Course Hero Logo

Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Main Street Study Guide." Course Hero. 29 Nov. 2017. Web. 2 June 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, November 29). Main Street Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "Main Street Study Guide." November 29, 2017. Accessed June 2, 2023.


Course Hero, "Main Street Study Guide," November 29, 2017, accessed June 2, 2023,

Main Street | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The Story of a Would-Be Reformer

Main Street is an unconventional novel. On one level, it is the story of Carol Kennicott, a young woman from the city who marries a country doctor and moves with him to the small town of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. Once there, she makes a series of efforts to beautify the town, make it less provincial, and define her own role as a woman in a changing world. But Lewis's main goal is to satirize small town life, which he does in a series of episodes describing Carol's efforts at reform. As each episode unfolds, Lewis highlights the provincialism and narrow-mindedness of small-town America in early 20th century.


When the story begins, Carol is a bright young woman with ambitious dreams. Raised in the city of Minneapolis and college-educated, she wants to change the world. Eventually, though, she decides her true calling is to take one of the small prairie towns she has read about and turn it into something beautiful. Her opportunity comes when she meets and marries Will Kennicott, a doctor from Gopher Prairie. Carol quickly finds that her romantic notions of small towns may not have been accurate. She is dismayed by what she perceives as the town's ugliness, and by the smug, unsophisticated people who live there. But she rallies, determined to achieve her goals.


Carol embarks on a series of efforts to reform the town. Her neighbors respond pleasantly, but secretly criticize and accuse her of thinking she is better than they are. Carol is disconcerted but remains undaunted—at least, she tries to. She attends a meeting of the Jolly Seventeen, a group of "nice" married women, but she is treated as an outsider whose ideas are unwelcome. She joins the Thanatopsis Club—the supposed center of intellectual thought in the community—only to find they base their programs on a magazine called Culture Tips and believe all of English literature can be covered in an afternoon. Still, because the women are married to the more successful men in Gopher Prairie, she tries to engage them in an ambitious plan for reinventing the town. They quickly dismiss her ideas.

As her failures begin to mount, Carol turns for relief to the few people she is comfortable with. One is Vida Sherwin, a teacher, who serves as Carol's bridge to the more established citizens of Gopher Prairie. Most of her friends, though, are outsiders. For example, she enjoys the company of her housekeeper, Bea Sorenson, and the town rebel, Miles Bjornstam. When Bea and Miles marry, they become two of her dearest friends. She also connects with Guy Pollock, a disaffected lawyer, and a young man named Erik Valborg, whom she tries to remake into her ideal man, an image her own husband never matched. Except for a brief period after her baby is born, Carol becomes increasingly unhappy.


Carol's despair reaches new depths when Bea and her child die from typhoid, and Carol witnesses the complete indifference of the town to what happened. Later, she watches in horror as a young woman's reputation is destroyed by gossip. She finally feels she can no longer bear the town, and leaves her husband to live with her child in Washington for two years. Her experiences there mature her, and she eventually realizes much of what she saw in Gopher Prairie is not unique to the town. She returns home, willing to accept the town for what it is, and work for change a bit at a time. However, she is proud of her brief rebellion, feeling that she may not have won, but she at least had "kept the faith."

Main Street Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Carol marries Kennicott and moves to Gopher Prairie.

Rising Action

2 Carol attempts to modernize the town and introduce culture.

3 Carol discovers the town's hypocrisy and refusal to change.

4 Events like Bea Sorenson's death demoralize Carol.


5 Carol falls for Erik but remains faithful to her husband.

Falling Action

6 Carol moves to Washington to discover who she is.


7 Carol returns to Gopher Prairie, finally accepting her life.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Main Street? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!