Main Street


By Sinclair Lewis

cover image of Main Street

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Harry Sinclair Lewis (7th February, 1885 – 10th January, 1951) was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930 "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters." Whilst an accurate description of his writing it misses the central theme and tone of his work which is more evident from his own words in accepting the Prize: "America is the most contradictory, the most depressing, the most stirring, of any land in the world today" and on American literary establishment: "Our American professors like their literature clear and cold and pure and very dead." Lewis was born in the small town of Sauk in Minnesota and although he led an unhappy childhood there, the town was to provide the model for the fictional town of Gopher Prairie in Minnesota where the Main Street of the book's titles is set. The publication of Main Street was a phenomenal success, selling 2 million copies despite the projected sales of 25,000 by his agent and securing Lewis's financial and literary future. The book is critical of the conformity and narrow mindedness of small town America seen through the eyes of Carol Kennicott who desires social reform for women and greater individual happiness. This chimed perfectly with the era of a growing labour movement and, in the same year of its publication, women getting the vote in the US. However, many literary critics believe that the real power of the book transcends its contemporary themes and satire of simple towns folk and superficial intellectuals that think they are so superior but stems from Lewis's faithful reproduction of local speech and customs. Lewis has been honoured with a postage stamp in the US and many feel strongly that his impact on modern American life was far greater than Hemingway, Fitzgerald or Faulkner.

Main Street