Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 39 | Summary

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Summary

Upon her return to Gopher Prairie, Carol finds most of the townspeople happy to see her again. She decides that she is neither glad nor sorry to be back, but will make a real effort to be content. She even plans to give up her own room but finds to her surprise that Kennicott doesn't want her to.

Despite the efforts of the boosters, Carol finds little in the town has changed. Vida and her committee, however, have made the new school building a reality. Impressed, Carol tells Vida she will work for her in any capacity, and she is put in charge of the rest-room for the farmer's wives. She spruces it up, which leads some in the town to comment that she is up to her old reforming ways. But they are more accepting of her now, and even a bit proud. She is a woman of Main Street, and she has returned home.

The Kennicotts' baby daughter is born, and Carol dreams about the child's bright future. Carol finally settles comfortably into Gopher Prairie, although she knows she will always stir things up at times. She is proud that she has "never excused [her] failures by sneering at [her] aspirations." She may not have won the fight, she tells Kennicott, but she has kept the faith.

Analysis

Readers and critics disagree as to whether the ending to Main Street is satisfying or disappointing, and about whether Carol has grown as a person, or simply given up. There is evidence to support both opinions. Because Carol returns to Gopher Prairie and its inhabitants, it could be argued she has succumbed to the Village Virus as Guy Pollock did, and become a "good wife of Main Street." She seems much more willing to overlook people's foibles, and is more content to try to effect small changes from within the structure of the town. She no longer has big dreams, nor does she make grand gestures. She has become "hopelessly settled."

On the other hand, many readers see Carol as evolving from an impractical romantic to a much more mature, realistic individual. Rather than focusing on the town's flaws and provincial nature, she now neither idealizes it, nor unfairly disparages it. She also realizes progress comes in small increments, and is content to believe her daughter may reap the benefits, even if she herself does not. The most obvious reason to think the end of the story is a positive one, though, is that Carol is finally content with her husband, the town, and herself.

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