Study Guide

Main Street Gender

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

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It's fair to say that in Sinclair Lewis's time, women didn't enjoy the same opportunities that men did.

In Main Street, when Carol marries Will Kennicott, she's saddened to find that instead of widening her horizon of possibilities, she has drastically shrunk it. She moves with Will to the small town of Gopher Prairie, where she's expected to settle into a boring life as a typical housewife. There are all kinds of things she'd like to go out and do, but no one in the town understands why Carol can't be satisfied to have babies and wash dishes all day.

It's not until the last quarter of the book that Carol takes control of her destiny and moves to Washington D.C. to find out what it's truly like to be out on her own. Even then, she has trouble finding fulfillment. So what's the issue? Does Carol have trouble finding a good life because she's a woman, or because she has deeper issues—or both?

Questions About Gender

  1. Which of Carol's problems in this book are connected to her status as a woman? Which are not?
  2. What is a typical man in Gopher Prairie like? What sorts of things does he like and what does he not like? Why?
  3. How much of the conflict between Carol and Will comes from the fact that they don't understand what it's like to be the opposite sex?

Chew on This

Main Street is a feminist book about how society restricts women's choices and makes them miserable.

In Main Street, Sinclair Lewis suggests that Carol Kennicott is ahead of her time. If she had been born fifty years later, she'd have a much better chance of finding fulfillment.

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