Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Gopher Prairie

Gopher Prairie. Fictional Minnesota town that is the novel’s primary setting and target of its satire. Lewis begins with a prologue describing Gopher Prairie’s Main Street as the “continuation of Main Streets everywhere. . . . the climax of civilization. . . . Our railway station is the final aspiration of architecture.”

Lewis modeled Gopher Prairie on the similarly sized town of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, in which he grew up. Each is a wheat town of about three thousand residents, situated at the edge of an endless prairie, but within easy reach of Minnesota’s many lakes. In a thirty-two-minute walk, Carol Kennicott, the newly arrived bride of Dr. Will Kennicott, completely explores the town. She hopes to find a village of the sort described in sentimental novels, with hollyhocks and quiet lanes and quaint inhabitants. Instead, she is overwhelmed by the ugliness that greets her as she walks down Main Street. The town’s three-story hotel is shabby; its dining room a sea of stained tablecloths. The drug store features a greasy marble soda fountain and shelves of dubious patent medicines. A grocery story has overripe fruit in its window. The meat market reeks of blood. The saloons stink of stale beer. The clock in front of the jewelry store does not work. There is no park or courthouse with shady grounds where she can rest her eyes. Only two buildings please her. The Bon Ton Store, the largest in town, is at least clean, and the Farmers’ National Bank is housed in an Ionic temple.

The people of Main Street match the buildings. The clerk raising an awning before his store has dirty hands, and none of the men appears to have shaved in the last three days. The Gopher Prairie elite, who gather in the evening to welcome Carol, disappoint her. Lewis defines the village aristocracy as composed of all persons engaged in professions, or earning over twenty-five hundred dollars a year, or having grandparents born in America. However, to Carol they appear uncouth, lacking in culture, and deficient in style.

Lewis displays some ambivalence in his attitude toward Gopher Prairie, softening his satire as the novel continues. As Main Street...

(The entire section is 902 words.)