Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 37 | Summary

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Summary

Carol finds employment in Washington at the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. It is no more than an administrative role involving filing and correspondence, but it is nonetheless a job. Carol quickly realizes that offices have gossip and politics just as Gopher Prairie did, and that parts of the city feel like transplanted bits of Main Street. But she loves the city's graceful architecture and the fact that she doesn't know every soul who lives there. She moves in with a secretary and a teacher and soon feels she is "no longer one-half of a marriage but the whole of a human being."

Carol connects with people who are more like her than the people of Gopher Prairie ever were, including a group of suffragists. She does not become active herself, feeling that her own adventure has started too late for her to do so, but she is proud of the women who challenge the status quo. She also learns that Gopher Prairie was a model of intellectuality compared to many of the other prairie towns she hears about. She realizes it may not be the people themselves who are to blame for their attitudes, but rather such entrenched institutions as "Polite Society," the "Family," "Sound Business" and the "Church." But the most important thing Carol gains in Washington is renewed confidence in herself.

Analysis

Although Carol faces some disillusionment when she arrives in Washington, those same disappointments help her begin to mature and have "the courage to be wise." She realizes that gossip and small-mindedness are not unique to prairie towns, and that Gopher Prairie itself was actually more sophisticated than many other small towns. She becomes aware that she herself does not have the energy or enthusiasm to become a true rebel, and she satisfies herself with supporting those who do. Most importantly, she comes to realize it is not the individuals in a town who cause the problems that upset her, but the institutions that have shaped them. These institutions are too entrenched and powerful to fight against, and Carol realizes the best she can do is recognize their tyrannies for what they are and not be overwhelmed by them.

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