What Do I Read Next?
The novel that Sinclair Lewis wrote after Main Street was Babbitt. Published in 1922, it is about a middle-aged salesman and his uncomfortable search for meaning in an increasingly impersonal world. A Bantam Books edition, published in 1998, is currently available, with an introduction by John Wickersham.
In chapter 14 of Main Street, Lewis says, “Her preparations for stalking out of the Doll’s House were not yet visible.” The reference is to Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House, about a strong-willed wife who defies social custom when she finds that she can no longer be kept by a husband who loves her but does not respect her intelligence. Dover Press published a thrift edition of this play in 1992.
French writer Gustav Flaubert’s Emma Bovary is often referred to as clearly being a model for Carol Kennicott—they both are women who find their spirits suppressed by their roles as wives of small-town doctors. The 1857 novel Madame Bovary is available in a Bantam Classics edition, published in 1982.
A generation before Lewis made his reputation for taking a naturalist approach to the American small town, Theodore Dreiser gained fame for applying the same techniques to urban life. His novel Sister Carrie (1900) shows a young country girl who is ruined by the stifling coldness of the city, driven to a life of degradation and prostitution. Signet has a 2000 reissue edition with an introduction by Richard Lingeman.
In 1899, novelist Kate Chopin attracted a storm of controversy with her novel The Awakening, about a married woman’s growing awareness of her own intelligence and sensitivity. It is currently available from Avon in a 1994 edition.
Willa Cather was a writer whose best works documented life on the prairie at the beginning of the twentieth century. Her novel My Antonia is about a Bohemian peasant girl who grows up on a Nebraska farm, in circumstances similar to those Lewis describes. It was first published in 1918 and is currently available in a 1995 edition from Houghton Mifflin.
One of Lewis’s contemporaries was Sherwood Anderson, whose collection of short stories, Winesburg, Ohio, is a master work of American fiction. First published in 1919, it looks at the stifling effects of small-town life through the eyes of teenage boy, who recognizes his hometown as a place of “grotesques.” Bantam published a new edition in 1995.