Main Street Character and Theme Quotes

Sinclair Lewis

Essential Quotes by Character: Carol Kennicott

Essential Passage 1: Chapter 2

“Come on. Come to Gopher Prairie. Show us. Make the town—well—make it artistic. It’s mighty pretty, but I’ll admit we aren’t any too darn artistic. Probably the lumberyard isn’t as scrumptious as all these Greek temples. But go to it! Make us change!
“I would like to. Some day!”
“Now! You’d love Gopher Prairie. We’ve been doing a lot with lawns and gardening the past few years, and it’s so homey—the big trees and—And the best people on earth. And keen. I bet Luke Dawson—.”
Carol but half listened to the names. She could not fancy their ever becoming important to her.
“I bet Luke Dawson has got more money than most of the swells on Summit Avenue; and Miss Sherwin the high school is a regular wonder—reads Latin like I do English; and Sam Clark, the hardware man, he’s a corker—not a better man in the state to go hunting with; and if you want culture, besides Vida Sherwin there’s Reverend Warren, the Congregational preacher, and Professor Mott, the superintendent of schools, and Guy Pollock, the lawyer—they say he writes regular poetry and—and Raymie Wutherspoon, he’s not such an awful book when you get to know him, and he sings swell. And—And there’s plenty of others. Lym Cass. Only of course none of them have your finesse, you might call it. But they don’t make ‘em any more appreciative and so on. Come on! We’re ready for you to boss us!”


Carol Milford has progressed through Blodgett College in Minnesota, deciding after various false starts to study library science. Beginning her career in the main library in St. Paul, Carol revels in her social life with friends, discussing ideas, enjoying theatre and concerts, etc. At one party she meets Will Kennicott, a doctor from the small town of Gopher Prairie. Their courtship is conventional, commencing to the point where Will begins to talk of Carol’s coming to Gopher Prairie, presumably as his wife. He shows her streaky pictures which he assumes will draw her to the beauty that he sees in his hometown. He then appeals to her “missionary” spirit, sparking her interest in town reform and beautification. Will tells her of the good Carol could do in bringing her taste for beauty to Gopher Prairie. Carol is mildly intrigued, but not overwhelmed with a passion to be the savior of Gopher Prairie, at least just yet. Will then tells her of the town’s inhabitants, especially those whom he believes hold similar interests as Carol. Yet all these people that he praises so highly will, after their marriage, become objects of his scorn, as will Carol’s plans to renovate the town. Yet Carol eventually accepts the challenge, marrying Will and moving to Gopher Prairie to begin a life she has long planned, but will be far different from that which she will actually live.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 36

Forlornly, “Uh—Carrie, what the devil is it you want, anyway?” Oh, conversation! No, it’s much more than that. I think it’s a greatness of life—a refusal to be content with even the healthiest mud.”
“Don’t you know that nobody ever solved a problem by running away from it?”
“Perhaps. Only I choose to make my own definition of ‘running away.’ I don’t call—Do you realize how big a world there is beyond this Gopher Prairie where you’d keep me all my life? It may be that some day I’ll come back, but not till I can bring something more than I have now. And even if I am cowardly and run away—all right, call it cowardly, call me anything you want to! I’ve been ruled too long by fear of being called things. I’m going away to be quiet and think. I’m—I’m going! I have a right to my own life.”
“So have I to mine!”
“I have a right to my life—and you’re it, you’re my life! You’ve made yourself so. I’m damned if I’ll agree to all your freak...

(The entire section is 1817 words.)

Essential Quotes by Theme: Small-Town Society

Essential Passage 1: Introduction

This is America—a town of a few thousand, in a region of wheat and corn and dairies and little groves.
The town is, in our tale, called “Gopher Prairie, Minnesota.” But its Main Street is the continuation of Main Streets everywhere. The story would be the same in Ohio or Montana, in Kansas or Kentucky or Illinois, and not very differently would it be told Up York State or in the Carolina Hills.
Main Street is the climax of civilization. That this Ford car might stand in front of the Bon Ton Store, Hannibal invaded Rome and Erasmus wrote in Oxford cloisters. What Ole Jenson the grocer says to Ezra Stowbody the banker is the new law for London, Prague, and the unprofitable isles of the sea; whatsoever Ezra does not know and sanction, that thin is heresy, worthless for knowing and wicked to consider.
Our railway station is the final aspiration of architecture. Sam Clark’s annual hardware turnover is the envy of the four counties which constitute God’s Country. In the sensitive art of the Rosebud Movie Palace there is a Message, and humor strictly moral.
Such is our comfortable tradition and sure faith. Would he not betray himself an alien cynic who should otherwise portray Main Street, or distress the citizens by speculating whether there may not be other faiths?


In this introduction to Main Street, Sinclair Lewis sets forth his thesis statement for the novel. He states that Gopher Prairie is a symbol for every small town in American during the first half of the twentieth century. The events, emotions, and exchanges that occur in Gopher Prairie could easily happen in any other place. Lewis also presents Gopher Prairie’s society (with the symbolic title of “Main Street”) as the climax of all of Western Civilization. It is for the opinions expressed and the lives lived out on Main Street that Greeks and Romans battled for supremacy. The ancient philosophers and theologians prepared the way for the small town point of view. Furthermore, as Main Street society is a reflection of America, it is also a major influence for what transpires eventually in the rest of the Western world, throughout Europe, and even throughout the rest of the nations. The “American Way of Life” that will pervade the planet following the Second World War finds its source in small town America.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 13

“…I’m a confirmed doubter of myself. (Probably I’m conceited about my lack of conceit!) Anyway, Gopher Prairie isn’t particularly bad. It’s like all villages in all countries. Most places that have lost the smell of earth but not yet acquired the smell of patchouli –or of factory-smoke—are just as suspicious and righteous. I wonder if the small town isn’t with some lovely exceptions, a social appendix? Some day these dull market-towns may be as obsolete as monasteries. I can imagine the farmer and his local store-manager going by monorail, at the end of the day, into a city more charming than any William Morris Utopia—music, a university clubs for loafers like me. (Lord, how I’d like to have a real club!)”
She asked impulsively. “You, why do you stay here?”
“I have the Village Virus.”
“It sounds dangerous.”
“It is. More dangers than the cancer that will certainly get me at fifty unless I stop this smoking. The Village Virus is the germ which—it’s extraordinarily like the hook-worm—it infects ambitious people who stay too long in the provinces. You’ll find it epidemic among lawyers and doctors and ministers and college-bred merchants—all these people who have had a glimpse of the world that thinks and laughs, but have returned to their swamp. I’m a perfect example….”


Carol Kennicott stops by the flat of Guy Pollock on a visit to the Perrys (who are not home, somewhat to her relief), and they begin to chat about Carol’s attempts to revolutionize Gopher Prairie. Guy points out that the Perrys were pioneers to the area, settling before the town was built. He cannot imagine that they will want to look that far into the future in order to pull the town into it. Carol asks outright what exactly is the matter with Gopher Prairie. In a backhanded manner, Guy defends Gopher Prairie for being what it is. It is the same as all the other small towns in America, neither behind them or in front of them. He states that they are currently in a state of transition between the rural nineteenth century and the urban twentieth. It has not left the smell of the herbs and the forest (the meaning of his term “patchouli”) for the scent of the smoke of factories. He foresees a time when, in a strange reversal of the current “bedroom community,” people...

(The entire section is 2096 words.)