Study Guide

Main Street Gender

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Gender

She was not in love—that is, not often, nor ever long at a time. She would earn her living. (1.2.8)

In her younger years, Carol isn't especially interested in romance or marriage. She's much more interested in pursuing a career and fulfilling her young ambitions. At that time, women had hardly any opportunity to combine those two interests.

"What's better than making a comfy home and bringing up some cute kids and knowing nice homey people?" (1.5.10)

When Carol rejects Stewart Snyder's proposal, he's stunned. He can't imagine how a woman would want anything more in life than to have a well-to-do husband and raise a bunch of kids. Looks like life wouldn't have been much better with Stewart…

"Look at that scared baby! Needs some woman with hands like yours. Waiting for you! Just look at that baby's eyes, look how he's begging—" (2.2.32)

Everywhere she looks, Carol sees people who are telling her to start having babies as soon as possible. They don't seem to understand that Carol wants more in life than babies and the life of a housewife. Why do others have such a hard time understanding Carol's desires?

"Bearded sniffy old men sitting and demanding that we bear children. If they had to bear them—!" (4.1.13)

Carol is sick of being told by a bunch of old men to settle down and have kids. She imagines that men's attitudes toward children would be very different if they were the ones who had to go through the trouble of actually carrying and giving birth to them.

She watched her conquering man tuck [the birds] into his inside pocket, and trudged with him back to the buggy. (5.1.13)

It might sound sarcastic at first, but Carol actually feels some genuine admiration for her husband after watching him successfully kill some birds. Yes, she doesn't really buy into macho manly stuff, but she's still a product of her time in some ways, and she finds his hunting skills pretty appealing. So gender expectations go both ways—and that becomes even more obvious when fancy, effeminate Erik shows up and is made fun of for not being manly enough.

Carol perceived that Mrs. Dyer was accustomed to this indignity. She perceived that the men, particularly Dave, regarded it as an excellent jest. (6.2.18)

As a housewife, Carol hates not having control over her own finances. She used to have her own job, but now she has to go to her husband Will and ask him for money any time she needs to buy something, either for herself or for both of them. She can see that Will and his dude friends get a good laugh out of the process and love to talk to one another about how their wives are spending all their money. And guess what? She hates that, too.

""Women haven't any place in politics. They would lose all their daintiness and charm if they became involved in these horrid plots and log-rolling and all this awful political stuff about scandal and personalities and so on." (11.8.17)

Ella Stowbody is quite certain that women should never become involved in politics because this is a subject only proper for men. She worries that if women tried to act like men, they would lose all the "feminine" charms that make them appealing. It's safe to say that Carol Kennicott disagrees.

"See how scared that baby is. Needs some woman like you." (15.8.13)

Will Kennicott knows that Carol has her own dreams, but he still thinks that as a woman, it's her natural purpose in life to take care of babies. This seems like a thought that won't go away in one generation, and that's why Carol feels she can only look forward to a future in which people don't think this way anymore.

"I guess the feminine mind is too innocent to understand all these immoral writers." (18.1.20)

When Carol recommends a play for the Gopher Prairie Dramatic Club, the others fear that the play she's chosen is too immoral for a small-town audience. Some even think that Carol is ignorant of the immorality in the play simply because her womanly brain can't fully understand it. This is exactly the kind of thinking Carol is striving to overcome throughout this book.

Carol did not resent their assumption that she was too ignorant to be admitted to masculine mysteries. (24.5.11)

Eventually, Carol stops fighting to be a part of men's conversations. There are two main reasons why: 1) she simply doesn't care about these subjects, and 2) she's grown too tired to keep fighting for every inch in a conversation.

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