Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 26 | Summary

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Summary

Carol finds that her happiest moments are those spent with her son, Hugh, and the Bjornstam family. Miles has made a success of his dairy business, and Bea is blissfully happy, although a bit lonely since none of the townspeople ever come to call. Kennicott disapproves of the friendship, but Carol continues her visits, basking in their affection.

She is devastated when both Bea and her son, Olaf, come down with typhoid, a bacterial disease caused by unsanitary water or living conditions. Kennicott, now every bit the compassionate doctor, visits them three times daily, trying to help. Carol, terrified, takes on the job of nurse, and cares for Bea and the baby day and night. After several weeks, Vida, Maud Dyer, and the pastor's wife show up for the first time, bringing grapes and magazines. Miles asks why they couldn't have come when Bea was craving their friendship. He says they "ain't worth God-damning" and shuts the door in their faces. A few days later, both mother and child are dead. But word of Miles's rebuff of the ladies has spread through the town, and no one comes to the funeral.

Analysis

The deaths of Bea and her baby illustrate the monstrous attitudes hidden beneath the civilized veneer of the citizens of Gopher Prairie. Although Kennicott once again shows he is at heart a compassionate man, none of the other "good" people even visit the Bjornstams until typhoid makes it their Christian duty. Then, when Miles lashes out in his grief, they do not have the decency to feel shame or even empathy. They only take offense at his "rudeness" and retaliate by not attending the funeral of his wife and baby.

Even the gestures made by the three women who come to visit Bea are hollow and perfunctory. Although they are willing to spend hours preparing bandages for soldiers to show their patriotism, they do not make any attempt to care for a desperately ill neighbor who happens to be from a different class. Instead, they bring fashion magazines and grapes that were most likely lying on their tables at home. Perhaps the most appalling example of their self-righteousness is the statement made by Juanita after Bea's death. She tells Carol not to waste sympathy on Miles, because "everybody says he ... treated his family awful, and that's how they got sick." With that illogical lie, she and the town are able to conveniently ignore the poor sanitary conditions in parts of Gopher Prairie and instead blame the man who has just lost everything.

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