The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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the house.


In their new intimacy he was more communicative about his practise;

he informed her, with the invariable warning not to tell, that Mrs.

Sunderquist had another baby coming, that the "hired girl at Howland's

was in trouble." But when she asked technical questions he did not know

how to answer; when she inquired, "Exactly what is the method of taking

out the tonsils?" he yawned, "Tonsilectomy? Why you just----If there's

pus, you operate. Just take 'em out. Seen the newspaper? What the devil

did Bea do with it?"


She did not try again.

III


They had gone to the "movies." The movies were almost as vital

to Kennicott and the other solid citizens of Gopher Prairie as

land-speculation and guns and automobiles.
The feature film portrayed a brave young Yankee who conquered a South

American republic. He turned the natives from their barbarous habits of

singing and laughing to the vigorous sanity, the Pep and Punch and

Go, of the North; he taught them to work in factories, to wear Klassy

Kollege Klothes, and to shout, "Oh, you baby doll, watch me gather

in the mazuma." He changed nature itself. A mountain which had borne

nothing but lilies and cedars and loafing clouds was by his Hustle so

inspirited that it broke out in long wooden sheds, and piles of iron

ore to be converted into steamers to carry iron ore to be converted into

steamers to carry iron ore.


The intellectual tension induced by the master film was relieved by a

livelier, more lyric and less philosophical drama: Mack Schnarken and

the Bathing Suit Babes in a comedy of manners entitled "Right on the

Coco." Mr. Schnarken was at various high moments a cook, a life-guard,

a burlesque actor, and a sculptor. There was a hotel hallway up which

policemen charged, only to be stunned by plaster busts hurled upon them

from the innumerous doors. If the plot lacked lucidity, the dual motif

of legs and pie was clear and sure. Bathing and modeling were equally

sound occasions for legs; the wedding-scene was but an approach to the

thunderous climax when Mr. Schnarken slipped a piece of custard pie into

the clergyman's rear pocket.
The audience in the Rosebud Movie Palace squealed and wiped their eyes;

they scrambled under the seats for overshoes, mittens, and mufflers,

while the screen announced that next week Mr. Schnarken might be seen

in a new, riproaring, extra-special superfeature of the Clean Comedy

Corporation entitled, "Under Mollie's Bed."
"I'm glad," said Carol to Kennicott as they stooped before the northwest

gale which was torturing the barren street, "that this is a moral

country. We don't allow any of these beastly frank novels."
"Yump. Vice Society and Postal Department won't stand for them. The

American people don't like filth."


"Yes. It's fine. I'm glad we have such dainty romances as 'Right on the

Coco' instead."


"Say what in heck do you think you're trying to do? Kid me?"
He was silent. She awaited his anger. She meditated upon his gutter

patois, the Boeotian dialect characteristic of Gopher Prairie. He

laughed puzzlingly. When they came into the glow of the house he laughed

again. He condescended:


"I've got to hand it to you. You're consistent, all right. I'd of

thought that after getting this look-in at a lot of good decent farmers,

you'd get over this high-art stuff, but you hang right on."
"Well----" To herself: "He takes advantage of my trying to be good."
"Tell you, Carrie: There's just three classes of people: folks that

haven't got any ideas at all; and cranks that kick about everything; and

Regular Guys, the fellows with sticktuitiveness, that boost and get the

world's work done."


"Then I'm probably a crank." She smiled negligently.
"No. I won't admit it. You do like to talk, but at a show-down you'd

prefer Sam Clark to any damn long-haired artist."


"Oh--well----"
"Oh well!" mockingly. "My, we're just going to change everything, aren't

we! Going to tell fellows that have been making movies for ten years

how to direct 'em; and tell architects how to build towns; and make the

magazines publish nothing but a lot of highbrow stories about old maids,

and about wives that don't know what they want. Oh, we're a terror! . . .

Come on now, Carrie; come out of it; wake up! You've got a fine nerve,

kicking about a movie because it shows a few legs! Why, you're always

touting these Greek dancers, or whatever they are, that don't even wear

a shimmy!"
"But, dear, the trouble with that film--it wasn't that it got in so many

legs, but that it giggled coyly and promised to show more of them, and

then didn't keep the promise. It was Peeping Tom's idea of humor."
"I don't get you. Look here now----"
She lay awake, while he rumbled with sleep
"I must go on. My 'crank ideas;' he calls them. I thought that adoring

him, watching him operate, would be enough. It isn't. Not after the

first thrill.
"I don't want to hurt him. But I must go on.
"It isn't enough, to stand by while he fills an automobile radiator and

chucks me bits of information.


"If I stood by and admired him long enough, I would be content. I would

become a 'nice little woman.' The Village Virus. Already----I'm not

reading anything. I haven't touched the piano for a week. I'm letting

the days drown in worship of 'a good deal, ten plunks more per acre.' I

won't! I won't succumb!
"How? I've failed at everything: the Thanatopsis, parties, pioneers,

city hall, Guy and Vida. But----It doesn't MATTER! I'm not trying to

'reform the town' now. I'm not trying to organize Browning Clubs,

and sit in clean white kids yearning up at lecturers with ribbony

eyeglasses. I am trying to save my soul.
"Will Kennicott, asleep there, trusting me, thinking he holds me. And

I'm leaving him. All of me left him when he laughed at me. It wasn't

enough for him that I admired him; I must change myself and grow like

him. He takes advantage. No more. It's finished. I will go on."

IV

Her violin lay on top of the upright piano. She picked it up. Since she



had last touched it the dried strings had snapped, and upon it lay a

gold and crimson cigar-band.

V

She longed to see Guy Pollock, for the confirming of the brethren in



the faith. But Kennicott's dominance was heavy upon her. She could not

determine whether she was checked by fear or him, or by inertia--by

dislike of the emotional labor of the "scenes" which would be involved

in asserting independence. She was like the revolutionist at fifty:

not afraid of death, but bored by the probability of bad steaks and bad

breaths and sitting up all night on windy barricades.


The second evening after the movies she impulsively summoned Vida

Sherwin and Guy to the house for pop-corn and cider. In the living-room

Vida and Kennicott debated "the value of manual training in grades below

the eighth," while Carol sat beside Guy at the dining table, buttering

pop-corn. She was quickened by the speculation in his eyes. She

murmured:


"Guy, do you want to help me?"
"My dear! How?"
"I don't know!"
He waited.
"I think I want you to help me find out what has made the darkness of

the women. Gray darkness and shadowy trees. We're all in it, ten million

women, young married women with good prosperous husbands, and business

women in linen collars, and grandmothers that gad out to teas, and wives

of under-paid miners, and farmwives who really like to make butter and

go to church. What is it we want--and need? Will Kennicott there would

say that we need lots of children and hard work. But it isn't that.

There's the same discontent in women with eight children and one more

coming--always one more coming! And you find it in stenographers and

wives who scrub, just as much as in girl college-graduates who wonder

how they can escape their kind parents. What do we want?"
"Essentially, I think, you are like myself, Carol; you want to go back

to an age of tranquillity and charming manners. You want to enthrone

good taste again."
"Just good taste? Fastidious people? Oh--no! I believe all of us want

the same things--we're all together, the industrial workers and the

women and the farmers and the negro race and the Asiatic colonies, and

even a few of the Respectables. It's all the same revolt, in all the

classes that have waited and taken advice. I think perhaps we want a

more conscious life. We're tired of drudging and sleeping and dying.

We're tired of seeing just a few people able to be individualists. We're

tired of always deferring hope till the next generation. We're tired

of hearing the politicians and priests and cautious reformers (and the

husbands!) coax us, 'Be calm! Be patient! Wait! We have the plans for a

Utopia already made; just give us a bit more time and we'll produce it;

trust us; we're wiser than you.' For ten thousand years they've said

that. We want our Utopia NOW--and we're going to try our hands at it.

All we want is--everything for all of us! For every housewife and every

longshoreman and every Hindu nationalist and every teacher. We want

everything. We shatn't get it. So we shatn't ever be content----"


She wondered why he was wincing. He broke in:
"See here, my dear, I certainly hope you don't class yourself with a lot

of trouble-making labor-leaders! Democracy is all right theoretically,

and I'll admit there are industrial injustices, but I'd rather have them

than see the world reduced to a dead level of mediocrity. I refuse to

believe that you have anything in common with a lot of laboring men

rowing for bigger wages so that they can buy wretched flivvers and

hideous player-pianos and----"
At this second, in Buenos Ayres, a newspaper editor broke his routine of

being bored by exchanges to assert, "Any injustice is better than seeing

the world reduced to a gray level of scientific dullness." At this

second a clerk standing at the bar of a New York saloon stopped milling

his secret fear of his nagging office-manager long enough to growl

at the chauffeur beside him, "Aw, you socialists make me sick! I'm an

individualist. I ain't going to be nagged by no bureaus and take orders

off labor-leaders. And mean to say a hobo's as good as you and me?"


At this second Carol realized that for all Guy's love of dead elegances

his timidity was as depressing to her as the bulkiness of Sam Clark. She

realized that he was not a mystery, as she had excitedly believed; not

a romantic messenger from the World Outside on whom she could count for

escape. He belonged to Gopher Prairie, absolutely. She was snatched back

from a dream of far countries, and found herself on Main Street.


He was completing his protest, "You don't want to be mixed up in all

this orgy of meaningless discontent?"


She soothed him. "No, I don't. I'm not heroic. I'm scared by all the

fighting that's going on in the world. I want nobility and adventure,

but perhaps I want still more to curl on the hearth with some one I

love."
"Would you----"


He did not finish it. He picked up a handful of pop-corn, let it run

through his fingers, looked at her wistfully.


With the loneliness of one who has put away a possible love Carol saw

that he was a stranger. She saw that he had never been anything but

a frame on which she had hung shining garments. If she had let him

diffidently make love to her, it was not because she cared, but because

she did not care, because it did not matter.
She smiled at him with the exasperating tactfulness of a woman checking

a flirtation; a smile like an airy pat on the arm. She sighed, "You're

a dear to let me tell you my imaginary troubles." She bounced up, and

trilled, "Shall we take the pop-corn in to them now?"


Guy looked after her desolately.
While she teased Vida and Kennicott she was repeating, "I must go on."

VI

Miles Bjornstam, the pariah "Red Swede," had brought his circular saw



and portable gasoline engine to the house, to cut the cords of poplar

for the kitchen range. Kennicott had given the order; Carol knew nothing

of it till she heard the ringing of the saw, and glanced out to see

Bjornstam, in black leather jacket and enormous ragged purple

mittens, pressing sticks against the whirling blade, and flinging

the stove-lengths to one side. The red irritable motor kept up a red

irritable "tip-tip-tip-tip-tip-tip." The whine of the saw rose till it

simulated the shriek of a fire-alarm whistle at night, but always at the

end it gave a lively metallic clang, and in the stillness she heard the

flump of the cut stick falling on the pile.


She threw a motor robe over her, ran out. Bjornstam welcomed her, "Well,

well, well! Here's old Miles, fresh as ever. Well say, that's all right;

he ain't even begun to be cheeky yet; next summer he's going to take you

out on his horse-trading trip, clear into Idaho."


"Yes, and I may go!"
"How's tricks? Crazy about the town yet?"
"No, but I probably shall be, some day."
"Don't let 'em get you. Kick 'em in the face!"
He shouted at her while he worked. The pile of stove-wood grew

astonishingly. The pale bark of the poplar sticks was mottled with

lichens of sage-green and dusty gray; the newly sawed ends were

fresh-colored, with the agreeable roughness of a woolen muffler. To the

sterile winter air the wood gave a scent of March sap.
Kennicott telephoned that he was going into the country. Bjornstam had

not finished his work at noon, and she invited him to have dinner with

Bea in the kitchen. She wished that she were independent enough to dine

with these her guests. She considered their friendliness, she sneered at

"social distinctions," she raged at her own taboos--and she continued

to regard them as retainers and herself as a lady. She sat in the

dining-room and listened through the door to Bjornstam's booming and

Bea's giggles. She was the more absurd to herself in that, after the

rite of dining alone, she could go out to the kitchen, lean against the

sink, and talk to them.


They were attracted to each other; a Swedish Othello and Desdemona, more

useful and amiable than their prototypes. Bjornstam told his scapes:

selling horses in a Montana mining-camp, breaking a log-jam, being

impertinent to a "two-fisted" millionaire lumberman. Bea gurgled "Oh

my!" and kept his coffee cup filled.
He took a long time to finish the wood. He had frequently to go into the

kitchen to get warm. Carol heard him confiding to Bea, "You're a darn

nice Swede girl. I guess if I had a woman like you I wouldn't be such

a sorehead. Gosh, your kitchen is clean; makes an old bach feel sloppy.

Say, that's nice hair you got. Huh? Me fresh? Saaaay, girl, if I ever do

get fresh, you'll know it. Why, I could pick you up with one finger,

and hold you in the air long enough to read Robert J. Ingersoll clean

through. Ingersoll? Oh, he's a religious writer. Sure. You'd like him

fine."
When he drove off he waved to Bea; and Carol, lonely at the window

above, was envious of their pastoral.


"And I----But I will go on."

CHAPTER XVII


I
THEY were driving down the lake to the cottages that moonlit January

night, twenty of them in the bob-sled. They sang "Toy Land" and "Seeing

Nelly Home"; they leaped from the low back of the sled to race over the

slippery snow ruts; and when they were tired they climbed on the runners

for a lift. The moon-tipped flakes kicked up by the horses settled over

the revelers and dripped down their necks, but they laughed, yelped,

beat their leather mittens against their chests. The harness rattled,

the sleigh-bells were frantic, Jack Elder's setter sprang beside the

horses, barking.
For a time Carol raced with them. The cold air gave fictive power. She

felt that she could run on all night, leap twenty feet at a stride. But

the excess of energy tired her, and she was glad to snuggle under the

comforters which covered the hay in the sled-box.


In the midst of the babel she found enchanted quietude.
Along the road the shadows from oak-branches were inked on the snow

like bars of music. Then the sled came out on the surface of Lake

Minniemashie. Across the thick ice was a veritable road, a short-cut

for farmers. On the glaring expanse of the lake-levels of hard crust,

flashes of green ice blown clear, chains of drifts ribbed like the

sea-beach--the moonlight was overwhelming. It stormed on the snow, it

turned the woods ashore into crystals of fire. The night was tropical

and voluptuous. In that drugged magic there was no difference between

heavy heat and insinuating cold.
Carol was dream-strayed. The turbulent voices, even Guy Pollock being

connotative beside her, were nothing. She repeated:


Deep on the convent-roof the snows

Are sparkling to the moon.


The words and the light blurred into one vast indefinite happiness, and

she believed that some great thing was coming to her. She withdrew from

the clamor into a worship of incomprehensible gods. The night expanded,

she was conscious of the universe, and all mysteries stooped down to

her.
She was jarred out of her ecstasy as the bob-sled bumped up the steep

road to the bluff where stood the cottages.


They dismounted at Jack Elder's shack. The interior walls of unpainted

boards, which had been grateful in August, were forbidding in the chill.

In fur coats and mufflers tied over caps they were a strange company,

bears and walruses talking. Jack Elder lighted the shavings waiting in

the belly of a cast-iron stove which was like an enlarged bean-pot.

They piled their wraps high on a rocker, and cheered the rocker as it

solemnly tipped over backward.
Mrs. Elder and Mrs. Sam Clark made coffee in an enormous blackened tin

pot; Vida Sherwin and Mrs. McGanum unpacked doughnuts and gingerbread;

Mrs. Dave Dyer warmed up "hot dogs"--frankfurters in rolls; Dr. Terry

Gould, after announcing, "Ladies and gents, prepare to be shocked; shock

line forms on the right," produced a bottle of bourbon whisky.
The others danced, muttering "Ouch!" as their frosted feet struck the

pine planks. Carol had lost her dream. Harry Haydock lifted her by the

waist and swung her. She laughed. The gravity of the people who stood

apart and talked made her the more impatient for frolic.


Kennicott, Sam Clark, Jackson Elder, young Dr. McGanum, and James

Madison Howland, teetering on their toes near the stove, conversed

with the sedate pomposity of the commercialist. In details the men were

unlike, yet they said the same things in the same hearty monotonous

voices. You had to look at them to see which was speaking.
"Well, we made pretty good time coming up," from one--any one.
"Yump, we hit it up after we struck the good going on the lake."
"Seems kind of slow though, after driving an auto."
"Yump, it does, at that. Say, how'd you make out with that Sphinx tire

you got?"


"Seems to hold out fine. Still, I don't know's I like it any better than

the Roadeater Cord."


"Yump, nothing better than a Roadeater. Especially the cord. The cord's

lots better than the fabric."


"Yump, you said something----Roadeater's a good tire."
"Say, how'd you come out with Pete Garsheim on his payments?"
"He's paying up pretty good. That's a nice piece of land he's got."
"Yump, that's a dandy farm."
"Yump, Pete's got a good place there."
They glided from these serious topics into the jocose insults which are

the wit of Main Street. Sam Clark was particularly apt at them. "What's

this wild-eyed sale of summer caps you think you're trying to pull

off?" he clamored at Harry Haydock. "Did you steal 'em, or are you just

overcharging us, as usual? . . . Oh say, speaking about caps, d'I ever

tell you the good one I've got on Will? The doc thinks he's a pretty

good driver, fact, he thinks he's almost got human intelligence, but one

time he had his machine out in the rain, and the poor fish, he hadn't

put on chains, and thinks I----"
Carol had heard the story rather often. She fled back to the dancers,

and at Dave Dyer's masterstroke of dropping an icicle down Mrs.

McGanum's back she applauded hysterically.
They sat on the floor, devouring the food. The men giggled amiably as

they passed the whisky bottle, and laughed, "There's a real sport!" when

Juanita Haydock took a sip. Carol tried to follow; she believed that she

desired to be drunk and riotous; but the whisky choked her and as she

saw Kennicott frown she handed the bottle on repentantly. Somewhat too

late she remembered that she had given up domesticity and repentance.


"Let's play charades!" said Raymie Wutherspoon.
"Oh yes, do let us," said Ella Stowbody.
"That's the caper," sanctioned Harry Haydock.
They interpreted the word "making" as May and King. The crown was a red

flannel mitten cocked on Sam Clark's broad pink bald head. They forgot

they were respectable. They made-believe. Carol was stimulated to cry:
"Let's form a dramatic club and give a play! Shall we? It's been so much

fun tonight!"


They looked affable.
"Sure," observed Sam Clark loyally.
"Oh, do let us! I think it would be lovely to present 'Romeo and

Juliet'!" yearned Ella Stowbody.


"Be a whale of a lot of fun," Dr. Terry Gould granted.
"But if we did," Carol cautioned, "it would be awfully silly to have

amateur theatricals. We ought to paint our own scenery and everything,

and really do something fine. There'd be a lot of hard work. Would

you--would we all be punctual at rehearsals, do you suppose?"


"You bet!" "Sure." "That's the idea." "Fellow ought to be prompt at

rehearsals," they all agreed.


"Then let's meet next week and form the Gopher Prairie Dramatic

Association!" Carol sang.


She drove home loving these friends who raced through moonlit snow,

had Bohemian parties, and were about to create beauty in the theater.

Everything was solved. She would be an authentic part of the town,

yet escape the coma of the Village Virus. . . . She would be free of

Kennicott again, without hurting him, without his knowing.
She had triumphed.
The moon was small and high now, and unheeding.

II

Though they had all been certain that they longed for the privilege of



attending committee meetings and rehearsals, the dramatic association as

definitely formed consisted only of Kennicott, Carol, Guy Pollock,

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