Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 22 | Summary

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Summary

After years of living in a boardinghouse, Vida joyously throws herself into housework. Her happiness with domesticity makes Carol jealous. Carol's feelings are heightened by ideas in the books and magazines she and the frustrated women "in ten thousand Gopher Prairies" are beginning to read. She shares her ideas with Vida, saying there are two images of small towns, both incorrect. The first is that they are centers of friendship, honesty, and virtue; the second, that they are the quaint, humorous places portrayed on vaudeville stages. The truth, she says, is different. Small towns are unimaginative, sluggish, rigid places that celebrate money and mediocrity, and from which intelligent women and young people are fleeing.

Vida presents another point of view. She points out that people like Carol assume they are the only ones who think, yet they do less to effect change than the people they laugh at. She then describes real issues the townspeople are focused on. For example, there will soon be a new school building she and others have been working toward for years, while Carol played with her notions of a drama club and an unrealistic overhaul of the entire town. Chastened, Carol realizes there is some truth in what Vida has said, and begins volunteering to help with good, practical efforts like the Camp Fire Girls. But her spirit of rebellion remains, and she keeps reminding herself, "I am I."

Analysis

Chapter 22 is a study in contrasts. On the surface, Vida and Carol have much in common. Both women are intelligent and well educated, and both have had careers. Vida, however, has always wanted a home and family, despite being forced to pretend she didn't. Carol floated into marriage as a by-product of her intention to remake Gopher Prairie, and has been somewhat discontent ever since.

It is the two women's view of small towns that is especially fascinating, since through them the reader sees Lewis working through his own complex relationship with towns like the one he grew up in. Carol's comments—suddenly far more sophisticated than any she has voiced earlier—are biting and borderline vicious. She talks about the "contentment of the quiet dead," and "slavery self-sought and self-defended," and says small towns are "dullness made God."

Vida fights back, telling Carol there is something very convenient about her attitude, since her cynicism gives her permission to do less, not more, than the people she criticizes. She points out, quite rightly, that Carol tends to dream of impossible things and gives up the moment she cannot achieve them. Vida believes a more sensible and productive approach is for people to focus on practical things that will make the town better. Her arguments are solid, and Carol is at first convinced but soon feels—as she always does—that she is being swallowed up by mediocrity.

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