Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

After a year of courtship, Carol and Kennicott are married. On the way to Gopher Prairie, Carol finds herself on a train that is little more than a rolling box full of farmers' families who throw their garbage on the floor. Carol is startled to realize that these are the people she has dreamed of helping. She is also appalled by the ugliness she sees in the hamlets along the track. Kennicott, on the other hand, sees people happy with their lives, and reassures Carol that progress in the form of telephones and rural free delivery is coming to them.

Their arrival in Gopher Prairie horrifies Carol even more. To her, it is no more than a glorified version of the hamlets they have been passing—ugly, depressing, and provincial. She looks at her husband and suddenly sees a stranger who "wasn't of her kind." The people waiting on the platform to greet her seem dull-eyed and unadventurous, and she is seized by a powerful desire to run away. But Carol resolves to make an effort to like the town and its people, and "to find in the courage and kindness of her man a shelter from the perplexing world."

Analysis

Chapter 3 highlights the differences in how Carol and Kennicott view the world—differences that will not be easy to reconcile. Where Carol sees the passengers on the train as dirty and ignorant peasants, Kennicott sees them as good people, content with their lives. Carol views the towns they pass as interchangeable pockets of ugliness, but Kennicott sees "good hustling burgs." Even Gopher Prairie, described by Kennicott with affection and pride, is seen by Carol as a place having "no dignity in it nor any hope of greatness." By sharing the couple's perspectives, Lewis is actually presenting two points of view common in the early 20th century. Some saw the country as being fine the way it was, and other advocated for the dramatic changes being advocated during the Progressive Era.

Carol maintains a certain hopefulness, though, thinking that the "Northern Middlewest," which feeds a quarter of the world, may be the newest empire of the world. She also realizes her expectations for small-town America may have been colored by reading too many books. What is somewhat surprising, though, is that at the end of the chapter, she reverts to the kind of woman she once implied she did not want to be—a woman who needs to be sheltered from unpleasant realities by her man.

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