Inconsistent Characterization in Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
Sinclair Lewis uses the novel Main Street and his characters within it as a window, which reveals his inconsistent feelings about his hometown, Sauk Centre, Minnesota. Throughout the novel his characters
fluctuate based on how Lewis characterizes them. Also Lewis’ characters have wavering opinions of the novels setting, Gopher Prairie based on Lewis’ conflicting opinions of his hometown. Sinclair Lewis’ characterization is inconsistent throughout the novel Main Street. This inconsistency reflects in the townspeople of Gopher Prairie, Will Kennicott, and Carol Kennicott.
The Townspeople in Main Street appear inconsistent based upon how well they are characterized. The Townspeople are depicted from a highly satirized point of view. Lewis stresses and exaggerates characteristics making some characters seem overly bland while others are more realistic. Sinclair Lewis transformed ordinary likable people into monsters through his satirism, according to Dooley (69). Lewis also uses Main Street to reflect his biased viewpoint of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, the town he grew up in. As a result of his indecisive feelings towards Gopher Prairie his characters seem inconsistent. Some of his characters such as Miles Bjornstam seem more realistic than others such as Mrs. Bogart. Lewis portrays the two-dimensional townspeople from a grotesque point of view. Most of the townspeople appear as stereotypes—the town gossip, the town atheist, the town doctor, the rebellious young artist, etc. “They are,” as Dooley writes “ two-dimensional figures, painted in primary colors. They have no minds, only voices; loudmouthed, breezy pioneers…” (67). Lewis used all of the townspeople as a way of portraying his mixed views of his hometown through his inconsistent characterization of them.
Throughout Main Street the reader holds a shaky view of Kennicott’s personality. Kennicott is portrayed as a very basic hero at times, and also as grotesquely unrealistic as the townspeople. When Kennicott performs various medical operations for the townspeople Carol looks upon him as a hero, and when he defends Gopher Prairie he seems dull and arrogant. Although Carol feels he is heroic, she also feels that he is as provincial as the townspeople and thus the reader sympathizes with her. According to Dooley “… he appears crude, loud-mouthed, and hidebound: ‘Next thing, I suppose you’ll be yapping about free speech. Free speech! There’s too much free speech and free beer and free love and all the rest of your damned mouthy freedom.. ‘ A few pages after this, he is once more presented as a sensitive and considerate person …”(71). Although Kennicott is intelligent and insightful; the reader also feels that he is unimaginative, materialistic and rather dull. Kennicott holds a patriotic attitude towards Gopher Prairie. He defends the townspeople by saying that they are happy living as they are and that they do not need any advancements. While he defends the town on many occasions he also supports Carol in her attempts to advance the town. The reader receives mixed signals from the characterization of Will Kennicott, and therefore he appears as inconsistent as the rest of the townspeople.
Carol appears inconsistent throughout the novel. Carol appears as an illogical reformer throughout her attempts to change Gopher Prairie. Dooley writes, “…She is impulsive, undiplomatic, and ignorant of complications.” (63). Her restless personality lends to her ideas of reform but she is easily discouraged by the towns criticisms, and also lacks the motivation to achieve results leaving the reader with the feeling that she is does not have realistic goals and in turn is not realistic herself. Carol quickly tangles herself in a love-hate relationship with the town, “She is depressed to the point of a near breakdown,” writes James Lundquist “by the dullness of its provincial life.” (36). She enjoys the beauty of the countryside and the company of Kennicott, in spite of her hatred for the townspeople and their dullness as well as the dull appearance of the town itself. Carol reveals more inward conflicts when she works in Washington D.C for two years. While she was away from Gopher Prairie she missed it greatly and felt awkward being back in the city. When she returns to the city she accepts it the way it is yet is still distressed by her past attempts to reform it and hopes her daughter will continue her attempts to renovate Gopher Prairie.
Main Street is a direct reflection of Lewis’ feelings about Sauk Centre. His characterization, and how it is easily identified as inconsistent throughout the novel, gives its readers an insight as to how he feels about his hometown. His minor characters are inconsistent and two dimensional, while his two main characters, Will and Carol Kennicott are occasionally realistic, but equally inconsistent. Carol was specifically used to portray Lewis’ biased opinion of his hometown, and because she was the main character the reader sympathized with that viewpoint. Main Street’s characters are in essence Lewis’ feelings and beliefs of his hometown, Sauk Centre, resulting in their inconsistency.