Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 19 | Summary

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Summary

For the next three years, Carol finds little to be interested in. One thing that makes her happy, though, is the wedding of Bea and Miles Bjornstam, who marry a month after the play is performed and soon have a baby. But even those events are marred when Carol is chided by Juanita Haydock and the other women for "letting" good hired help leave her to get married, especially to someone has disreputable as Miles. Despite his reputation, Miles becomes determined to become respectable in order to support his wife and child. He takes on a solid job, abandons his criticisms of the town, and pretends not to care when no one comes to call.

Carol finds herself appointed to the library board, and is briefly excited by the possibility of modernizing the library. But she soon finds the board uninterested in new ideas. For the first time, she doesn't fight back, serving her two-year term quietly. She then grasps at a series of lectures and presentations brought to town by the Chautauqua Company, an adult education group. The presentations turn out to be mediocre at best, but the citizens of Gopher Prairie, congratulate themselves, feeling "proud and educated." Even the start of the Great War (World War I) doesn't affect the town, who see it as none of their business. Carol begins to picture "a hundred escapes" from Gopher Prairie, and becomes obsessed with the distant sound of the train. Only when she becomes pregnant does she find anything positive to focus on.

Analysis

The town's reaction to the marriage of Bea and Miles reveals a great deal about the class system of Gopher Prairie. Carol is chided for "allowing" Bea to marry, and to marry someone like the outspoken "Red Swede" Miles. It is clear that in the eyes of the town's more prosperous citizens, the working class is little more than a bunch of slaves. Their derision makes Miles's attempts at becoming respectable almost heartbreaking.

Although disappointed, Carol seems resigned to the inevitability of their reaction. Her feelings are echoed in a phrase repeated throughout the chapter in different forms—nothing changes. This applies to everything in her life, from the superior attitude of the upper class, to the resistance of the library board to new ideas, and the certainty of the townspeople that they have no need of real education. Even the advent of World War I barely causes a ripple in the lives of Carol's neighbors—or her husband—who see no reason to be concerned about the problems of foreigners.

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