Everybody’s Main Street
Sometimes, the words can’t wait to fly out of your soul. The soul, yes, that is where they reside- the brain and the heart are too commonplace for something as profound and mysterious.
I must write about this book, though I haven’t reached the end yet. I am into the last fifty pages of Main Street, at last on my way to finishing a book that has gathered dust and biscuit-crumbs and slowly started to go dog-eared over the months, despite all my attempts at saving it from ruin. My efforts consisted of everything but actually trying to read it.
And now, as the clouds suddenly open up for five minutes after a morning of indecision, I am glad I decided to finish the book. I started it last December- and at a reasonable length of four hundred pages written in simple, uncontrived language, it wasn’t particularly challenging in terms of length or style. However, there was a sort of claustrophobia about it- a tiresomeness, the identification of Carol’s character with the life that a number of us are trapped in, the ambitions we set out with and are discouraged in pursuit of by baulking influences that don’t even deserve a place in our stories.
When a city-bred girl comes down to a village and tries to metamorphose it with her grand ideas and bring it up to speed with the cities, of course she isn’t looked upon with indulgence. Carol falls in love with and marries a doctor from Gopher Prairie, filled with maidenly hopes and ardour, but as the days wear on, she realises the chasm that lies between his dreams and hers. She is attracted to other men, questions her faithfulness, and almost always finds under their various facades an unappetising monotony, the acceptance of circumstances as they are, the reluctance to step away from all that is comfortable and familiar. She hopes of replacing the grime and the grey sullenness of the town with spanking grandeur- but it never was easy to awaken a sleeping giant.
Carol shuns the interferingly kind matronly crowd and the malicious gossipers- a perpetual layer of dust and antiquity seems to lie over the streets of Gopher Prairie, which makes it only natural that the slightest degree of polish, rebelliousness and sophistication in a newcomer warms her heart towards him/her. The drama clubs and the book societies are deftly taken from her hands and mauled to suit the tastes of the villagers- no breath of modernity or broadmindedness is allowed to reach them. A woman who reads a lot and dares to find love outside her marriage is to be regarded with scorn; it doesn’t matter, though, if a group of married men chooses to pitch camp outside the house of a single young woman at night- she can conveniently be accused of being a flirt and corrupting their minds. A drunken young man cannot misbehave with a woman he has escorted to a dance- it is she who has got drunk and seduced him.
The women are jealous, the men indifferent- an air of languor lies thick about the village, and it isn’t just one example of stubborn inertia. It is supposed to be reflective of the American society in the early decades of the twentieth century, a study of the weaknesses that pervaded the small towns of the country- and the fate that befell the few people who stepped out courageously, brimming with hope, to change the situation.
Sinclair Lewis eventually went on to win the Nobel Prize and this is the work supposed to have gained him recognition- and it isn’t difficult to see why, considering how many of us struggle against the trappings of our own lives- not always with the endings we choose.