• 简介: Contents 1. Introduction………………………………………………………………………...……………… 1.1 Background: The author and his time…………………………………………………..2 1.2 Review on related criticism…………………...
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1.        Introduction………………………………………………………………………...………………

1.1 Background: The author and his time…………………………………………………..2

1.2 Review on related criticism……………………………………………….…………...3

2.  Purpose of the paper……………………………………….……….……….…………

2.1 To examine Carol’s love as an idealistic reformer and to note its effects..……………4

3.  Review on Carol Kennicott’s relationships…………………………………………...

3.1 Analysis on Carol’s attitude towards love…………………………………………….4

3.2. Description of her love relations……………………………………………………..5

4.  Interpretation of Carol’s love relations………………………………………………………

4.1 With Guy Pollock…………………………. ……. ………………………………….5

4.2 With Erik Valborg…………………………………………………………………….7

4.3 With Will Kennicott…………………………………………………………………..8

5.  Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………

5.1 A tragedy of an idealist……………………………………………………………….9

5.2 Suggestions for further research……………………………………………………..10



















An Analysis on Carol’s Love in Main Street


Abstract: Since the publication of Main Street, Americans for the first time disillusioned from the beautiful edifice of vast American country. The work focuses on the idealistic reformer, Carol Kennecott’s sad life in main street, a street of a typical American country town in the central prairie. This thesis attempts to analyze its effects by casting views upon her love relationships with three men. The three relationships are one of the most vivid and enlivening parts in the work. They indicate the process of the death of an idealist but the resurrection of a housewife.

Keywords: main street, three love relationships, idealist, housewife



关键字:大街,三段爱情, 理想主义者,家庭主妇




1.1 Background: The author and his time

Main Street pulled up the wings of the stage of American literature for Sinclair Lewis’ magnificent performance in the 1920s. Sinclair Lewis, the contributor of Main Street, was born and lived his early years in Sauk Center, a typical raw Minnesota prairie town with some3000 people. Much like Gopher Prairie, the place where characters of Main Street were set, Sauk Center was newly shaped settlement for immigrants from Europe, where people of different origins assembled and tried best to consort with each other. Life lent the writer immense source and muse. His father E.J.Lewis was a local prosperous doctor who he revered and resented and was the prototype of Will Kennicott, Carol’s husband in Main Street. The unhappy early years in the country familiarized Lewis with the real life in small towns over the vast American land, and he became one of the first to challenge the myth of happy, quintessentially American town life style. Between 1914 and 1919, he produced 5 apprentice novels and made moderate success by developing his own version of the need to escape the confines of provincial life. By 1918, he was determined to write an honest, realistic book about small-town America. And it was Main Street, which culminated in its caustic power and made him a thunderous name.

Main Street was published in the late autumn of 1920 and it became a best seller at the Christmas rush. Within a year, it sold 295, 000 copies, which was described as “the most sensational event in American publishing history”[]. Why the book achieved such a success is a question indispensable with its social context.

As entering the 20th century, U.S. ushered in a large-scale social transformation. It was a reform spreading from the urban districts to the rural area. Its industrial especially machine age was at the corner. As the descending of rural area in social economic life, tens of thousands of farm youths, along with flooding European immigrants joined in or was grappled into the phenomenal reform. With the sufficient labor force supply and the ensuing rapidly swelling market demand, America’s industrialization gained momentum in the era.

 In this process of moving from the country to the city, cities proliferated around America. However, Americans never, even before the emergence of industrial age, savored much of the city life, which was a difference between American culture and European culture. In Europe, great cities like Paris, Rome, London was traditionally admired as good places of universities, palaces, architects etc., while in America, the city was viewed with suspicion and antipathy:

“We shall become as corrupt as in Europe, and go to eating one another as they do there.” Thomas Jefferson referred to bustling city life as early as in 1787[]

As no drawback could hinder the forward pace of productivity as well as urbanization, Americans never got rid of their mixed feelings toward the city: the more urbanized they became, the more they exaggerated the virtues of their rural origins. The city came to symbolize the loss of innocence, the corruption of virtues, and the ultimate triumph of materialism. The tradition of treasuring rural origin was passed down.

On the other hand, with the economic booming, ordinary people were in a poor condition. They were exploited crushingly and profited little beyond their means. “We work in his mill. We live in his houses. Our children go to his schools. We spend our leisure in his reading room. Our children play in his street. We go to his hospital. We are arrested by his constable and tried by his magistrates. And when we die, we are buried in his cemetery.” []

And the war experience in World War 1 changed Americans’ mood as well. After the breakout of the First World War in 1914, for the reason of the deep roots of ethnic ties to Europe, the Great War in Europe between the Allies and the central powers aroused bitterness in American people. It shocked most Americans, which seemed to be a barbarity and a throwing-off of civilization. Many lost their enthusiasm for crusade, more others turned away in disgust.

Endurance of personal ordeals and dislocations, along with other misfortunes such as the fallout of American participation in WW1, universal admonition simmered in society. All in all, America in 1920 or so was strained with universally low spirits. Just in that year, not coincidently Main Street came out. 



1.2 Review on related criticism

“A new American voice was loosed on the American ear”[].

 Main Street is a merciless portrait of narrow-minded American Midwest rural town. It means cheap shops, ugly public buildings, and citizens who are bound by rigid conventions. With regard to American tradition which exalts the rural areas, the publication of main street is iconoclastic and a call for scrutiny of vast underdeveloped rural areas.

since 1920, lots of critics have spent their attention to the work. There are conclusive comments upon it, among which what is the most necessary to be referred to is that Main Street and other famous Sinclair Lewis's contributions, though emminent for its skillful applicaition of language, are bound to strike an impression on readers that they are constructed with theme-oriented mind to such an extent that their storylines seem synthetic and heroes and heroines are monotonous. Indeed, it appears that its heroine’s mission to reform the town is much hummed and even harped on. And as it is, we can find limited amounts of appreciation from the view of literature criticism but many more of that on the author, the social context and the works' sociological meanings. It is a great pity, because by plunging into Main Street, the author savor its reading and enjoy himself much. He holds that critics might omit something and there are still many treasures in Main Street worthy of digging into.

Specifically, the author is moved by Carol's love stories in Main Street and he believes that her three relationships with three men are ignored by most critics and as one of the most refreshing and enlivening elements in Main Street, they deserve more attention.



2.Purpose of the paper:

2.1 To examine Carol’s love as an idealistic reformer and to note its effect.

There are questions about her love worthwhile to put forth:what kind of love does Carol crate for? Does she find true love and is Carol immoral? Furthermore,if Carol has her prince charming, does she marry him? And if Carol is a flighty and filthy girl, obviously she undeserves readers' sympathy,but if she is not, what leads to her sad life and then readers’ sentiment?

Through analysis of Carol’s attitude towards love and exploration of her love relationships, something can be achieved. Actually, she finds her true love but as she is bound by the existing marriage relation with Dr. Will, she resists her true feeling and fails to get married to her lover to remain to be Mrs. Kennicott untill the end. That upsets readers very much. The deep root of her failure in love lies with her idealistic reform to the town in which she weighs poorly little and even needs her husband’s protection. By this, we can see how hard a woman to live alone in the world and how she becomes aware of the reality and accept it to make a tragedy of an idealist happen.



3.Review on Carol Kennicott’s relationships

3.1 Analysis on Carol’s attitude towards love

Idealistic Carol Millford leaves the city she lives and becomes Mrs.Kennicott in Gopher Prairie. She is a protagonist and emancipated woman and is in conflict with the conformity of Gopher Prairie. The town is far from the romantic picture of open and democratic American community. Carol joins the clubs, the Library Board to encourage reading, and learns to play bridge, but she soon finds out that many things are dangerous subjects in conversation and need to be forbidden. Her husband Dr. Kennicott is reliable but unimaginative, adoring her without really understanding her. She instantly becomes disillusioned from a beautiful world edified in mind and plunges fully into her reform, in which every effort ends in vain. She is tainted with sentiments and vacillating between escaping and accommodating. In the process,Carol is confronted with spiritual loneliness. After flirting with a lawyer Guy Pollock, she meets a young Swedish tailor Erik Valborg and has some crush on him, who eventually leaves the town, before they start to do things immoral. Carol continues her loneliness, and determines to break away with the dismaying town. Thanks to her husband’s apprehension, she can leave away to the east and becomes a white-collar lady in government department. But her resolution is overcome by his husband’s righteous devotion and laudatory admiration. At last, she returns to Gopher Prairie with his husband, lives and will live a normal Midwest rural town life.

The story demonstrates the process of how an idealistic woman gets more sophisticated from the fail of reforming a decrepit town and more down-to-earth by acting as a normal housewife. What’s more, the process indicates Carol’s attitude towards love.

Obviously, her love is dominated by her process of reform. In twists and turns of her reform, she becomes increasingly desired of a spiritual companion and finds one after the other. Not until the reform is still crippled in the end, does she knows her role to be a housewife. It can be achieched that her attitude towards love gradually independs and  ripes along with her attitude towards reform. Carol, an idealistic callow school graduate nearly blank with love experience, then an unsecure, lonely and straying bride, at last a conventional and motherly housewife, fails in her reform and love as well.   



3.2 Description of her love relations

Carol finds little resonance in Gopher Prairie in her high thinking except from several friends. Among them, Guy Pollock and Erik Valborg appear closer than her friends. As the same as Carol, they are the village rebels. Guy is a bachelor lawyer who loves poetry and is a prime victim of the “Village Virus,” a deathlike inability to live elsewhere, and Erik, a dandyish, slightly effeminate culture loving young man. Carol has shifting attitude toward her husband. She experiences admiration and love for his steadyfast behaviors as a doctor but mockingly indifference with him for Gopher routines, his un-imagination and a little rudeness. She carries on flirtations first with Guy until she grows weary of his “love of dead elegance,” and then more seriously with Erik, stopping short of actually sleeping with him. All these have added to the liveliness of the work.



4 Interpretation of her love relations:

4.1 With Guy Pollock:

“It is a dear loyal town” Vida Sherwin, a liberal high school teacher, said when self-introduced to Carol. At the same time, she described Guy Pollock, a lawyer as the second person to whom Carol could safely express her feeling of “a tiny bit ugly” toward the town. As Carol’s initial confidence to change the town’s appearance is still strong, she envisages Guy Pollack as a perfect companion. Without much contact, only the encountering or even thinking of him could stir embarrassment and delight in her. What attracts Carol so much is nothing but Guy’s open-mindedness and imaginativeness. Anything unrelated to her town planning, just said ahead, such as fortune and status, is trepid.

In a situation, Carol happened to have knocked at Guy’s office door, and was invited to have a stay. She surmounted the anxiety that to call on a man would be indecent in the town and went in. Their topic was the “village virus” and how to exterminate it.

She asked impulsively:”You, why do you stay here?”“I have the Village Virus.”“It sounds dangerous.”“It is.More dangerous than the cancer that will certainly get me at fifty unless I stop this smoking. The Village Virus is the germ which—it’s extraordinarily like the hook-worm—it infects ambitious people who stay too long in the provinces.You ‘ll find it epidemic among lawyers and doctors and ministers and college-bred merchants---all these people who have had a glimpse of their swamp. I’m a perfect example.……


She could not comment. She pictured herself running across the room to pat his hair. She saw that his lips were firm,under his soft faded mustache.she sat still, and maundered,”I know. The Village Virus. Perhaps it will get me. Some day I’m going……


Guy! Can’t we do something in the town?Really?

“No, we can’t!” He disposed of it like a judge ruling out an improper objection; returned to matters less uncomfortably energetic:”Curious. Most troubles are unnecessary. We have Nature beaten; we can make her grow wheat; we can keep warm when she sends blizzards. So we raise the devil just for pleasure—wars, politics, race-hatreds, labor-disputes. Here in Gopher Prairie we’ve cleared the fields, and become soft, so we make ourselves unhappy artificially, at great expense and exertion: Methodists disliking Episcopalians, the man with the Hudson laughing at the man with the flivver. The worst is the commercial hatred—the grocer feeling that any man who doesn’t deal with him is robbing him. What hurts me is that it applies to lawyers and doctors as much as to grocers. The doctors—you know about that—how your husband and Westlake and Gould dislike one another.”……[]

Obviously, Guy is a hackneyed self-alleged victim and a false reformer because he doesn’t support Carol by dealing with her dream like “a judge ruling out an improper objections”. But he made Carol have crush on him for his outspoken discontentment and revealing “insight” of penny-picking medical business in disfavor of husband, which, combined with his acts, in my opinion, is but an exaggeration for verbal attack and conspiracy of flirtation. For fear of the protrusive scrutiny, they broke up the conversation. In retrospect, Carol even thought of not having kissed Guy and puzzled whether her prince charming had come. But the one thing she could affirm was unwillingness to hurt Will. She was fond of Will( not in love). She kept well conscious as a married woman. This length of love came to a near end after Carol had assisted her husband’s operation on a poor man of acute illness.

Will’s straightforwardness and miraculous quality as an effective lifesaver much astounded her. And for the first time the reality of the doctor’s household was colored by her pride. And ideals of town planning, as well as Guy Pollock, were cast aside for a while. In a word, She confuses the feeling of love with admiration. And as she is attracted by Guy’s some quality, she instantly gets disillusioned.

From their long conversation, the author also foretells some future events. What is worthwhile to refer to is that devil social phenomena Guy raved about is at large truth, while Carol denied them. It can be read as Sinclair’s insinuous sarcasm towards his society and his foresight of the dooming death of an idealist.


4.2 With Erik Valborg:

The love between Carol and Erik Valborg is much appealing and highly romanticized.

Erik is a much promising young man with a Hellenic face, working brain, and high mind. Unfortunately, he comes from poor immigrant family, receives limited education and has to make a living by dressmaking. For his disadvantages, many rumored gossips have been ejected behind his back in the discriminative town. With the essence of innocence and ambition, he has a shadow of Carol. Before meeting, they have heard a lot about each other.

Carol is profoundly intested in the much-told man and desires to see him but feels somewhat anxious and bashful. Eventually she overcomes the bad feeling and comes into contact with him. She has a leap in mind from the gossiped image of Erik to what she really feels about him.Then gradually:

She wanted to see Erik. She wanted some one to play with! There wasn’t even so dignified and sound an excuse as having Kennicott’s trousers pressed; when she inspected them, all three pairs looked discouragingly neat.[]

  Actually,Erik impresses her with quality of “Greek God”, though acting in an ungodlike way, stitching and ironing. He reads handy books sitting alongside the lake, not as what is said to be pretentious. His manner is straightforward and decorous, neither to be effeminate and foul. What strikes most a cord on Carol would be his ambitious resolution. They find things in common and rely on each other to communicate with. In some sense, Carol is a godess lightening his heart while he is her epitome exampling the trueness of dream. But Carol is always faltering. Erik proposed a date, and she can never keep from the anxiety of absence from Hugh(her son with Will) and has always been on the defense.

She told herself a thousand inspiriting things which he would say if he had the opportunity; for them she admired him,loved him. But she was afraid to summon him. He understood, he did not come. She forgot her every doubt of him, and her discomfort in his background. Each day it seemed impossible to get through the desolation of not seeing him. Each morning, each afternoon, each evening was a compartment divided from all other units of time, distinguished by a sudden” Oh! I want to see Erik!” which was as devastating as though she had never said it before.……[]

She always tests self-consciousness of her love with Erik, but likes the feeling to be a girl in his eyes. From above paragraph, Carol, in anguish, is unwilling to break up with Erik, for she likes him, nor with Will, for she can’t do this and likes him too. But evidently, she does love Erik, because they are homogeneous and have good feelings between them, while as for Will, her love with him is more of obligation than keen feeling.

In her family, Carol doesn’t feel in hearth. She is obliged to his husband and she knows this. As soon as Will evoked the topic of her affairs with Erik and appealed her to cut out, she got soft on Will but hard on Erik.

She snatched up his hand, she kissed it. Presently she sobed,”I won’t ever see him again. I can’t now. The hot living-room behind the tailor shop—I don’t love him enough for that . And you are—Even if I were sure of him, sure he was the real thing, I don’t think I could actually leave you. This marriage, it weaves people together. It’s not easy to break, even when it ought to be broken.”[]

Their love ends with Erik, after this, leaving Gopher in pursuit of his dream.But Carol is hurt so badly that she needs healing and a conscious thinking of the life.

To conclude, Carol loves the young man but devotes herself inadequately into him, because she is much moralistic, highly bound and needs security provided by her husband.


4.3 With Will Kennicott:

Kennicott is Carol’s husband. He is a prestigious doctor in Gopher Prairie and presents himself as an honorable husband.

He fall love with Carol at the first sight in a party and clings to his admiration and respect to her. On the other side, Carol is ridden with dullness and dejection working as a librarian. She appeares as a “frail and blue and lonely”[]girl in the party. She needs a change. According to Will’s description and pictures, the town he lives is just her “need” and “‘you say I’m so darn materialistic. How can I help it, unless I have you to stir me up?” Will implored’”[]. ---They are in need of each other, one more of town, the other more of love. And then they come together.

Not quite long after her arrival at Gopher Prairie, her resentment sprouts. How could she vent it out? Will takes most consideration of her feeling, but can’t come up to her standard. He says, talks but does little, for he doesn’t think of the town as bad as she does--the “village virus” is “epidemic”. when Guy Pollock shows something in concert with Carol’s high mind, Carol becomes panaroid:

“No, I couldn’t fall in love with him. I like him,very much. But he is too much of a recluse.Could I kiss him? No!No!……

“No! I wouldn’t want to fall inlove,even if the Prince did come. I wouldn’t want to hurt Will. I am fond of Will, I am! He doesn’t stir me, not any longer. But I depend on him. He is home and children.”……[11]

Above is part of Carol’s soliloquy when she returned from Guy’s law office. It is clear that she doesn’t love Will, indirectly showing the real reason why she leaves St. Paul for the locked town and why Carol has had some flirtations.

For Will, Carol’s journey with Erik is most hazardous. He shows leniency as much as ever, but has to pull her back on the track at last by alerting “I think it’s about time for you and Valborg to call a halt before you get in Dutch, like Fern Mullins did.” ---Fern is expelled out of the town by the smear of seducing a young man:

She came into the house awkwardly defiant.

Her husband,half asleep under the lamp,greeted her, “Well, well, have a nice time?”

She could not answer. He looked at her. But his look did not sharpen. He began to wind his watch, yawning the old “Wellllll, guess it’s about time to turn in.”

That was all.……

“well, Carrie, you better---”He chucked his own coat on a chair, stalked to her, went on with a rising tingling voice,”---you better cut it out now. I’m not going to the outraged husband stunt. I like you and I respect you, and I’d probably look like a boob if         I tried to be dramatic. But I think it’s about time for you and Valborg to call a halt before you get in Dutch,like Fern Mullins did.”……[12]

Will knows Carol’s relationship with Erik very well and he, in the inception, does not mind it at all. But at last he has to have an open talk with Carol over the issue. Carol hasn’t expected her clandestine affair. She,lingering on, has to gather strength to make resolution. From her experience with Erik, Carol gets more matured as an independent thinker and determined to leave Gopher Prairie. After spending two years in Washington,

She had felt young and dissipated, had thought rather well of her black and leafgreen suit, but as she watched them, thin of ankle, soft under the chin, seventeen or eighteen at most, smoking cigaretts with the correct ennui and talking of “bedroom farces” and their desire to “run up to New York and see something racy,” she became old and rustic and plain, and desirous of retreating from these hard brilliant children to a life easier and more sympathetic.……[13]

On the other hand, Will wrote to her frequently and sent a lot of prairie photographs. Carol decided to come back to Gopher Prairie.

Carol’s attitude towards Will is ambivalent. She loves living in a country town and chooses to marry Will to lead such a life. In the remote world, she depends upon Will’s provisions and becomes a respectable doctor wife. She feels obliged to and fond of Will but cannot get rid of her comtempt over the town and Will.Her final return to home denotes her acceptance of reality and her transformation from being an idealistic reformer to being his housewife.




5.1 A tragedy of an idealist

  To start with, there are the two questions to answer:

1. Does Carol find her true love?

In my opinion, the answer is affirmative. More precisely, her love is with Erik. The criterion is how much happiness Carol gets from Erik and Will or any other.

Will is Carol’s husband, so it’s normal that he uses the Sinclair ‘s depicting strength second to Carol. What surfaces before us in the novel is his shortfall of support in Carol’s mentality but sufficiency of that in her materials. We know that Carol is quite spiritual. What she loves is a workman, who works in hand as well as in brain and has the shadow of a rising hero. Thus how can her husband satisfy her? And no wonder Carol is so ambivalent toward the husband and the family. On the other hand, Erik is her harmonious companion replete with her congruous qualities. Carol does not say loving him but there is more than love. Without the marriage hindrance, she would have flown away with the aiming-high man.

2. Is Carol immoral?

With a view spanning from A to Z, Carol represents a good image of trueness, kindness and beauty, if not concerning her love affairs. She brings dreams to a rural town, gets hurt badly by the hard provinciality and philistinism, lives under scrutiny and in the irresolution of leaving. Along the way, she tries repeatedly to bring culture to Gopher Prairie, reading Yeats to her bored but patient husband and organizing fashionable parties, energetic outings, and amateur theatricals, each effort only driving home the futility of trying to change such a hidebound world. With regard to her love affairs, is she immoral?

From a moral point of view, the interests of everyone are important. Three sides in Carol’s strayed love are Carol, her lover and her husband Will. Will has always kept his for Carol, and shown admiring bearance when Carol is in her affairs. He doesn’t fume but only hints her to turn back. In the face, it is immoral for a woman to deviate from her marriage. But my question is why she descended to Gopher? For Will? No, but for her dream. And does she dismiss their family and harms Will in intention? No either. And evidently, Carol shows deep consciousness as a married woman and restricts herself a lot. Thus my understanding of her acts is that they come from nature, the need to have friends and effective communication. For this, I am in full respect and sympathy of Carol. And her love affairs would be plausibly deviant and she remains moral.

At the end, the immoral Carol came back to Main Street with his husband who is not her real lover. In some sense, she is a winner, for her passiveness lessens no her husband’s admiration and love by a little, but contrarily receives abiding devotion. However, her need is still not met and she will suffer what she has suffered. Illusions of town planning would gnaw her continually. It denotes that hard-bitten Carol accepts her failure as an aiming high reformer and will play her role as a housewife, though she would be continually tortured by the cruel reality. 

But high career fears no failure. After she comes back to Gopher Prairie, Carol would possibly resume her town planning which we can assure would be very hard. Chang needs catalyst, impetus and fuel. Carol is a catalyst to the reform of Gopher what many Carols will be the same to the reform of its likes. They push forward the pace of civilization but themselves suffer a lot--- the toppling of a hindbound world is built on their sacrifice, which in Main Street makes a tragedy of an idealist..Reality is always impersonal. While the martyrs fight and endure, people need to somber up and bravely tear down the world that is malicious.

5.2 Suggestion for Further Research

In this thesis, the author focuses on the three relationships of the heroine in Main Street to discover its effect in building up the main theme of the novel. By exploring it, the author has deepened its understanding of the work and cannot hold back acclamation towards the coherent writing power of Sinclair Lewis.

However, the author has worked on it from the single angle of the heroine’s love relationships. There are many more angles to criticize Main Street. Especially as to Carol, the heroine,a most vivid role, we can render many more views upon her. The author believes that Main Street will present a different thrilling panorama to every attentative reader..



















[1] The United States combined edition six-edition Prentice Hall, Inc. Eaglewood Cliffs, N.J.

[2] Morris Dickstein Introduction To main street

[3] Sinclair Lewis, The fear of American literature 

[4] The art of Sinclair Lewis Lincoln University of Nebraska press 1967   

[5] Main street: the revolt of Carol Kennicott New York: Twayne 1993 





[] Introduction by Morris Dickstein

[]P477, The United States combined edition six-edition

[]P436,The United States combined edition six-edition

[] Introduction by Morris Dickstein

[] Page 177-183, Main Street

[] Page 404, Main Street

[] Page 450, Main Street

[] Page460 , Main Street

[] Page 13, Main Street

[] Page 19, Main Street

[11] Page 186, Main Street

[12] Page416-456, Main Street

[13] Page416-456, Main Street

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