Study Guide

Main Street Chapter 1

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 1

  • We look in on a hill where the Chippewa people used to live. The Chippewa aren't there anymore, but instead we see a girl staring out at a bunch of flourmills. We quickly learn that this girl is Carol Milford, and she is taking a little break from life at a place called Blodgett College.
  • We're totally reminded that the days of bear-killing pioneer men are over, and now the spirit of rebellion in the American Midwest exists in the figure of the rebellious girl.
  • The narrator tells us a bit about Blodgett College, which is located on the edge of Minneapolis and is a "bulwark of sound religion." In other words, you send your daughters to Blodgett to teach them good morals and to reject the theory of evolution.
  • Carol likes to dream about doing something great with her life. She's always trying to figure out if she has any special hidden talents.
  • As graduation approaches, Carol's friends talk about getting married and settling down. Carol isn't in love with anyone, so she decides that she'll work to make her own living. Now, it's sometime around 1910 here, so it would be expected that any woman who got married would give up her job. Meanwhile, Carol dreams about becoming someone super important in the professional world.
  • Carol starts hanging out with a young law student named Stewart Snyder. Stewart likes Carol, but Carol finds him really boring. He tries to convince her to marry him but fails.
  • As Carol studies for a sociology class, she reads about village improvement and neighborhood renewal. She instantly decides that she wants to dedicate her life to fixing up a town.
  • We get a little insight into Carol's childhood, when she admired her father more than anyone in the world. Her mother died when Carol was nine years old, and her father died when she was eleven, which helps explain why she's much more independent than many other young women her age.
  • As she gets closer to graduation, Carol loses interest in becoming a teacher. She knows that the routine of it all would bore her after a while. She eventually decides to study library work in a Chicago school.
  • Before she graduates from college, Stewart Snyder makes one last effort and proposes to Carol. He nearly convinces her, but Carol rejects him in the end. After graduation, she never sees him again.
  • Carol ends up spending a year in Chicago working as a librarian. For a short while, she falls in with some hipster-intellectual types, but it doesn't last long.
  • One day, Carol is reminded of her desire to improve an American prairie town. It doesn't really matter which one, so she starts dreaming about it again. She moves back to Minnesota to work as a librarian there.
  • Over time, Carol realizes that she isn't making a difference in the world by working in the St. Paul library. She works in this library for three years, during which time several men try to woo her, but she doesn't accept any of them.
  • Then, one day, she meets Dr. Will Kennicott.

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