Monday, December 17, 2007

Book #1 – Main Street (Sinclair Lewis)

As I mentioned, I started this whole reading project last week, by picking a book at random from The List.  And that book is Sinclair Lewis's "Main Street".  I'm about 2/3 of the way through now, and I'm loving it!  This is a really good book...

It's the story of Carol Kennicott, young bride of Dr. Will Kennicott of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota.  Carol is a young, college-educated, bright, idealistic, naive woman, who becomes a librarian in Minneapolis after graduating from college, and soon meets and marries the young doctor from Gopher Prairie.  She then moves with him back to his home town.  The novel focuses on her relationship with the town and its inhabitants.  She arrives wanting to change the town in so many ways...from changing its architecture to enlightening its inhabitants.  And, of course, she's thwarted at every turn.  The town and its denizens can't change, and won't change.  The town's social networks are akin to ones we all experienced in high school...the cliques, the infighting, the pettiness.  She becomes disillusioned, bitter, lonely.

Anyway, that's where I am now.  We'll see what happens.  The theme of a woman not being fulfilled in married life/family life reminds me of other books I've read, from "The Awakening" to "The Woman's Room"  But this book also focuses heavily on life in small American towns.  Carol finds the inhabitants do not like and respect things intellectual and cultured, even though they would like to think of themselves as cultured.  There is both a disrespect and fear of new ideas, which are seen as threatening.  Carol is excited by the new Scandinavian immigrants who come to town, with strange and exotic ways...she is attracted to the novel, the unknown.  Yet, to her dismay, the immigrants, after arriving, do all they can to lose the novel ways, to fit in, and their children are completely Americanized. 

While this book takes place around the World War I years, I wonder how much has really changed.  It seems in today's America that rural regions are more conservative than urban ones...the old red state/blue state divide.  Why is that?  Why are small towns more insular and conservative?  Is it the lack of influx of new ideas, or new people, that large cities enjoy?  Yet in the novel, there is a constant stream of new immigrants to the area, so that's not quite it.  Is there something deep in human nature that seeks small social circles, small cliques, and fears and hates the foreign, the new, the novel?  Is this reinforced by living in a small town?

It will be interesting to see how the novel ends.  I cold see it ending tragically, but Lewis writes with a sense of humor and sympathy for the characters, that makes a tragic ending seem out of place.  We shall see...

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