Study Guide

Main Street Class

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Class

"If his three hundred thousand went back into the town, where it belongs, they could burn up these shacks, and build a dream-village, a jewel! Why do the farmers and the town-people let the baron keep it?" (3.2.22)

Carol can't understand why there hasn't been some sort of workers' revolution in Gopher Prairie. After all, how can the farmers stand to do all the work while the property owners do nothing and still get rich?

"I don't mind dealing with my men if they think they've got any grievances—though Lord knows what's come over workmen, nowadays—don't appreciate a good job." (4.4.102)

The upper-class landowners of Gopher Prairie like to talk about how they're straight with their workers. But whenever a worker brings a problem to them, their usual response is to talk about how nobody knows how to work nowadays—which is convenient, since you could say that about nearly anyone.

"All this profit-sharing and welfare work and insurance and old-age pension is simply poppycock. Enfeebles a workman's independence—and wastes a lot of honest profit." (4.4.106)

The landowners of Gopher Prairie hate all these new ideas about giving workers an old-age pension and unemployment insurance. In their minds, workers should have to take care of themselves if something goes wrong.

"I wonder if these farmers aren't bigger than we are? So simple and hardworking. The town lives on them. We townies are parasites, and yet we feel superior to them." (5.1.22)

Carol often thinks that the farmers are the most authentic people she knows. All her middle class friends seem like a bunch of leeches compared to these hardworking folks. If the middle and upper-class residents are lying to themselves about the reality of the conditions in town, does that make their lives somehow inauthentic? Is Carol right about them?

"I can't see any use in this high-art stuff that doesn't encourage us day-laborers to plod on." (5.5.21)

The laborers of Gopher Prairie aren't really interested in high art. All they care about are stories and songs that help them forget about their crummy lives for an hour or so. That way, it'll be easier for them to get back to work the next day.

Then in a shy avalanche arrived the entire aristocracy of Gopher Prairie: all persons engaged in a profession, or earning more than twenty-five hundred dollars a year, or possessed of grandparents born in America. (6.4.1)

There are two things that get you into the respected "upper class" of Gopher Prairie. Either you earn a certain amount of money each year, or you have grandparents who were born in America. In other words, people of Lewis's time respected families that had been in America before the big immigration wave of the late 1800s. Hello, racism and classism.

"Don't you think it's hard on the rest of us when you pay so much?" (7.4.28)

When Carol tells her friends about how much she pays her maid each week, they lose their tempers with her. In their minds, Carol is undercutting the whole town by paying a simple maid too much money. Before you know it, all the maids will be expecting fair wages, and who wants that? Right?

"In Gopher Prairie," the Sam Clarks boasted, "you don't get any of this poverty that you find in the cities—always plenty of work—no need of charity—man got to be blame shiftless if he don't get ahead." (10.3.6)

Sam Clark likes to think that if you don't get ahead in Gopher Prairie, then it's because you just ain't trying. He'll admit that work can be tough to find in crowded cities, but in his mind, there's always something that needs to be done in Gopher Prairie. He just doesn't seem to realize that the laborers are paid so little that there's no way they can save or get ahead, no matter how hard they work.

"He's a socialist, the foreman. (Don't tell Lym Cass that! Lym would fire a socialist quicker than he would a horse-thief!)" (10.3.33)

Miles Bjornstam knows all of the secret socialists around Gopher Prairie, but he also knows enough to keep their identities secret. If the bosses ever found out there were socialists around, there'd be hell to pay. So much for freedom of beliefs, we guess.

"You mention the word 'co-operative' to the merchants and they'll lynch you! The one thing they fear more than mail-order houses is that farmers' co-operative movements may get started." (11.5.11)

Carol talks about the possibility that the farmers of her area can get together and create their own co-operative stores and companies. But Vida Sherwin warns her never to say the word co-operative among the men of Gopher Prairie, who are terrified that the farmers are going to get organized in order to get more bargaining power with the merchants in town. None of the merchants wants to see that happen. The merchants would rather play the farmers against each other in order to drive down the prices of their goods.

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