What a disappointment! "Main Street" tells the story of Carol Kennicott, a city girl who marries a small town doctor, and finds her new life in Gopher Prairie unbearably stultifying. She tries scheme after scheme to spark some intellectual life into the backward village, only to find her efforts frustrated by the obdurate blockheads who comprise the town. She flirts with the idea of having an affair with a young tailor, but never really moves much beyond daydreaming about it. Later, she leaves her husband, taking a bureaucratic position in Washington during World War I. After a year or so of that, she returns to Gopher Prairie, proud of herself that she never really surrendered to its dullness.
That's the plot. Truthfully, it's hard to make an exciting novel out of a story whose theme is tedium. But the deficiencies of this novel go far deeper than the feeble story line. The fundamental defect is that the protagonist is a self-centered purblind twit. She rails against the narrow-mindedness of her husband, but doesn't see how omphalocentric is her own desire to recast the entire town in her own image.
Running throughout this novel, sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly, is a dyspeptic view of America and Americans. It is more than satirical; it is misanthropic. Like other socialists, it seems that Lewis loved mankind but didn't like people, at least not his countrymen. The townsfolk of Gopher Prairie are portrayed as buffoons. Even Carol's husband, Dr. Will Kennicutt, is portrayed by Lewis as a stereotype, not a real person. Here is a man who can amputate a farmer's arm on a kitchen table by the light of a lantern, focusing on his duty rather than the too-real risk that the lantern flame might spark an explosion of the ether anesthetic. Yet, Carol--and apparently Lewis, too--finds him a dull character.
Lewis was the first American to win a Nobel prize in literature. He was the kind of American writer that chauvinistic Europeans could love.
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