- Explore more great deals on 1000's of titles in our Deals in Books store.
|Amazon Price||New from||Used from|
Main Street is very, very American, but it is not purely American. Shaw, in his characteristically flippant manner, spoke the truth when he said that Lewis’s criticisms applied to other nations as well, but that Americans clung to the idea that they were unique in their faults (Literary Digest, December 6, 1930); the British novelist John Galsworthy remarked, truly, that “Every country, of course, has its Main Streets” (Lewis, From Main Street to Stockholm: Letters of Sinclair Lewis, 1919–1930). Still, a disdain for intellect (or for what we nowadays prefer to denigrate as elitism) has been particularly marked in America, perhaps because of our commitment, stated if not practiced, to egalitarian democracy: On Main Street, Lewis writes, “to be ‘intellectual’ or ‘artistic’ or, in their own word, to be ‘highbrow,’ is to be priggish and of dubious virtue.”
More than eighty years after Lewis’s novel this is true, and it is true not only on Main Street but on Wall Street as well, and on Park Avenue, and on Pennsylvania Avenue. This is what makes Main Street such a stunning achievement: While it succeeds in being “contemporary history,” capturing a particular place at a particular moment in time, it also speaks for our own time; it is remarkable how much of Main Street is still pertinent. Gopher Prairie at war is not so very unlike our own flag-waving “war on terrorism.” Will Kennicott’s breezy dismissal of legal procedure—“Whenever it comes right down to a question of defending Americanism and our constitutional rights, it’s justifiable to set aside ordinary procedure”—can be read on almost any editorial page today. Gopher Prairie’s commercial ethos of material “progress” at the expense of every other variety, an idea Lewis would expand and crystallize in Babbitt, has been refined rather than improved in our own era of no-collar workers who meditate or practice yoga before closing the Big Deal rather than smoking cigars and guzzling alcohol.
Lewis, unlike so many of his contemporaries, was never tempted to look for an answer in political dogma: He hated dictatorships and had no particular faith in the virtue or good judgment of “the people.” All he really believed in was the wavering, imperfect liberal spirit: “Even if Com[munism] & Fax[cism] or both cover the world, Liberal[ism] must go on, seeming futile, preserving civilization,” he wrote in his notes for It Can’t Happen Here (quoted in Lingeman).
An atheist with no political illusions, two failed marriages, an unconquerable addiction to alcohol, and a moribund talent might be thought to have had every reason to give up in despair. Lewis, to his undying credit, did not. “It is a completely revelatory American tragedy,” he said in his Nobel Prize speech, “that in our land of freedom, men like [Hamlin] Garland, who first blast the roads to freedom, become themselves the most bound.” This has been true of many; it was never true of Lewis. Like Carol Kennicott, he was still reaching—though generally failing to grasp—right up to the end. His particular type of sociological fiction had gone out of fashion at the time of his death, and he continued to be undervalued for decades afterward. But in recent years we have returned to an appreciation for what he accomplished artistically. For what he was able to tell us about American life, in his day and in ours, we can only be grateful.
Main Street really captures the aura of small town America, especially middle Minnesota.
The fact that the book was published in 1920 adds to it's impact by unconsciously reminding the reader of how little things change.
Read this exemplary US novel about the power of the Moral Majority and its `public opinions'.
First read this in college (decades ago) and just recently re-read it. Still surprisingly relevant. Read morePublished on November 1, 2010 by RhodeIsland 1969
Finally got around to reading Main Street, which I bought years ago, after enjoying Babbitt and Arrowsmith. Read morePublished on August 24, 2010 by M. K. Houck
Every now and then I feel that I should read a "classic". Often, after finishing one, I say "What?". A few, I've given up 1/4 into it. Read morePublished on May 23, 2010 by Jos M. Hohmann
Sinclair Lewis burst onto the scene in 1920 with this searing novel about small-town USA. The story's main character is Carol Milford, an independent, progressive-minded young... Read morePublished on May 1, 2010 by K.A.Goldberg
This is one of my favorite books. Lewis is one of those authors who can be read and re-read, offering a wealth of new insights each time. Read morePublished on September 26, 2009 by brian t raymer
I just finished reading Main Street. It is as relevant today as it was when it was written (in 1920?). I only regret that it's taken me this long to discover Sinclair Lewis. Read morePublished on August 9, 2009 by Weasel
For Sinclair Lewis, his country is `a hope that is boundless. What is its future? A future of cities and factory smut? Homes universal and secure? Read morePublished on August 4, 2009 by Luc REYNAERT
Perhaps one who has lived a little will appreciate this novel.
Lewis magnificently captures the stark contrast of the urbanity of the cosmopolitan with the insular life... Read more