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Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 38 | Summary



After having lived in Washington for a year, Carol tires of office work and begins to feel like "a faded government clerk from Gopher Prairie, Minnesota." She bumps into Juanita and Harry Haddock, in town on business, and feels homesick for a place where people know her. On another occasion, she spots Percy Bresnahan, Gopher Prairie's wealthy and famous citizen, only to hear him described as a "good-hearted idiot." Then one day she goes to the movies and is startled to see Erik Valborg playing a bit part in the film. Seeing Percy and Erik in a new light gives her a renewed appreciation for her husband.

Kennicott himself comes to visit Carol in November, 13 months after her arrival in Washington. He is endearingly eager to please her. He tells her he is going to build the new house they had once talked about, and that she can decide on the details. But he also says he won't beg her to love him or come back with him. He wants her to return only when she is ready. Before he leaves, though, he persuades her to join him on what he calls a "second wooing," and they travel south together.

Carol realizes, finally, that Kennicott is a complex man with "bewilderments and concealments as intricate as her own." She decides she will return to him—eventually—but she will not be defeated. She will be unafraid to ask questions and take risks and will continue to challenge the status quo. She thinks she may finally be able to love the town.

Five months after Kennicott leaves, Carol returns to Gopher Prairie, pregnant with her second child.


At the beginning of the chapter, it appears Carol has fallen into her old pattern of trying something new, only to discard it the moment she becomes bored. But she has changed, and her new maturity enables her to continue down the path she has chosen, at least until there is a valid reason to make a change. She is also less romantic than she was, especially after hearing Percy Bresnahan described as an idiot, and finding that her idealized Erik is a second-rate actor, rather than an unappreciated, tragic poet.

The arrival of Kennicott further advances her growth. The man who comes to Washington is the admirable Kennicott the reader has seen several times before—solid, dependable, patient, and loving. He is now more willing to see things from Carol's point of view, as symbolized by his eagerness to let her design their new house. But above all, he is realistic and practical. He knows that unless Carol returns of her own volition, their marriage will never be successful. Carol herself is torn, having discovered a new affection for Gopher Prairie, but afraid she is to easily giving up her dreams of reshaping the world. At last she finds a compromise, deciding she can return to Gopher Prairie but not be defeated by the town or its inhabitants.

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