Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 23 | Summary

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Summary

In April 1917 America enters the Great War (later called World War I). Vida's husband, Raymie, goes off to an officer's training camp, and husbands and sons from other families also enlist or are drafted. Many of the doctors go as well, although it is decided at a meeting of the town's practitioners that Kennicott, now 42, should stay behind to tend to the needs of Gopher Prairie. Otherwise, the town does not change much. The women simply transfer their time for gossip from bridge games to bandage-making sessions, and enhance their conversation with details of war atrocities and their hatred of German Americans. In fact, Mrs. Bogart's son Cy is praised for beating up a German farmer's son, ignoring the fact that the boy's older brother had enlisted in the army and died a hero.

That June the town is visited by its most famous citizen, the millionaire Percy Bresnahan. Bresnahan made his fortune as president of the Velvet Motor Car Company in Boston. Carol attempts to despise him, seeing him as a symbol of the materialistic businessman unwilling to use his money to effect change. But Bresnahan figures Carol out very quickly. He notes that she enjoys feeling superior to her neighbors, but tells her that what she dislikes about them is simply human nature and exists everywhere. He labels her a "parlor socialist" who would quickly abandon her theories if she were forced to live and work in the real world of the cities. Carol, faced with an intelligent realist, is thrown by his "confusing statistics." She is further flustered when he says that, if he were not heading back to Boston, she'd "be a darling child to play with." She finds herself thinking of him long after he has left town.

Analysis

A surge of extreme patriotism, sometimes called jingoism, enveloped the nation after the country's entrance into World War I. One of the uglier by-products of this patriotism, however, was an illogical hatred toward German Americans. In Gopher Prairie, Carol is one of the few people who does not get caught up in vicious treatment of her neighbors. She is less successful, though, at resisting the magnetism of Percy Bresnahan. He is the symbol of everything she tells herself she despisesā€”materialism and a focus on the dollar above all else. But Percy's realistic attitude toward what is necessary to succeed in the world catches her off guard.

She does not even seem to be offended at being labeled a "parlor socialist," although it forces her to confront the fact that, as Vida has told her, she talks a great deal about equality and change but does little to make it happen. Carol also, surprisingly, does not take offense when Percy tells her directly she would be a "darling child to play with." The Carol who lives with Kennicott and is upset when men will not discuss politics with her, would be furious with that kind of comment. The Carol who is under Bresnahan's spell, though, is flattered by his attention.

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