Study Guide

Main Street Man and the Natural World

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Man and the Natural World

Three gray birds were starting up from the stubble. They were round, dumpy, like enormous bumble bees. (5.1.12)

Carol's first experience of the Minnesota wilderness comes when she goes bird hunting with her new husband Will. The experience does her good, because she's already looking for an escape from the dull town. It's almost like she feels more kinship with these birds than with the townspeople, and even this is a stretch: notice how the birds are gray and dumpy, like everything else Carol sees around her.

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

It's tough to say whether Carol really feels admiration for her "conquering man," or if this narration is sarcastic on Sinclair Lewis's part; it could go either way. Carol might actually like Will at this moment, or she might think he's silly for killing birds to show his manhood.

Daily Carol walked from town into flashing country hysteric with new life. (12.1.1)

Carol eventually gets fed up with the town of Gopher Prairie so much that she almost feels drunk as soon as she enters the wilderness surrounding it. It just goes to show what a lame place Gopher Prairie is and how great an escape nature can be. There's also a suggestion that life in Gopher Prairie is so profoundly unnatural that just stepping outside it makes you feel almost hysterical with relief.

She leaped a tiny creek bowered in pussy-willow buds. She was nearing a frivolous grove of birch and poplar and wild plum trees. (12.1.5)

Here we have another one of the intoxicating scenes where Carol escapes the drudgery of her daily town life in order to bask in the beauty and freedom of nature.

"I believe! The woodland gods still live! And out there, the great land." (12.1.8).

Carol isn't willing to give up on her romantic notions about nature and human passion. Yes, modern towns like Gopher Prairie have ground people into a bunch of dull routines, but Carol isn't yet willing to believe that the gods of nature and human passion are dead. (Also, we're talking about metaphorical gods, folks. Carol would have to wait a few decades for the Wicca books to come out.)

On cool evenings, when they tried to go walking, the gnats appeared in swarms which peppered their faces and caught in their throats. (12.2.5)

Nature isn't always a super fun thing. Sometimes, for example, you can run into a bunch of bugs that make your experience miserable. Here, Sinclair Lewis is reminding us that there's nothing in life that's 100% good. There's always good and bad in almost anything.

Along the road the shadows from oak-branches were inked on the snow like bars of music. Then the sled came out on the surface of Minniemashie. (17.1.4)

Just when Carol thinks her life can't get worse, she hops into a sleigh with her husband and his friends and heads out into nature. There's something about the experience that's completely intoxicating to her, and it's little wonder why she spends so much of her time walking in nature for the rest of the book.

The words and the light blurred into one vast indefinite happiness, and she believed that some great thing was coming to her. (17.1.6)

While riding in the sleigh with Will and his friends, Carol nearly passes out with happiness. Being in nature has a way of making her life seem worthwhile, as she imagines that there's hope for the future and that something great will soon come to her. Life in Gopher Prairie seems small and silly compared to the vastness of nature and all it seems to promise.

Across the track was a pasture of dwarf clover and sparse lawn cut by earthy cow-paths; beyond its placid narrow green, the rough immensity of new stubble, jagged with wheat-stacks like huge pineapples. (29.1.8)

When Carol hangs out with her emotional companion Erik Valbourg, she tends to take him out into nature. After all, she can never be sure that neighbors aren't spying on her house at all times and wondering what she's up to, so she uses nature as a getaway.

She was aware of the haggard beauty in the lowering night. Monstrous tattered clouds sprawled round a forlorn moon; puddles and rocks glistened with inner light. (33.1.23)

Sometimes, nature can appear terrifying and ugly to Carol, but these moments tend to reflect the inner state of Carol's mind. In this scene for example, Carol worries that her life will always be ugly and hopeless, and her fear is so bad that it even makes nature (her usual source of comfort) look terrible. Even then, though, she finds beauty in it: nature can be ugly, but it's never the dull ugliness of town life. There's always something good or transcendent about it.

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