Study Guide

Main Street Religion

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Religion

Blodgett College is on the edge of Minneapolis. It is a bulwark of sound religion. (1.2.1)

One of the first things Sinclair Lewis wants us to know about Carol Kennicott's college is that it's a place of "sound religion," which means that it's a Christian college that has nothing to do with Catholicism. Lewis here is playing on the idea that most Middle Americans tend to have a clear understanding of what good religion is, even though there are hundreds of faiths in the world other than theirs.

Every man fell in love with religion and Carol. (1.2.6)

At college, Carol plays the violin at church services. The young men in attendance fall in love with Carol, but they also suddenly decide they like religion because liking religion might give them a better shot with Carol. Um, so what does that actually have to do with religion, again, exactly?

"But of course as the Bible says, is it the Bible, at least I know I have heard it in church and everybody admits it, it's proper for the little bride to take her husband's vessel of faith." (6.1.76)

Mrs. Bogart thinks that Carol should do her wifely duty by joining her husband's religion. Mrs. Bogart isn't sure whether this rule is written in the Bible, but she's confident that she's heard it before in a church setting. This passage helps us realize just how flimsy Mrs. Bogart's knowledge of religion actually is, even though she's more than happy to turn this limited knowledge into severe moral judgments.

"I wish I could agree with you, dearie. I'm sure you're one of the Lord's anointed (even if we don't see you at the Baptist Church as often as we'd like to)!" (11.4.9)

Mrs. Bogart is one of those people who will never stop dropping hints. Each time she speaks to Carol, she can't help but mention that Carol should come to church more often.

"And as for the lecture hall—haven't we got the churches? Good deal better to listen to a good old-fashioned sermon than a lot of geography and books and things that nobody needs to know—more n' enough heathen learning right here in the Thanatopsis." (11.4.11)

Many folks in Gopher Prairie don't think there's much to learn in life apart from what's in the Bible. Anything else to them is just a bunch of nonsense—so you can imagine what kind of effect this thinking has on a more open-minded person like Carol. We'll give you a hint—it ain't good.

"Don't you think we already get enough of the Bible in our churches and Sunday Schools?" (11.8.19)

Carol thinks that the folks of Gopher Prairie have been hit over the head with the Bible for long enough, and that it's about time they devoted themselves to reading other books and learning other types of knowledge, like science and art. After all, there are many books out there other than the Bible.

"Well upon my word! I didn't suppose there was any one who felt that we could get enough of the Bible! I guess if the Grand Old Book has withstood the attacks of infidels for these two thousand years it is worth our slight consideration." (11.8.20)

Unlike Carol Kennicott, some people in Gopher Prairie feel like you can never have too much of the Bible in your life. Sure, other books will come and go—but for these folks, the Bible is forever, and no one should ever suggest otherwise.

"This town—why it's only the religious training I've given Cy that's kept him so innocent of—things." (15.7.12)

Mrs. Bogart is out of her mind if she thinks she's raised her son Cy to be an upstanding Christian gentleman. The truth is that none of her religious education has worked; if anything, she's driven her son to be the biggest troublemaker in all of Gopher Prairie. What does this say about the effect of Mrs. Bogart's religious views and moral guidance?

"It is negation canonized as the one positive virtue. It is the prohibition of happiness. It is slavery self-sought and self-defended. It is dullness made God." (22.3.5)

When it comes time to sum up the mentality of Gopher Prairie, Carol Kennicott can only talk about it as submission to a religion of total dullness. It's like the people of this town want to have nothing exciting in their lives, and they've made a God out of their predictable, mediocre ways.

"I've always thought that Ray would have made a wonderful rector. He has what I call an essentially religious soul. My! He'd have read the service beautifully!" (22.5.1)

Vida Sherwin is convinced that her husband Ray would have been a great rector if he'd ever gone into religious education. She thinks that he has a deep passion for spiritual things and would have done a great job of motivating people to feel the same way. It's also telling that Vida's knee-jerk reaction to her husband's talent is to try to funnel it into a religious context, as if that were the only place where this talent could flourish.

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