Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 35 | Summary

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Summary

Life—and death—continue in Gopher Prairie. Mrs. Champ Perry dies, and Champ, one of the few remaining pioneers who founded Gopher Prairie, becomes a broken man. He is let go from his job without a pension, and no one is willing to hire him, or even worry about what will happen to him. Only Carol is concerned. She finally succeeds in getting him a job as a night watchman, where at least he has a warm place to sleep.

Raymie Wutherspoon, Vida's husband, returns from the war after having been gassed. He is now a more serious man, different from when he left. Still, he knows what his neighbors want to hear, and he assures them tha the cities in Europe are not as beautiful as Gopher Prairie and that all American soldiers were exemplars of morality. For a time, he is treated as a hero, but within a month he has blended back into the town.

For the first time in decades, the town is attempting real change. The war has brought unexpected wealth to Gopher Prairie in the form of inflated wheat prices (which the farmers themselves don't profit from), and lucrative land deals. Town leaders begin plans for expanding the town. They bring in James Blausser, a professional "booster," and task him with making Gopher Prairie attractive to business owners and government agencies. Blausser is loud, rough, and very persuasive. He begins a full-blown and very expensive publicity campaign celebrating Gopher Prairie and convinces the town to put in a White Way, a street with electric lights and ornamental posts that had become fashionable in the Middlewest. A year later, only one small factory has been persuaded to come to Gopher Prairie.

Analysis

The first part of Chapter 35 displays once again how self-absorbed the citizens of Gopher Prairie are and how easily they forget the contributions of others. Both Champ and Raymie are heroes—one for taming the wilderness, the other for fighting in the war. But Champ, a symbol of the people who built Gopher Prairie out of a wilderness, is left to fend for himself after the loss of both his wife and his livelihood. Raymie, a hero of the war, sees his contributions forgotten in less than a month.

The main focus of the chapter, however, is "boosterism," an idea that began in 19th-century America. Boosterism refers to attempts to boost—or stimulate—the reputation of a place and enhance how others perceive it. This is sometimes done for the betterment of the city—to attract new businesses and residents, and help the city to grow. But it can also be done for reasons of pride, so town leaders can feel their town is the equal of more progressive cities. The tools used by boosters include exaggeration, idealism, myth-making, and overstatement. In other words, they try to make others believe the town is something it is not.

James Blausser is good at all these things, but he excels at telling people what they want to hear. He swears he will make Gopher Prairie the next Minneapolis. He trivializes the great cities of Europe, saying its cities are nothing but "fog and out-of-date buildings." The normally tight-fisted town is happy to give him the money he needs to mount a publicity campaign and create a "White Way." But in the end, Gopher Prairie attracts only one small factory, since outsiders are able to see the truth of the town more clearly than its inhabitants do.

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