Main Street is a satirical novel written by Sinclair Lewis, and published in 1920. Satirizing small town life, Main Street is perhaps Sinclair Lewis’s most famous book, and led in part to his eventual 1930 Nobel Prize for Literature.You’ll meet Carol Milford, the daughter of a judge, grew up in Mankato, Minnesota, and became an orphan in her teens. In college, she reads a book on village improvement in a sociology class and begins to dream of redesigning villages and towns. After college, she attends a library school in Chicago and is exposed to many radical ideas and lifestyles. She becomes a librarian in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the state capital, but finds the work unrewarding. She marries Will Kennicott, a doctor, who is a small-town boy at heart.When they marry, Will convinces her to live in his home-town of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, a town modeled on Sauk Centre, Minnesota, the author’s birthplace. Carol immediately sets about her plans to remake Gopher Prairie, but she is filled with disdain for the town’s physical ugliness and smug conservatism.She speaks with its members about progressive changes, joins women’s clubs, distributes literature, and holds a party to liven up Gopher Prairie’s inhabitants. Despite her efforts, she is ineffective and constantly derided by the leading cliques.Main Street initially was awarded the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for literature, but was rejected by the Board of Trustees, who overturned the jury’s decision. The prize instead went to Edith Wharton for The Age of Innocence. In 1926, Lewis refused the Pulitzer when he was awarded it for Arrowsmith.In 1930, Lewis was the first American ever awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. While a Nobel Prize is awarded to the author, not the work, and itself does not cite a particular work for which he was chosen, Main Street was Lewis’ best-known work and enormously popular at the time. In the Nobel committee’s presentation speech, both Main Street and Arrowsmith were cited. The prize was awarded “… for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters.”In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Main Street #68 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.Harry Sinclair Lewis (February 7, 1885 – January 10, 1951) was an American novelist, short-story writer and playwright. In 1930, he became the first writer from the United States (and the first from the Americas) to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which was awarded “for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters.” His works are known for their critical views of American capitalism and materialism between the wars. He is also respected for his strong characterizations of modern working women. H. L. Mencken wrote of him, “[If] there was ever a novelist among us with an authentic call to the trade … it is this red-haired tornado from the Minnesota wilds.” He has been honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a postage stamp in the Great Americans series.In 1930 Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first writer from the United States to receive the award, after he had been nominated by Henrik Schück, member of the Swedish Academy.
Ruth E. Hetland
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