Main Street Study Guide

Main Street Study Guide

Original title:
Main Street

Main Street is a satirical novel by Sinclair Lewis that shows us the futility of the idealism and progressive ideas about equality and cultural growth when the environment and society aren’t ready to accept it. But the other side of the satire is not the indifference of the people of the town of Gopher Prairie. It is the excessive idealism of the protagonist of the story, Carol Milford. She believes that everyone is as progressive and prone to change world for good as she is. She enters the already established society, tries to change it completely and wonders why she is so unwelcomed and considered weird.

Main Street is the tragedy of a young woman whose innocence and idealism are ruined by the mundane and dull life of the small town in the middle of nowhere. But it is also the tragedy of the idealism itself, that sometimes is too detached from the reality and simply lacks the pragmatic reasons for the ordinary people to follow its ideas. We see that Carol’s frenemy from Gopher Prairie takes her ideas and interprets them in their own way, opening a whole school instead of a single literary club or an amateur theater. She is much more close to earth, but her interpretation of the idealistic ideas can be understood by the locals: they see the future profit from supporting them.

The bittersweet ending of the story shows that Carol, who finally left Gopher Prairie but found that the rest of the world isn’t ready for her ideas too, may only hope that her daughter and the next generation in general will have better chances to establish their lives as they want and change the world for good. Despite all the harshness and disappointments Carol had to endure, she converted them into the valuable experience. She doesn’t feel defeated, thinking about using her life as an example for her daughters to let them not repeat her own mistakes.

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