Main Street

Distribute a guide about Lewis's Main Street that provides an overview as well as questions, vocabulary, quotations for discussion, and activities for each chapter.
Teaching Strategies:
9 |
10 |
11 |
Updated on: November 14, 2000
Page 3 of 5

Chapter 9
Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street

1. Why does Carol go to Axel Egge's store? What comforts her about his store?
2. How does Kennicott's oblivion to the town's opinion of Carol affect her feelings toward him?
3. How does Will's mother restore Carol's confidence?
4. How does Carol's confidence affect her view of Gopher Prairie and the news she hears?
5. Is the narration of this novel objective? Defend your answer.
6. Why won't Carol go out without Kennicott?

roues (119): villains
Hoochi-Koochi (119): a seductive dance
mollycoddles (119): weaklings
charivari (120): a mock serenade with noisemakers for newlyweds
anecdotal (124): full of stories

"She had tripped into the meadow to teach the lambs a pretty educational dance and found the lambs were wolves." (116)

"She could not go on enduring the hidden derision. She wanted to flee. She wanted to hide in the generous indifference of cities." (116)

1. Give examples of friendly rudeness practiced by the merchants of Gopher Prairie. Cite examples of this behavior from your own experience.
2. Using the language of today's youth, rewrite the young roues scene from section II. Perform the scene.

Chapter 10

1. What does Carol hope to accomplish by making tea?
2. What kind of afternoon did Bea describe? What is the relationship between the two women?
3. How does Carol feel about Guy Pollock? Which of his qualities is most attractive to her?
4. Why does Sinclair Lewis associate Guy Pollock with gray? What does he do at the Kennicotts'?
5. How is the immigrants' side of town different from Main Street?
6. How is talking to Miles Bjornstam a relief for Carol?
7. How does Miles differ from the other people? Who does he see himself as similar to? What does he do to ensure that he remains a pariah?
8. In what ways does the town exhibit prejudice? In what ways is Carol prejudiced?
9. What do the Kennicotts do after Will fails at poetry appreciation? How does Carol respond to the movie?
10. At the Jolly Seventeen what do the members of the group expect Carol to share? Why?
11. Why is it important to Juanita (and Gopher Prairie) to have "cunning and original" ideas that are "not too queer or freaky or anything"?

conciliate (128): to win over
scarlet tanager (130): a brilliant red and black woodland bird
caste (131): social division
pariah (132): social outcast
sacerdotal (136): priestly
polemic (139): controversy

"The dollar sign has chased the crucifix clean off the map." (132)

"Me, I want to yank it up on the ways, and fire the poor bum of a shoemaker that built it so it sails crooked, and have it rebuilt right, from the keel up." (134) "...when she saw how much he was suffering she ran to him, kissed his forehead, cried, "You poor forced tube-rose that wants to be a decent turnip!" (138) "That was her last attempt to harvest the April wind, to teach divine unhappiness by a correspondence course, to buy the lilies of Avalon and the sunsets of Cockaigne in tin cans at Ole Jenson's Grocery." (138-9)

Historical Notes/Allusions
Vincent de Paul (128): saint from 17th-century France who attended to the poor.
Avalon (138): spiritual land in Arthurian myth

1. Write about what Carol's child would have to be like in order to be acceptable in her eyes.

Chapter 11

1. Where do the ladies of the Thanatopsis research the papers they present? How do you know this?
2. Why do they feel they have covered the whole of English poetry?
3. What is Carol's suggestion for the group? What is their reaction?
What is the common thread found in objections to Carol's proposal?
4. Why does Miles think Carol has been unsuccessful?
5. Why is Carol uncomfortable at Maud Dyer's house?
6. How does Mrs. Lyman Cass decorate her home? What does this say about her personality?
7. Why doesn't the Thanatopsis want to help the poor? What matters take precedence?
8. Which of the town's women are known by their first names instead of their husband's? How does this affect your view of them?

supercilious (144): haughty
tattoo (148): rhythmic tapping
lugubrious (156): gloomy
noblesse oblige (159): the obligations of generosity and respectability associated with high rank or birth

"She wanted to kick the chair and run. It would make a magnificent clatter." (142)

"Besides, what's the matter with this town? Looks good to me. I've had people that have traveled all over the world tell me time and again that Gopher Prairie is the prettiest place in the Middlewest. Good enough for anybody. Certainly good enough for Mama and me. Besides! Mama and me are planning to go out to Pasadena and buy a bungalow and live there." (157-8) "You aren't one of the people - yet." (158) "He had changed from her friend to a cynical man in overalls." (158) "Had she actually believed she could plant a seed of liberalism into the blank wall of mediocrity?" (162) Historical Note/Allusion
Babylon (148): an important city of the ancient Near East, capital of Babylonia, was destroyed (c.689 B.C.) by the Assyrians.

1. In a collage illustrate Carol's competing desires to fit in and to change the town.
2. Compose and act out an argument between these two sides of Carol's nature.

Chapter 12

1. Why does Lewis make a point of discussing the Thanatopsis anti-fly campaign? How does it contrast with Carol's ideas of improvement? 2. Why do the problems of Gopher Prairie evaporate at the cottages? How is the routine different?
3. Has the town kept its pioneer principles, according to the Champ Perrys? Give examples to support your opinion.

Pierrot (163): mime-like stock character with white face and loose clothes
heretical (166): not conforming to an established attitude or doctrine
jocosely (167): comically
panacea (167): cure-all
daguerreotypes (171): pictures

Historical Notes/Allusions
Oriental imagery is used throughout the novel. Why would it have been significant during the 1920s?
Salon (167): a gathering of leaders in society, art, or politics common during the 17th- and 18th-centuries
Syndicalism: an organization of producers for the immediate betterment of their economic and social status.

1. In small groups, discuss Miles's and Carol's summers considering the following: What is Lewis's purpose in juxtaposing the two? Whom does Lewis favor?

Chapter 13

1. What, according to Guy Pollock, is the "Village Virus"? What are its symptoms? What does Pollock mean by the small town being a "social appendix"?
2. What happens to the old guard of a town such as Gopher Prairie, according to Pollock? How does Pollock provide insight into the reasons for people's petty behavior?
3. Why does Pollock believe the town can't be changed?
4. Why hasn't Carol called on the Dillons, the new couple in town? Why is it significant that they talk about Minneapolis?

dolors (173): griefs; depression
oligarchy (173): rule by high society
salaciousness (175): lechery; lasciviousness
cajoled (176): persuaded by joking

"Most places that have lost the smell of the earth but have not yet acquired the smell of patchouli - or of factory smoke - are just as suspicious and righteous" (172).

Chapter 14

1. How does Carol succumb to the "Village Virus" in talking to herself on her way home from Pollock's?
2. How does Will compare to Guy in Carol's view?
3. How does her guilt about Pollock reveal itself in her conversation with Will?
4. What is the turning point in the conversation? When does it become an argument? What are the real issues?
5. What are Carol's faults, according to Will? Why does this affect Will's relationship with the town? What does Carol discover about the townspeople that she didn't realize before?
6. How does the argument end? What does Carol realize about Will's dreams?

palavering (182): profuse and idle talking; chattering
eugenics (189): science of improving offspring by careful selection of parents

"She suddenly saw the foot-board of the bed as the footstone of the grave of love." (186)

Chapter 15

1. This chapter is written as a whole rather than divided into sections. What is the effect of the continuity of this chapter?
2. Why does Sinclair Lewis include a section about Carol observing Kennicott's practice? How does Carol react to overhearing her husband treat the immigrant farmer?
3. Why is it important that she idolize him? How does that idolatry change with his grumpiness?
4. Why is Carol bothered by meeting Guy in the drugstore? Does she believe what she tells him?
5. How does Carol's reforming nature negate her attempts at marital bliss?
6. How does she attempt to rid herself of suspicion in the town?
7. Why are Mrs. Bogart's comments about the town's gossipy habits ironic? How are Carol and Mrs. Bogart similar?

"He suddenly had in her eyes the heroism of a wireless operator on a ship in a collision; of an explorer, fever-clawed, deserted by his bearers, but going on - jungle - going -" (195)

"It was a humble wife who followed the busy doctor out to the carriage, and her ambition was not to play Rachmaninoff better, nor to build town halls, but to chuckle at babies." (207)

"He speaks a vulgar, common, incorrect German of life and death and birth and the soil. I read the French and German of sentimental lovers and Christmas garlands. And I thought that it was I who had the culture!" (210)

1. Show similarities and differences between Mrs. Bogart and Carol in a dramatic skit involving a problem at a bank. Based on your knowledge of the book, how would each react to the same problem?
2. Conduct a small group debate over the following topic: Which is better for Carol - being the housewife or the town activist? Defend your opinion with examples from the novel.

Chapter 16

1. In what order of importance would you put Kennicott's five hobbies: medicine, Carol, motoring, land-investment, and hunting? Give reasons for your answer.
2. Why is Carol bored by his interests? What are the signs of Carol's growing discontent with Will?
3. What do you think of Will's philosophy that there are only three types of people? (217) Give reasons for your answer.
4. What does Carol mean when she says, "I am trying to save my soul"? (218)
5. What does the neglected violin (218) represent?
6. Why does Lewis include the scenes from Buenos Aires, New York, and Gopher Prairie? (220)
7. Why doesn't Carol join Miles and Bea for lunch? What does she find of interest in their conversation?

nebulously (215): vague or indistinct manner
patois (217): a rural form of speech; a mixture of two or more languages
kids (218): kid-glove shoes

"It wasn't enough for him [Will] that I admired him; I must change myself and grow like him. He takes advantage. No more. It's finished. I will go on." (218)
"She saw that he had never been anything but a frame on which she had hung shining garments." (221)

Historical Notes/Allusions
Research the movie-going habits of Americans in the 1920s.
Desdemona and Othello (222): doomed lovers of Shakespeare's play Othello. He is a black Moor warrior who, consumed by jealousy, murders his white wife.
Robert Ingersoll (222-3): religious agnostic author of "Why I Am Agnostic" (1896)

1. Write a responsive journal telling about a time you realized you had made someone into something they really weren't - that your expectations of them exceeded their reality.

Chapter 17

1. Why does the group agree to join the dramatic club? Predict what will happen with it.
2. Why does Carol invite the Dillons?
3. What are the disagreements about the play to be produced?
4. How does being in Minneapolis affect the way Carol sees her husband?
5. Why does Will go to the plays with Carol? What is the quality of the plays? How do they affect Will? Carol?

fictive (223): imaginary
babel (223): a confused mixture of voices
puerilities (227): childishness

"For a moment she wanted the secure quiet of Gopher Prairie." (229)
"Whatever the McGanums were at home, here they stood out as so superior to all the undistinguishable strangers absurdly hurrying past that the Kennicotts held them as long as they could." (231)

Write a responsive journal telling about a time you felt out of place.

Chapter 18

1. How does Vida control things without being at the head of them? Give examples. 2. What play does the group finally select? Why?
3. How do the players perceive Carol's casting decisions? Are they based on politics? Explain.
4. What effect does the theatrical experience have on the members of the dramatic club? How do they perceive Carol as a director?
5. What does the Gopher Prairie Dauntless write about the performance? Which opinion is correct, the paper's or Carol's? Explain your answer.

scabrous (236): requiring tactful treatment; hard to handle with decency
abominably (245): horribly

"And with that instant, Carol realized it was a bad play abominably acted." (245)

"In the prairie heat she trudged along unchanging ways, talked about nothing to tepid people, and reflected that she might never escape from them." (248)

Historical Note/Allusion
Decoration Day: created after the Civil War, is now called Memorial Day.

1. Create a "stream of consciousness" monologue about a time you were nervous. Recreate the thoughts running through your head.
2. Write a letter recounting your experience to a friend as if you had been one of the actors in the play.
3. Write a letter recounting the play to a friend as if you were Carol.
4. Write a letter to a friend telling about the play as if you were in the audience.

Chapter 19

1. How is Miles's transformation into respectability similar to Carol's? How is he still looked on as "trash"?
2. Why does Carol remain friendly with Juanita Haydock?
3. How does Carol's perception of the town change at the library board meeting?
4. Why does the board not promote the library?
5. How does Lewis emphasize the lack of change in Carol's life?
6. What does the train represent to Carol?
7. What does the Chautauqua bring to town?
8. How is the last speaker seen by the townspeople? How is he like Carol?

decorous (258): polite and well-behaved

"She found that for all their pride in being reading men, Westlake and Cass and even Guy had no conception of making the library familiar to the whole town. They used it, they passed resolutions about it, and they left it as dead as Moses.... They had no tenderness for the noisiness of youth discovering great literature." (251)

"She was content. But it was the contentment of the lost hunter stopping to rest." (256)

Historical Notes/Allusions
The Great War (1914-1918) is also known as World War I.
Chautauqua: an adult education movement offering presentations by musicians, explorers, authors, and political leaders first proposed in 1873 and continuing into the 20th century.

Chapter 20

1. Now that Carol is in the midst of change, how is she reacting to it? Why is this surprising?
2. What do all the older married women of town think the child will do for Carol? How does their attitude towards her change? Give examples.
3. What is Carol's attitude toward organized religion?
4. What are Carol's hopes for Hugh?
5. What is the effect of Aunt Bessie and Uncle Whittier's visit on Carol? on Will? Why does Lewis describe their treatment as "pure affection"?
6. How are the Smails received by Gopher Prairie? How is this different from the way Carol was received? Why?
7. How does the Jolly Seventeen become a refuge for Carol against Aunt Bessie and Mrs. Bogart?
8. How are Miles's dreams for Olaf and his family similar to Carol's?

"Each morning she was nauseated, chilly, bedraggled, and certain that she would never again be attractive; each twilight she was afraid." (259)

"Carol was discovering that the one thing that can be more disconcerting than intelligent hatred is demanding love." (263)

Chapter 21

1. How is Vida similar to Carol?
2. What do you think of Vida's encouraging Carol's reforms? What are her real thoughts about them?
3. What happened to other women from "the Outside" when they came to Gopher Prairie? 4. Describe the conversation between Raymie and Vida? What characterizes it? What do they discuss?
5. How is Vida's attachment to Will Kennicott apparent?

veritably (272): truthfully
astral self (272) : a projection of herself through space
traducers (275): those who ruin another's reputation
circuitously (278): in a roundabout way

"She was indignant that Carol should not be utterly fulfilled in having borne Kennicott's child." (274)
"Made taller and younger by his interest she poured out ...." (277)

1. In a small group discussion, compare Lewis's description of Vida in this chapter with an earlier one in Chapter Five. How are they alike? How are they different? Share your discoveries with the class.
2. Write a poem depicting the change from Vida Sherwin to Vida Wutherspoon.

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