Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Is Main Street primarily a novel about Carol Kennicott or about Gopher Prairie?
Is Sinclair Lewis’s characterization of George Babbitt thoroughly satirical, or does Babbitt have dimensions that encourage the reader to view him sympathetically?
Is Martin Arrowsmith as convincing a character as George Babbitt or Carol Kennicott?
What descriptive techniques contribute to the success of Lewis’s depiction of village and small-town settings?
The title of one book about Lewis refers to his “quixotic vision.” What does this phrase mean, and what in Lewis’s novels justifies its application to him?
Lewis was the first American writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Did he deserve it?
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Sinclair Lewis started writing regularly during his freshman year at Yale University. His stories and poems imitating the manner of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Algernon Charles Swinburne appeared in the Yale Literary Magazine. His short stories began to appear in 1915 in The Saturday Evening Post. In 1934, Jayhawker: A Play in Three Acts was produced, and in 1935, Harcourt, Brace published the Selected Short Stories of Sinclair Lewis. During his lifetime, there were numerous stage and screen adaptations of many of his novels. The year after Lewis’s death, Harcourt, Brace published From Main Street to Stockholm: Letters of Sinclair Lewis, 1919-1930, containing the novelist’s correspondence with that publisher. In 1953, his miscellaneous writings appeared as The Man from Main Street: Selected Essays and Other Writings, 1904-1950.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
In 1930, Sinclair Lewis received the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first U.S. citizen so honored. He acknowledged in his acceptance address that the Swedish Academy honored American literature with this prize. By awarding it to the novelist who not only added the term “Babbitt” to the American language but also enriched the European vocabulary with his “Main Street,” Europe acknowledged America’s coming-of-age. There may have been a touch of condescension in the academy’s choice; the image of America that Lewis projected seemed to reinforce the European perception of the United States as a dollar-hunting, materialistic country, alien to cultural refinement.
Lewis’s road to fame was stormy. He wrote five novels before he achieved his first big success with Main Street in 1920. Critics were divided: The Dial neglected his books, and academic critics Fred L. Pattee and Irving Babbitt rejected him, but, at the peak of Lewis’s career, Vernon F. Parrington, T. K. Whipple, Constance Rourke, Walter Lippman, and Lewis Mumford acknowledged his strengths as a writer despite some reservations. H. L. Mencken enthusiastically supported him. English writers paid him tribute; among them were E. M. Forster, Rebecca West, Hugh Walpole, and John Galsworthy. They were joined by such fellow American writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Vachel Lindsay. Lewis himself was generous with others; he helped young writers such as Thomas Wolfe and was...
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bloom, Harold, ed. Sinclair Lewis. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Bloom has gathered together an excellent spread of criticism on Lewis. Essays range from an analysis of Arrowsmith to discussion on the tension between romanticism and realism in his work. Bloom’s introduction comments on the irony that the satirist Lewis should be remembered for the “idealizing romance” of Arrowsmith.
Bucco, Martin, ed. Critical Essays on Sinclair Lewis. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986. Divided into two large sections of contemporary reviews of Lewis’s novels and essay-length studies. The essays deal with the quality of the novels, Lewis’s use of humor, his treatment of art and artists and of American businesses and philistinism. Bucco provides an introduction but no bibliography.
Bucco, Martin, ed. “Main Street”: The Revolt of Carol Kennicott. New York: Twayne, 1993. One of Twayne’s masterwork studies, this work explores closely the characterization in Main Street and its effects on literature.
DiRenzo, Anthony. If I Were Boss: The Early Business Stories of Sinclair Lewis. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997. The introduction provides an excellent overview of Lewis’s work in journalism, advertising, and public relations and shows how he developed in his early short...
(The entire section is 558 words.)