Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 28 | Summary

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Summary

At church some time later, Carol thinks about both Kennicott's and her attitudes toward religion. She labels herself "an uneasy and dodging agnostic." Her husband believes in the Christian religion, which also helps people like him "keep the lower classes in order." The pastor preaches, for example, that labor movements are meant to "kill all our initiative ... by fixing wages and prices," and that economics, socialism, and science are simply "disguise[s] for atheism."

Carol becomes intrigued by two new people who have arrived in town. The first is Fern Mullins, a young teacher who has arrived from the city and is lodging with Mrs. Bogart. She and Carol quickly bond over their shared background and experiences. Carol also becomes aware of a beautiful young man always elaborately dressed. She imagines him to be a person of exceptional sensitivity with the soul of a poet. To her dismay, she finds out he is Erik Valborg, a tailor's assistant who has been the subject of a great deal of gossip. In fact, he has been nicknamed "Elizabeth" by some of the men, who laugh at his way of dressing, his interest in books, and his desire to design clothes.

Carol seeks out Erik, locating him in the tailor shop. She finds him to be somewhat naive and inexperienced but hungry for knowledge, and passionate about his dreams. She also learns he is a farmer's son and self-taught. He begs Carol to be his mentor, and she agrees—even while sternly trying to convince herself she is not attracted to him.

Analysis

Chapter 28 begins by showing how the church in Gopher Prairie reinforces the small-mindedness of the town. The pastor rails against anything that is progressive or threatens change, equating new ideas with atheism. The townspeople, in turn, are delighted to believe that religion justifies their attitudes and gives them permission to mock and condemn people whose views or ways of life are different from their own. When Carol remarks to the Smails how wonderful it is that "folks can get away with all sorts of meanness and sins in these terrible cities, but they can't here," no one realizes she is being sarcastic.

Carol once again finds herself drawn to outsiders. Although she is only 30, she feels "seventy-years-old, and sexless." In Fern and Erik she sees a way to reclaim some of her younger self and lost dreams. She advises the lively and rebellious Fern, who is only 22, not to give in to others' expectations that she conduct herself in a manner befitting a Good Influence. She then encourages 25-year-old Erik in his dreams of art and fashion design, hoping to protect him from the barbs of the more traditional men in town.

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