Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 36 | Summary

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Summary

Kennicott becomes impatient with Carol's inability to be enthusiastic about the boosters' efforts in the community. They begin arguing more, disagreeing on everything from free speech to a woman's role. Their frustration with each other reaches its peak when a labor organizer comes to Gopher Prairie, and is run out of town by a mob. Eventually, Carol is pushed to her limit. She tells her husband she is going to take little Hugh and leave Gopher Prairie, at least for a time. Kennicott is shocked, but eventually he gives in, and provides Carol with the money she needs. She heads to Washington in October, just before the war ends. The local paper explains Carol's departure by saying she is headed to Washington to help with the war activities centered in the nation's capital.

Analysis

In this chapter, Kennicott is again used as the mouthpiece for all of the attitudes Lewis finds offensive in small towns, and perhaps in the country in general. Carol, in turn, appears to once more voice Lewis's own beliefs. As in similar chapters, using the characters for this purpose creates a bit of a disconnect. Decent and mild-mannered Kennicott is seldom this reactionary and is often the voice of reason. Carol, similarly, is rarely this articulate, eloquent, and well informed.

Regarding the labor organizer, Kennicott makes the paradoxical statement that it is justifiable to set aside "ordinary procedure"—that is, laws—to protect what he vaguely calls "constitutional rights." Carol challenges him by saying the good citizens of Gopher Prairie are just protecting their profits. He declares there is "too much free speech and ... free beer and free love" in the country, and that if he had his way he would make folks live up to common "rules of decency." Carol, on the other hand, addresses the importance of being able to speak one's mind. Finally, and most dangerously, Kennicott says that anyone who argues against commonly held beliefs is likely a traitor, in league with the Germans. Carol points out the absurdity of such a statement.

Kennicott finally goads Carol into action when he says women "get ideas," because they don't have enough work to do. She responds that women work hard and eventually will rebel, finding their own "real" work, and invading the offices that are now the sole province of men. However, when she finally does leave Gopher Prairie, she admits she is able to do so only because of Will's kindness and his willingness to fund her escape.

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