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Going Back to Gopher Prairie – Sinclair Lewis’ “Main Street”

November 16, 2019

Another Way for week of November 15, 2019

Going Back to Gopher Prairie

I have a whole shelf of books I’ve saved for over 45 years—planning to re-read them. These are mostly books I was assigned to read in high school or college as an English major.

Many of us have a hard time tossing beloved books but also don’t have space for vast libraries in our homes. So it is important to do the Marie Kondo thing and put them in a “this gives me joy” pile, and offer others to friends or donate them to a local thrift store.

But it’s fun to get reacquainted with a book where you perhaps only remember the title, author, and main character. Such was the case with Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. I read several of Lewis’s books in college but loved re-reading this recently because it tells the story of Carol, a young woman just starting out on her adult journey, and trying to figure out if she can love small town life in the mythical Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. Sinclair describes Carol being affected by “the eternal aching comedy of expectant youth.” She, along with her friends, ponder “what shall we do when we finish college?”.

I first read Main Street while I was a senior in college. I worked on Saturdays in a small town yarn store near where I live now. Our daughters ended up going to high school there with a main street of aging buildings, complete with a drugstore and lunch counter where I enjoyed sitting down to tuna or grilled cheese sandwiches. I recall how one visitor to the knitting store (I don’t think she ever bought anything) reminded me of some of the women that the character Carol eventually encountered in Gopher Prairie as she moved there with her new husband, Dr. Will Kennicott, after a long honeymoon trip.

It was fascinating for me to pick up this book now that I’m retired and reflect on how much I was like Carol even while being very different. For one thing, I never married a doctor but in some ways my dear husband was/is similar to her husband in earnestly wanting to make me happy, even while I was/am very different from him. And while I never went off to live in a city for a year like Carol ends up doing to explore her dreams, I pretty much had that adventure of doing something different before I ever met my husband (I volunteered in Appalachia and later, studied in Barcelona, Spain for a year). Stuart seems to understand my love of travel and while he never appreciated my business travels which took me away from home, he never really complained.

Early adulthood is a great time to travel or volunteer, or in some way go down different paths before “settling down” to a job, marriage, and children. Someone else, in a book review on Amazon, said Sinclair Lewis, through his characters, “explains more about the two Americas” (rural and urban) than a more recent book, Hillbilly Elegy, (by J.D. Vance) manages. I will say that Lewis was obviously never a mother and his brief descriptions of Carol’s eventual years of motherhood fall short of reality and were disappointing as I read it. For me, our family life enriched and broadened our journey together as a couple and as individuals a great deal.

In the book, Carol is a champion of change (starts a small town theater group, wants to spruce up the way the town looks, inserts zany originality into their party or club conversations) and is not always wise in the things she promotes or organizes. Using satire, Lewis seems to encourage people with opposite viewpoints or lifestyles to look deeper and connect and try to understand the other’s point of view.

I was pleased with the way the book ends and I won’t spoil it here in case this inspires anyone to go back and read or re-read this classic piece of American literature by a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author. This was a venture in reading a book while still young, living my life and retiring, and then re-reading the book from a totally different vantage point, helping me analyze my own life and escapades. Not a bad investment of time!

 

If you’d like to read the book I wrote about my year in Spain, Departure, I still have copies. Just send $4 to cover postage. Send to me at Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834. Or send comments to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

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7 Comments
  1. I must have read this in college. And somehow I remember another one of Sinclair Lewis’ books, Babbitt, which I may or may not have read. I admire your revisiting your earlier books. You’d have a different set of eyes as you re-read these classics now. Brava!

  2. Babbitt is on my shelf and I’ll probably re-read. Yes, surely you read Main Street, if not, I do think you’d enjoy it now as well. Thanks for checking in. 🙂

  3. I’ve never read Main Street. It sounds like one I’d enjoy, so I’m going to look for a copy at the library. Thanks for the recommendation.
    Sending off a check to you in the morning for your book, Departure. That sounds good too!

    • Trisha, received your check the other day (I don’t check my post office box every day). Anyway, I wanted you to know I will mail your book early next week. Thank you for your interest!

      • No problems. I had a PO box once too – and if I checked it once a week I was doing good LOL
        No hurries.

  4. Main Street is not only a good book, but interesting from the history perspective too, of a certain era.
    I’ll be happy to send you the Departure book. You may learn more about me in that book than you want to know! 🙂 Thanks for your interest. Blessings on your week!

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