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Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 11 | Summary



Carol further attempts to become part of Gopher Prairie life by attending the Thanatopsis Club, which Vida promises puts a person "in touch with all the intellectual thoughts that are going on everywhere." The first meeting she attends is on the topic of English poetry. Carol soon finds that the club's method of study is to pluck a few names from a list of writers in Culture Hints magazine, and then give superficial reports on their lives. The literature itself is never read. The following week the group plans to discuss English fiction and essays, while the third week will focus on Scandinavian, Russian, and Polish literature.

Carol tries not to be discouraged. She still sees these women as a tool for effecting change in Gopher Prairie. In fact, she becomes inspired when she hears one of them mention the inadequacies of the City Hall, and she creates a beautiful plan for the village. She takes her ideas to the Thanatopsis wives connected to the most influential town leaders, but they dismiss her. The pastor's wife feels any change should happen through the church, while Mrs. Dyer advocates for her husband's plan for a new armory. Carol makes one last effort, going to wealthy Mr. Dawson, asking him to sponsor the rebuilding. He quickly rejects the idea of spending "all [his] hard-earned cash on building houses for a lot of shiftless beggars."


Carol is discovering that the chasm between her and her neighbors is much wider than she had realized. Details about the Thanatopsis Club reveal the members to be shallow women, swollen with self-importance, who think learning an author's birth and death dates is the same as studying literature. Later, their responses to Carol's suggestions for reform show that each person views the world through the lens of her own interests. No one will concede any merit to the other's point of view. And Carol herself is not without fault. Her "town planning" is the result of a few hours in the library looking at pictures. It isn't really surprising that her ideas are not taken seriously.

All the Gopher Prairie citizens seem to agree on a few things, however. They live in one of the most beautiful towns in America, people from the cities are shallow and without a moral compass, women have no place in politics, one can never have too much Bible study, and there is no poverty in Gopher Prairie. It is this last belief that most clearly reveals the cruelty and hypocrisy of these "good Christian women." In their eyes, they are not responsible for any of the hardships in the slums. They believe the poor are simply shiftless beggars who have created their own problems. They do say, however, that they are more than willing to do some charitable work—if they are given credit for their efforts.

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