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.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The Rise of the Middle Class
The American middle class, a category that most citizens fall into today, developed during the...

(The entire section is 925 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Point of View
Most of Main Street is told from a third person, limited omniscient point of view. It is third person...

(The entire section is 713 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Very few critics or literary scholars praise Lewis for the aesthetics of his work. It makes some sense to think of Lewis more as a social...

(The entire section is 203 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1920: The year that Main Street is published, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution grants the vote to women.


(The entire section is 278 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

In the last chapters of the novel, Carol lives in Washington among suffragists. Research the women’s suffrage movement between 1915 and...

(The entire section is 280 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Clearly, Sinclair Lewis descends from a line of social critics such as Thomas Paine, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Mark...

(The entire section is 162 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Besides Main Street, Lewis's best novels include Babbitt, Arrowsmith (1925), Elmer Gantry (1927), and...

(The entire section is 132 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Main Street has not been adapted to film, but many of Lewis's novels have. See the biographical entry on Lewis for a discussion of...

(The entire section is 26 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Sinclair Lewis: Main Street Revisited is a 1998 videocassette from Thomas S. Klise Company. It includes photos of Lewis and his...

(The entire section is 205 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

The novel that Sinclair Lewis wrote after Main Street was Babbitt. Published in 1922, it is about a middle-aged salesman and...

(The entire section is 384 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Grebstein, Sheldon Norman, Sinclair Lewis, Twayne Publishers, 1962, p. 38.

Mencken, H. L.,...

(The entire section is 313 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bucco, Martin. Main Street: The Revolt of Carol Kennicott. New York: Twayne, 1993. Focuses on Lewis’ development of his Main Street heroine, especially her unconscious self-perceptions as prairie princess, Carol D’Arc, Lady Bountiful, Mater Dolorosa, Village Intellectual, American Bovary, and Passionate Pilgrim.

Davenport, Garvin F. “Gopher-Prairie-Lake-Wobegon: The Midwest as Mythical Space.” In Sinclair Lewis at One Hundred: Papers Presented at a Centennial Conference. St. Cloud, Minn.: St. Cloud State University, 1985. Creates connection between fictional places and their peoples. Relates them to Yi-Fu Tuan’s...

(The entire section is 211 words.)