's certainly not the view of liberal and cultured Carol Milford of Minneapolis, who is proud of her heritage and sees America as "a glorious country; a land to be big in", but fears that the blissful stagnation and "dullness made God" in the peasant population of smalltown America rather lets the side down. And really, do the Main Streets of such towns have to be quite so ugly?

Her dream of planting "a seed of liberalism in the blank wall of mediocrity" is put to the test when she marries Dr. Kennicott, 13 years her elder, and moves to Gopher Prairie, believing she can made a model town out of it, seeing it as an empire to conquer. Gopher Prairie however is a hopeless backwater, whose peasant population is made up principally of German, Dutch and Scandinavian immigrants, with a social hierarchy of professionals and traders that is unwarrantedly proud and self-satisfied of their mediocre little town and their modest achievements. Feeling somewhat out of place, Carol has difficulty adjusting - or rather lowering - herself to what passes for culture and society among the women folk, organising dinner parties and starting up a dramatic society, but she is continually disillusioned with the lowbrow entertainment, the dreary conversations, gossip and obsession with mundane trivialities.

Inevitably, since there is a necessity to fit-in and adjust, Carol comes to appreciate the qualities she sees around her in the simplicity of the good, honest, hardworking folk, as well as their fortitude in dealing with deprivations and hardship. Dealt with in such length however, the novel has a tendency to also dwell on the minutiae of dreary domesticity, and there is the danger that the novel will also succumb to the Village Virus, but Carol is determined to resist, and the novel does well to do likewise, being psychologically accurate and fascinating in how it observes and identifies the underlying characteristics in the division of the classes and the sexes.

Swaying between eulogising and satirising the qualities of the small town and the people within it, the novel captures the true dynamic in America society at a crucial period in its development. More than being a historical record then, one that is recounted in fabulous and no doubt realistic detail, it's clear that the same social attitudes and values persist to a large degree in modern-day America and the world, becoming a "force seeking to dominate the earth" and bully other civilisations into its standardised, mediocre view of the world. Main Street consequently still has a great deal of interest and relevance today.
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on 12 October 2014
A classic
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on 9 October 2000
Carol Milford, an enlightened, beautiful, young woman gets married. She thinks she is marrying Dr. Kennicott, she doesn't know that she is also marrying his town, Gopher Prairie. She tries to love the town and tries hard. She wants to improve things, change, reform. She is faced with stone walls. And ugly ones at that. They resent her, they don't take her seriously, they call her crazy, flippant, foolish, snobbish, arrogant, silly, light woman, bad woman and a lot of other things. She alternates between wanting to give up and to continue. At times she is lazy, diligent, hopeless, hopeful, resigned, rebellious and often lonely. I read Carol's story as if I was living it. Half way through the book, I was giving her advice: "Run for your life!" or "Hang in there!". Sinclair Lewis is a brilliant narrator. He tells the story of Gopher Prairie with wit, charm and sarcastic humour. I believe that he was the first male feminist of America. The next book I'll be reading is Babbitt.
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When idealistic young graduate Carol Milford - disenchanted with her career in a city library - consents to marry Dr Kennicott and move out to the small town of Gopher Prairie, she imagines she will be able to use her taste and education to 'improve' her dull and unattractive new home. Lobbying for better buildings; starting a drama group; mixing with the lower classes... But people don't always want to be patronised and improved; indeed many (including the Doctor) are perfectly content with life as it is.
The reader increasingly feels Carol 'champing at the bit' in her provincial home:
'Gopher Prairie with its celebrated eleven miles of cement walk...I wonder how much of the cement is made out of the tombstones of John Keatses?'
Whether Carol can accept smalltown life for what it is or continues to fight against it made for a highly readable novel.
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For Sinclair Lewis, his country is `a hope that is boundless. What is its future? A future of cities and factory smut? Homes universal and secure? Or placid châteaux ringed with sullen huts? Youth free to find knowledge and laughter? Willingness to sift the sanctified lies? The ancient stale inequalities?'

The answer to these questions lies in the fate of the main character of this book, Carol Milford, a seed of liberty, `a rebellious girl eager to conquer the world - almost entirely for the world's own good.'
But her dreams are blocked by a wall of Puritanism, conservatism, conformism, hypocrisy and egoism, by the Tribal God of Mediocrity, by the arrogance of the power of `Main Street'.
Who occupies `Main Street'? The Churches, `the real heart of the community, the proper center for all educational and pleasurable activities'; also the bankers and the Grand Old Republican Party (`Everybody who doesn't love (it) is an anarchist').
Main Streeters are all those wanting to appear respectable, showing `poverty and chastity in the matter of knowledge.'

Carol Milford `felt that she was being dragged naked down Main Street'. She was `surrounded by wolves, fangs and sneering eyes.' `They beat me with rods of dullness.'
Is her fight for `liberty' successful or will she be beaten ... keeping only the faith?

Read this exemplary US novel about the power of the Moral Majority and its `public opinions'.
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on 3 January 1999
Sinclair Lewis's "Main Street" deals honestly with the negative aspects of small town life. In the book, Carol Kennicott, a big city girl marries Dr. Kennicott, and they move to the small town of Gopher Prarie. Carol is an idealist, but her efforts to reform the town are met with ignorance. The citizens of Gopher Prarie are convinced that they lead a utopian life, and that poverty and ugliness does not exist in their town. Carol is subjected to gossip, greed, and dullness in her journey through Gopher Prarie. I think this book is an accurate description of many small towns, but it deals too negatively with small towns. I have visited many times Lewis's hometown of Sauk Centre, after which Gopher Prarie was modeled, and found none of the drab buildings and narrow minded people that Lewis described. Howver, this novel is a classic example of how our own ignorance prevents us from seeing our true surrondings. This book is a real eye opener.
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VINE VOICEon 31 August 2009
I bought this novel after reading Sinclair Lewis's gripping story of a fascist takeover of the US, `It Can't Happen Here'. I'd been struck by Lewis's interest in feminism, and his sympathy for the novel's independent, rebellious women, so I decided to read `Main Street', where such issues are obviously much more central. The heroine of `Main Street' is Carol Milford, a lively, intelligent young woman from Minnesota who takes a job in a library in St Paul after graduating from college. She has highbrow tastes and a mildly Bohemian streak, but she's quite ready to settle down when a pleasant young doctor, Will Kennicott, proposes marriage. He lives in a midwest town called Gopher Prairie, and the rest of the novel (which manages to be intensely absorbing even though not much actually happens in it) charts her growing dissatisfaction with the narrowness and cliquiness of small town life.

Another reviewer (on Amazon.com) briefly mentions links with George Eliot's `Middlemarch' and that connection struck me too. Carol's enthusiasm for architecture links her with Middlemarch's heroine, Dorothea Brooke, who is interested in designing better houses for her neighbours' tenants. Carol is equally full of ideas for improving the buildings of Gopher Prairie, none of them terribly practical. But Carol is not like Dorothea in every respect. She may be intelligent, earnest, keen to help others - and to improve their houses. However she is also rather vain, very interested in clothes, enjoys being the centre of attention, and is married to a youngish doctor rather than to an elderly clergyman. In other words she is as much like Middlemarch's anti-heroine, selfish, frivolous Rosamond Vincy, as she is like Dorothea.

Carol is all the more convincing - and more human - for not being too perfect and saintly, and Sinclair Lewis manages to make us sympathise with her frustration and boredom at her life in Gopher Prairie, while also allowing us to feel rather sorry for her husband at times - particularly when Carol drags him to see a quadruple bill of experimental drama performed by amateur actors. Although Lewis clearly sympathises with Carol he doesn't always see things quite her way. His depiction of small town life may be devastatingly satirical at times- but it's not without warmth. There are also interesting comparisons to be made between [Main Street and Marilyn French's `The Women's Room', which paints a similar (though more depressing and less tolerant) portrait of a clever woman who is stifled by marriage to a doctor and by small town American life.
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on 2 May 2016
Although it is the story of one woman's struggle for a life of meaning in the early 1900s, this is not so much a feminist novel as a humanist one, in the sense that Lewis explores the urge to the full realisation of human potential against the crippling effects of social conformism. Main Street is his shorthand for the small minded, hypocritically puritanical and extremely conservative spirit that he identifies with the small town of Gopher Prairie. He forensically examines the workings of this mind set, while detailing how the apparently petty citizens of GP are themselves victims, making the best of life as they find it within their narrow horizons. Here, it seems to me, are the social roots of the American Christian Right, the Tea Party, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Lewis's plea, through Carol Kennicot, for an expansive, hopeful, inclusive, and progressive engagement with the world, is still relevant.
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