Study Guide

Main Street Alcohol and Drugs

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Alcohol and Drugs

Nostrums for consumption, for "women's diseases"—notorious mixtures of opium and alcohol, in the very shop to which her husband sent patient for the filling of prescriptions. (4.2.10)

That's right: a powerful drug like opium used to be sold over the counter in many American pharmacies. Heroin was even a legal drug at one point because people had no clue how powerful and addictive it was. Another sad truth is that at the time, women who were unhappy or having issues were often just given a hefty fix to calm them down. Not exactly a solution to the problem…

"I mustn't let it make me self-conscious," she coaxed herself—overstimulated by the drug of thought, and offensively on the defensive. (7.2.11)

Carol thinks of thought itself as a kind of drug. Once she starts thinking about something, she becomes addicted to thinking about it over and over, especially if she's insecure about something someone said to her.

"We can't get wholesomely drunk and relax. We have to be so correct about sex morals, and inconspicuous clothes, and doing our commercial trickery only in the traditional ways." (13.1.39)

One thing Guy Pollock hates about Gopher Prairie is the way the people there constantly try to outdo one another when it comes to moral behavior. This eventually creates a sort of race situation where everyone is competing to be the most moral. And before you know it, no one's having any fun at all. Who said all fun was immoral?

In that drugged magic there was no difference between heavy heat and insinuating cold. (17.1.4)

Carol sometimes succeeds in feeling drunk even when she hasn't had alcohol. These are rare moments when she's able to give herself completely to what's going on around her. These moments will also become even rarer as her dissatisfaction grows more acute with time.

"It's good to be wanted […] It will drug me." (34.2.48)

Carol likes the feeling of being popular in Gopher Prairie. In fact, she thinks that this feeling might even be enough to "drug" her and get her through the endless boring days of living in this town. It's telling, though, that so many of these people need some kind of drug in order to make them feel better about their lives. If people are actually unhappy with Gopher Prairie underneath all that decorum, then why don't they do something constructive about it? What's keeping them back? Do they even recognize the problem?

Cy had obtained a pint of whisky; he said that he didn't remember where he had got it. (32.1.18)

Cy Bogart is probably the biggest troublemaker in Gopher Prairie. On top of that, he's a total liar. One night, he goes out and gets drunk, and then he blames his high school teacher—Fern Mullins—for seducing him and bullying him into drinking. None of it is true, but does Cy get into trouble for it? Nope. Fern does. Naturally.

Fern insisted that he had stolen it from a farmer's overcoat—which, Mrs. Bogart raged, was obviously a lie. (32.1.18)

So much for Mrs. Bogart's morals. Fern isn't about to sit around and let Cy Bogart lie about her giving him alcohol; she insists that Cy stole his pint of whisky from a farmer's coat. Drinking is a pretty taboo thing for the men of Gopher Prairie, but it's downright forbidden for women, especially women in Fern's position.

[Cy] had become soggily drunk. Fern had driven him home; depositing him, retching and wabbling, on the Bogart porch. (32.1.18)

By the time Fern is able to get Cy under control, he's hammered. She could easily leave him to fend for himself, but she does the right thing and drives him home. Little does she know that this act of kindness is what will make her look guilty in the eyes of Mrs. Bogart.

Never before had her boy been drunk, shrieked Mrs. Bogart. (32.1.19)

Mrs. Bogart is completely in denial when it comes to how misbehaved her sons are. She has tried to raise them with strict religion, but all three have turned into big troublemakers. (Is there a connection here?) She still insists that none of them ever do anything wrong. She kind of has to say that, we guess; otherwise, it would turn out that all her morals and all her religion actually created something bad rather than something good, and she'd have to think twice about her own behavior. Yeah, like that's gonna happen.

When Kennicott grunted, she owned, "Well, maybe once or twice I've smelled licker on his breath." (32.1.19)

Even Will Kennicott isn't going to sit around and listen to Mrs. Bogart talk about how her son Cy is a saint. Everyone in town knows that Cy is bad news, and Will grunts to remind Mrs. Bogart that this is the case. Mrs. Bogart would probably never have backed down if it had been Carol who had expressed doubt, but she won't fly off the handle against a man like Will.

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