Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Chapter 4 | Summary



Carol decides to get to know Gopher Prairie, but is not impressed by the half-dozen shops and their contents, all of which seem either very basic, or annoyingly pretentious. She despairs at the "unsparing, unapologetic ugliness" she sees around her. Also getting her first view of the town is a young woman named Bea Sorenson. She has come from a farm town of 67 and is thrilled by the impressive-looking people, the electric lights, the shops, and the movie theater. To her, Gopher Prairie is a teeming metropolis.

That night, Kennicott and Carol attend a welcome party at the home of Sam Clark, genial owner of the hardware store and several other businesses. She is introduced to her new neighbors—Dave Dyer the druggist; Luke Dawson, "the richest man in town;" Nat Hicks, the tailor; Ezra Stowbody, the bank president; and Chet Dashaway, the furniture man and undertaker. Carol is a little surprised by the mix of social classes but learns that, in Gopher Prairie, being good at hunting or fishing or telling a good story is as important as success in business. She also meets the "smart set," led by Harry and Juanita Haydock. But as the party progresses, she learns that "conversation [does] not exist in Gopher Prairie." She sits down with the men, and begins to mention such things as the labor movement, the women's movement, and welfare. She is quickly shut down, and Kennicott cautions her to be careful about "shocking folks."


Carol's walk down Main Street is a famous example of Lewis's mastery of realism, a literary technique used to represent people and places as they are, rather than through a romantic or idealized lens. In this case, Lewis uses realism to show Gopher Prairie as the dull, unattractive place Carol (and perhaps Lewis himself) believes it to be. The details in the description focus on what is ugly, tasteless, bland, or pretentious. Interestingly, though, Carol's view is balanced by that of Bea Sorenson, who sees the town as a wonderland, suggesting that reality depends on one's point of view.

The question of perception is also raised during the dinner party, which in Carol's eyes is hopelessly dull. The party is totally at odds with Carol's earlier romantic notions of herself as a "smart married woman in a drawing room, fencing with clever men." But the men in the room seem to have no interest in social reform or any of the new "notions" that sometimes make their way into their town. And when Kennicott warns Carol not to be too shocking, her earlier confidence erodes, and she begs her husband to tolerate her "frivolousness."

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