Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 21 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 21 explores Vida's character in depth. She is described as "a personage and a force" who leads a busy and exciting life. Her nights, though, are difficult. She has strong sexual urges but seeks to repress them. Her belief that sex is shameful may have been why she lost the first man she loved: Will Kennicott. When she was 34, Will had made subtle, but definite advances. Vida was tremendously attracted to him, seeing "heroic qualities in a manly magnificent body," but kept him at a distance. Eventually, he gave up his pursuit, met Carol, and married her.

From that point on, Vida both loves Carol—whom she sees as an amusing child and fellow book lover—and is jealous of her. She is impatient with Carol's reformist dreams, seeing her as someone who wants change without putting in much effort. But she continues her relationship with the young woman, believing it keeps her connected with Kennicott. Her own needs, however, keep building.

Five years after her "affair" with Will, Vida sets her sights on Raymie Wutherspoon, a salesman at Harry Haddock's store. She considers him an intellectual equal whose beliefs are similar to hers. But she finds his timid nature and nervous responses to her romantic overtures frustrating. Eventually she tells Wutherspoon she is going to leave Gopher Prairie because there is nothing for her in the town. He finally holds her, his timidity disappearing, and they are married that June. Marriage changes Vida, who explodes with self-confidence and happiness. She ensures her husband is happy, too, manipulating Harry Haddock into making him a partner. Her confidence rubs off on her husband, who has never felt more masculine.

Analysis

Up to this point, the reader has seen Vida only from Carol's perspective. Carol sees Vida as a teacher, a friend, and something of a town leader. In this chapter—where events are relayed from Vida's perspective—it becomes clear that Vida is a complex and lonely woman who has been struggling emotionally for most of her adult life. A highly sexual person, she has been conditioned by her religion to be ashamed of those urges. As a result, she inadvertently drives away men like Will Kennicott, whom she idolizes in a way Carol never has. Not until she is 39 does she go after what she really wants: a man and a sexual relationship.

The chapter also reveals that Vida is not, as Carol believes, unwilling to change the town. She simply has a very different view of how this change should occur. Vida sees Carol as one of the people who want to change everything at once, without doing any work. She considers such people revolutionaries, radicals, and, most tellingly, "destroyers." Her own approach is that of a reformer. She feels that, in general, things are good, and changes must happen slowly, working within the existing system.

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