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Main Street

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  15,213 ratings  ·  598 reviews
The lonely predicament of Carol Kennicott, caught between her desires for social reform and individual happiness, reflects the position in which America's turn-of-the-century, "emancipated woman" found herself. Carol's dilemma is intensified by the fact that she lives in the small, self-satisified, Midwestern town of Gopher Prairie. An allegory of exile and return, "Main S ...more
Hardcover, 472 pages
Published July 8th 2002 by IndyPublish.com (first published 1920)
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sckenda
Carol Kennicott is a sophisticated bookworm who, prisoner of circumstance, is condemned to live in a small town that does not share her appreciation for art, literature, or the world at large. Carol ignores the good while focusing on the imperfect. She attempts to reform the town's physical ugliness, smug conformism, and pettiness. Meanwhile, returning the favor, the town attempts to squeeze her into its mould. Sometimes, we fail by never making peace with our place. Sometimes, we are victors by ...more
Paul
On page 25 I thought – this guy is brilliant.

On page 50 I thought – this guy is exhaustively brilliant.

On page 100 I thought – I’m exhausted.

On page 150 I thought – I’ll never get out of this novel alive.

On page 200 I thought – so who knew there could be so much DETAIL about every last possible aspect of one teensy Minnesotan town lodged inside the Tardis-like head of Sinclair Lewis?

On page 213 my eye fell upon this :

It’s the worst defeat of all. I’m beaten. By Main Street. I must go on. But I c
...more
Alex
"A bomb to blow up smugness" is what one woman hopefully calls her child in Sinclair Lewis's broadside attack on mainstream America, and that's surely what this book is.

I'm not quite sure how a book can be quiet and bombastic at the same time, but that's what Main Street is. It covers just over a decade in Carol Milford's life, as her dreams are repeatedly drowned. She comes to Main Street, America, with grand plans to mean something in a dimly socialist way. Main Street is having none of it.

Lew
...more
Kim

I was dimly aware of Sinclair Lewis but completely unfamiliar with his work when I read John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley: In Search of America a couple of years ago. Steinbeck, who admired Lewis, wanted to find his way from St Paul to Sauk Centre, Lewis' Minnesota hometown and the town on which the fictional location of this novel, Gopher Prairie, is based. He recounts his conversation with a waitress in a diner who gave him directions to the town: "They got a sign up. I guess quite a few f
...more
Evan
Small-town America. Ah, the scent of pine. The musty ramshackle old hardware store.

But what is this? Something amiss in one of these romanticized burgs? Something dark and sinister?

"I never imagined something like this would happen in our town," says the half-toothless talking head on the six o'clock news about the murder, even though you've seen this very thing happen in small towns 10,000 times in your life on the six o'clock news.

Small-town America is supposed to be different somehow; supp
...more
Jeannine Mason
I can't properly rate this book, because I did not enjoy it (or finish it yet), but I appreciate the satire and how its "commentary" on small minded people still holds true today.

To me, Lewis didn't try to build deep, interesting characters, he built representations about everything that reeks in society. This is a book that says, "You think you can change the way people think? Well, follow me to Main Street, and we will see about that." He treated the protagonists and antagonists with the same
...more
Ben Loory
actually kinda won me over at the end, once the main character actually, y'know, DID SOMETHING. but the first 200 or so pages of "small-town satire," which is just a buncha dad-bern idjits talkin' like this is some of the most annoying shit i've ever read in my life.

beyond comprehension that this guy won a nobel prize. though i guess english wasn't the jury's first language.
Cindy
Mar 04, 2008 Cindy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those stuggling with life in a small town
Recommended to Cindy by: Sister
I had just moved to a small town in Minnesota - with the same aspirations as this classic charater of many years before me, yet my thoughts and run ins were very much the same 50 years later. It was a reminder that one fits or one doesn't fit but to spend your life trying to change the engrained to your likely only means you will spend your life in turmoil, in hopes others after you, long after you will find the place more to your liking. Shortly afterwards - I moved.
Anna
Kept feeling like a disappoving old lady reading this book: "This young man writes very well, but I don't like his tone." Smug. Unutterably smug, and he doesn't seem to like or care about any of his characters, which makes the whole exercise rather cold. I suppose, ninety years later, the "small towns are narrow-minded and hypocritical" theme has been done to death, and Lewis deserves credit for pioneering the genre, but on the whole I didn't like it.
Lisa
Sinclair Lewis was the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. The citation reads for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters. His most well-known novels are Main Street (1920) and Babbit (1922).

Main Street ruffled more than a few feathers in small town America when it was first published in 1920, and I expect it has the same effect on some readers today, nearly a century later. Sinclair Lew
...more
Cass
The main character is me. Wow, she is blowing me away by her similarities, and I am both impressed with the ability to capture me in text, and embarrassed that the one literary character that represents me the most is so flawed.

I want to be Anne Elliot (or Elizabeth or Emma for that matter), or Menolly, or Hermione or Katniss (Erm, maybe not), heroines that are strong and without major flaws. Instead I am Carol Kennicott the most maddening main character I have ever met... and she is me to a tee
...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in November 2000.

Main Street has been described as "one of the most merciless novels ever written". It is an apt description of this depiction of small town midwestern America in the early years of this century, but there is an important element in Lewis' writing which it does not convey.Lewis understands his subject through and through, and that makes what he has to say not just merciless but believable. He also doesn't just restrict his attack to provincial
...more
Brett
As someone with a deep familiarity with small town rural life in the upper plains, this book should certainly have been appealing to me. The points that Lewis returns to over and over again--that these towns are full of narrow-minded, self-important fools--are undeniably true. Maybe it's because I grew up in such a town though, instead of being a transplant like the book's protagonist Carol, that I also feel a certain grudging respect and even love for these places.

Lewis' knives are also out fo
...more
Seak (Bryce L.)
Read this in high school, well it was a summer reading book and I remember hating it. I actually enjoyed a lot of my summer reading list including Watership Down, The Once and Future King, The Jungle, and others, but this one killed it for me.

Looking back, however, I'm pretty sure I missed something when I first read it, some joke that everyone got but me. I think I may have to revisit this one day and see how my more literate and well-read (and snobbish) self rates it.
Marian
A satire isn't necessarily funny or lighthearted. Critical--yes. Pessimistic--yes. Main Street is just that book. The characters are ridiculed by the author and don't seem to improve their vices, or change their points of view from beginning to end. But sometimes who doesn't enjoy some sarcasm? I did.


Stefanie
I was really interested in the themes of this book. The novel is strikingly relevant even 90-something years after its publication. The protagonist, Carrie, struggles against falling into the rut of quiet, midwestern life while progressivism rages on in the bustling cities she once called home. I could sympathise with a lot of her feelings- the stagnancy and the dullness of the country compared to urban life. They didn't really have suburbs as we know them back in the 1910s, but I could relate t ...more
Karla
Sometimes I don't want to be a character's best friend, and actually enjoy disliking them intensely. Carol comes to a bucolic little town and wants to turn it into a cultured little haven for those wanting to escape city life. In other words, they want to leave the city, but bring it along with them. As a native of a small town where a bunch of transplants have attempted (and succeeded) to turn it into a twee little "getaway", I admit to having more than a tad of satisfaction at Carol's collapse ...more
Will
I used to travel occasionally across the state and visited some small towns where I thought, “This looks pretty nice… maybe not much going on…but, if you had not been previously spoiled by the trappings of “city” life (i.e. did not know better) it might be an enjoyable place to live.” Well…this book annihilated that little theory. I suppose I had it partially right in that you can’t move down to the farm after you’ve seen gay Paris (that’s a joke if you know where I live). But, more disconcertin ...more
Briynne
This book was intensely personal to me – so much so that I found myself closing the book so I could just stare at the wall and think at points. The plot concerns the struggles of a woman, Carol, against the strange omniscience and rigidity of a small Midwestern town. She is a city-girl who marries a country doctor and optimistically sets out for a new life on the prairie, circa World War I. Upon settling in, she realizes that her ideas for “improving” the town through the introduction of high cu ...more
Gigi
This book left me with mixed feelings. I did not enjoy the main character very much and so it took time to read the book and I was never excited to pick it up again. However, the insights given in the book I enjoyed. When one moves to a new place where is the balance between accepting those around you and keeping your individuality. In this case it is about a college educated woman moving to a small rural community in the early 1900's.

At the same time there are many issues that women deal with
...more
Mike
In the aftermath of Independence Day I had listened to a piece on NPR about the Great American Symphony, which in turn led me to ponder the Great American Novel. I understand why the term ought not to be singular, although I find its "singularity" charming; I understand why it is not particularly attainable, because times change and (supposedly) America is just too gosh-darned unique and diverse and unprecedented (or so the romantics would tell you, but I think a good writer can put his/her fing ...more
Kirsti
I know many people complain that not much happens in this book, and I am not the most patient reader, but I zipped right through it. I loved the commentary on tiny, unimportant events and the way the novel shifted from the main character's point of view.

I felt sympathetic to Carol, even though she is a cold person. Not a bad person, not a mean person, but not someone who can truly connect to others. Even her son falls short because she believes he thinks like his father.

From what I have read ab
...more
John
I still can't decide if I liked this book or not. I was fascinated that although this book was written nearly 100 years ago, the description of human nature as expressed thru a small community echoes many powerful parallels with today. I didn't resonate with some of Carol's progressive ideals, but I did find myself alternating between rooting for her to find happiness and wanting to shake her for overlooking the good in her life and never being happy. I'm glad I'm much more content in life than ...more
Jacqueline
I really enjoyed this book on a few different levels. The theme of a young bright girl marrying a country doctor and then being dissatisfied with her marriage is an obvious homage to 'Madame Bovary' but the story remains unique not only to the time and culture of its setting but to the characters themselves.

The main character Carol is not really missing so much the glitz and glamour of a big city, but of intellectual discourse and discussions of the arts, etc. that she can find in a more urban e
...more
Donna
"Main Street" is the story of how a college-educated city girl copes with living in small-town America. It is set in Minnesota from the years 1910 to 1920. Lewis has written a satire on small time life which was being depicted at the time as the most wholesome environment in America if not the entire world. In Lewis' view, small towns were made up of nosy people who were constantly in each other's business with a strong religious component (offset by the level of gossip going on)and a reluctance ...more
John
It's extremely unusual for me to not be able to get through something, but I found these characters SO IRRITATING! My stepfather was in love with the kind of small towns depicted in this book, and I can understand the charm, but something about this book just rubbed me the wrong way. At the time it was revolutionary, an expose of the way small towns operated to counteract the romantic idea that they were somehow pure and untouched by the meanness of the world, but Lewis writes from an attitude o ...more
Anton
I wish I could write words to do this novel justice but I can't, and there are a few excellent reviews of it on Goodreads already. Whenever I read Sinclair Lewis I feel like he is the greatest, most astute writer America has ever produced. So far ahead of his time, I can almost weep at the thought that hardly anyone has read him. This is my fourth Lewis novel, his most famous, and quite possibly his best that I've read too. For the love of good literature, read this book.
Sarah
Hmmm...I was rather excited about reading this book, but found it a real downer! I ended up not liking Carol at all, though I carried a hope to the very end that she'd make me like her. It didn't happen. One of the reviews at the end of the book used the word "joyless". I agree. It was about as joyful as writing on a cardboard box with a dull pencil. Even so, I'm glad I read it.
Joey
I liked the fact that the book addressed the certain truth about small towns: that everything is not necessarily idyllic in a small town just because it is small and seemingly "quaint". I didn't love any of the characters, Carol included, but I did like how Lewis satirized both the members of the town, as well as Carol and her designs on changing the town for "the better".
Hadrian
Caustic satire of small-town life. Although some of the concepts in the book are invariably dated, the concept and the characters are still only too familiar, and the follies of small-town living are laid bare.
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Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930 "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters." His works are known for their insightful and critical views of American capitalism and materialism between the wars. He is also respected for his strong characterizations of modern working women. H.L. Mencken wrote of him, "[If] the ...more
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“I think perhaps we want a more conscious life. We're tired of drudging and sleeping and dying. We're tired of seeing just a few people able to be individualists. We're tired of always deferring hope till the next generation. We're tired of hearing politicians and priests and cautious reformers... coax us, 'Be calm! Be patient! Wait! We have the plans for a Utopia already made; just wiser than you.' For ten thousand years they've said that. We want our Utopia now — and we're going to try our hands at it.” 31 likes
“They were staggered to learn that a real tangible person, living in Minnesota, and married to their own flesh-and-blood relation, could apparently believe that divorce may not always be immoral; that illegitimate children do not bear any special and guaranteed form of curse; that there are ethical authorities outside of the Hebrew Bible; that men have drunk wine yet not died in the gutter; that the capitalistic system of distribution and the Baptist wedding-ceremony were not known in the Garden of Eden; that mushrooms are as edible as corn-beef hash; that the word "dude" is no longer frequently used; that there are Ministers of the Gospel who accept evolution; that some persons of apparent intelligence and business ability do not always vote the Republican ticket straight; that it is not a universal custom to wear scratchy flannels next the skin in winter; that a violin is not inherently more immoral than a chapel organ; that some poets do not have long hair; and that Jews are not always peddlers or pants-makers.

"Where does she get all them the'ries?" marveled Uncle Whittier Smail; while Aunt Bessie inquired, "Do you suppose there's many folks got notions like hers? My! If there are," and her tone settled the fact that there were not, "I just don't know what the world's coming to!”
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