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Main Street | Study Guide

Sinclair Lewis

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Main Street | Symbols


Main Street

Although Main Street is both the name of the novel and the name of the central avenue that runs through Gopher Prairie, it almost immediately becomes a symbol for much more. In the preface, the narrator states that Main Street "is the continuation of Main Streets everywhere." As such, it represents the attitudes and way of life of the people who live in small towns across the country. In Lewis's vision, these traits include small-mindedness, a sense of entitlement, smugness, unwarranted pride, and the tendency to dismiss outsiders who do not fit certain standards. Even the protagonist of the novel, Carol Kennicott, uses the street name in this sense, metaphorically seeing bits of "Main Street" even in some of the larger cities she visits.

Village Virus

An idea invented by Guy Pollock, the town's lawyer and a defeated liberal, the Village Virus is "the germ which ... infects ambitious people who stay too long in the provinces." It causes people to lose their desire for a more exciting existence, and instead find contentment in a dull and monotonous life. Guy states the virus has turned him into "a living dead man." Carol adopts the term, and throughout the rest of the novel she tries to prevent herself from succumbing to the disease.


The train that brings Carol to Gopher Prairie takes on a special meaning for her. On one hand, it becomes the symbol of her eventual escape from the town. But she also sees it as the symbol of defeat, since it is taken by Miles Bjornstam after the town has destroyed his family, and by Fern Mullins after her reputation has been destroyed.


The Kennicott bedrooms are clear reflections of the state of their marriage. At the beginning of the novel, they share the same room and the same bed. As Carol begins to feel trapped by her situation and more impatient with what she sees as Will's limitations, she suggests separate bedrooms. In doing this, she moves away from him both emotionally and physically. At the end of the novel, upon her return to Gopher Prairie, Carol vows she will make an effort to be a good wife by once again sharing a room with Will. To her surprise, he says he doesn't mind the two-bedroom arrangement—he has gotten used to having his own space. It is not really a rejection of Carol, but it does show the pain he caused her, and that the love and trust he once felt has been compromised.

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