The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



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lie! They say the bride is always so blushing and proud and happy when

she finds that out, but--I'd hate it! I'd be scared to death! Some

day but----Please, dear nebulous Lord, not now! Bearded sniffy old

men sitting and demanding that we bear children. If THEY had to bear

them----! I wish they did have to! Not now! Not till I've got hold of

this job of liking the ash-pile out there! . . . I must shut up. I'm

mildly insane. I'm going out for a walk. I'll see the town by myself. My

first view of the empire I'm going to conquer!"


She fled from the house.
She stared with seriousness at every concrete crossing, every

hitching-post, every rake for leaves; and to each house she devoted all

her speculation. What would they come to mean? How would they look six

months from now? In which of them would she be dining? Which of these

people whom she passed, now mere arrangements of hair and clothes, would

turn into intimates, loved or dreaded, different from all the other

people in the world?
As she came into the small business-section she inspected a broad-beamed

grocer in an alpaca coat who was bending over the apples and celery on a

slanted platform in front of his store. Would she ever talk to him? What

would he say if she stopped and stated, "I am Mrs. Dr. Kennicott. Some

day I hope to confide that a heap of extremely dubious pumpkins as a

window-display doesn't exhilarate me much."


(The grocer was Mr. Frederick F. Ludelmeyer, whose market is at the

corner of Main Street and Lincoln Avenue. In supposing that only she was

observant Carol was ignorant, misled by the indifference of cities. She

fancied that she was slipping through the streets invisible; but when

she had passed, Mr. Ludelmeyer puffed into the store and coughed at his

clerk, "I seen a young woman, she come along the side street. I bet she

iss Doc Kennicott's new bride, good-looker, nice legs, but she wore a

hell of a plain suit, no style, I wonder will she pay cash, I bet she

goes to Howland & Gould's more as she does here, what you done with the

poster for Fluffed Oats?")


II

When Carol had walked for thirty-two minutes she had completely covered



the town, east and west, north and south; and she stood at the corner of

Main Street and Washington Avenue and despaired.


Main Street with its two-story brick shops, its story-and-a-half wooden

residences, its muddy expanse from concrete walk to walk, its huddle

of Fords and lumber-wagons, was too small to absorb her. The broad,

straight, unenticing gashes of the streets let in the grasping prairie

on every side. She realized the vastness and the emptiness of the land.

The skeleton iron windmill on the farm a few blocks away, at the north

end of Main Street, was like the ribs of a dead cow. She thought of the

coming of the Northern winter, when the unprotected houses would crouch

together in terror of storms galloping out of that wild waste. They

were so small and weak, the little brown houses. They were shelters for

sparrows, not homes for warm laughing people.
She told herself that down the street the leaves were a splendor. The

maples were orange; the oaks a solid tint of raspberry. And the lawns

had been nursed with love. But the thought would not hold. At best the

trees resembled a thinned woodlot. There was no park to rest the eyes.

And since not Gopher Prairie but Wakamin was the county-seat, there was

no court-house with its grounds.


She glanced through the fly-specked windows of the most pretentious

building in sight, the one place which welcomed strangers and

determined their opinion of the charm and luxury of Gopher Prairie--the

Minniemashie House. It was a tall lean shabby structure, three stories

of yellow-streaked wood, the corners covered with sanded pine slabs

purporting to symbolize stone. In the hotel office she could see a

stretch of bare unclean floor, a line of rickety chairs with brass

cuspidors between, a writing-desk with advertisements in mother-of-pearl

letters upon the glass-covered back. The dining-room beyond was a jungle

of stained table-cloths and catsup bottles.


She looked no more at the Minniemashie House.
A man in cuffless shirt-sleeves with pink arm-garters, wearing a linen

collar but no tie, yawned his way from Dyer's Drug Store across to the

hotel. He leaned against the wall, scratched a while, sighed, and in a

bored way gossiped with a man tilted back in a chair. A lumber-wagon,

its long green box filled with large spools of barbed-wire fencing,

creaked down the block. A Ford, in reverse, sounded as though it

were shaking to pieces, then recovered and rattled away. In the Greek

candy-store was the whine of a peanut-roaster, and the oily smell of

nuts.
There was no other sound nor sign of life.
She wanted to run, fleeing from the encroaching prairie, demanding the

security of a great city. Her dreams of creating a beautiful town were

ludicrous. Oozing out from every drab wall, she felt a forbidding spirit

which she could never conquer.


She trailed down the street on one side, back on the other, glancing

into the cross streets. It was a private Seeing Main Street tour. She

was within ten minutes beholding not only the heart of a place called

Gopher Prairie, but ten thousand towns from Albany to San Diego:


Dyer's Drug Store, a corner building of regular and unreal blocks of

artificial stone. Inside the store, a greasy marble soda-fountain with

an electric lamp of red and green and curdled-yellow mosaic

shade. Pawed-over heaps of tooth-brushes and combs and packages of

shaving-soap. Shelves of soap-cartons, teething-rings, garden-seeds,

and patent medicines in yellow "packages-nostrums" for consumption, for

"women's diseases"--notorious mixtures of opium and alcohol, in

the very shop to which her husband sent patients for the filling of

prescriptions.
From a second-story window the sign "W. P. Kennicott, Phys. & Surgeon,"

gilt on black sand.


A small wooden motion-picture theater called "The Rosebud Movie Palace."

Lithographs announcing a film called "Fatty in Love."


Howland & Gould's Grocery. In the display window, black, overripe

bananas and lettuce on which a cat was sleeping. Shelves lined with red

crepe paper which was now faded and torn and concentrically spotted.

Flat against the wall of the second story the signs of lodges--the

Knights of Pythias, the Maccabees, the Woodmen, the Masons.
Dahl & Oleson's Meat Market--a reek of blood.
A jewelry shop with tinny-looking wrist-watches for women. In front of

it, at the curb, a huge wooden clock which did not go.


A fly-buzzing saloon with a brilliant gold and enamel whisky sign across

the front. Other saloons down the block. From them a stink of stale

beer, and thick voices bellowing pidgin German or trolling out dirty

songs--vice gone feeble and unenterprising and dull--the delicacy of a

mining-camp minus its vigor. In front of the saloons, farmwives sitting

on the seats of wagons, waiting for their husbands to become drunk and

ready to start home.
A tobacco shop called "The Smoke House," filled with young men shaking

dice for cigarettes. Racks of magazines, and pictures of coy fat

prostitutes in striped bathing-suits.
A clothing store with a display of "ox-blood-shade Oxfords with bull-dog

toes." Suits which looked worn and glossless while they were still new,

flabbily draped on dummies like corpses with painted cheeks.
The Bon Ton Store--Haydock & Simons'--the largest shop in town. The

first-story front of clear glass, the plates cleverly bound at the edges

with brass. The second story of pleasant tapestry brick. One window of

excellent clothes for men, interspersed with collars of floral pique

which showed mauve daisies on a saffron ground. Newness and an obvious

notion of neatness and service. Haydock & Simons. Haydock. She had met a

Haydock at the station; Harry Haydock; an active person of thirty-five.

He seemed great to her, now, and very like a saint. His shop was clean!


Axel Egge's General Store, frequented by Scandinavian farmers. In the

shallow dark window-space heaps of sleazy sateens, badly woven galateas,

canvas shoes designed for women with bulging ankles, steel and red glass

buttons upon cards with broken edges, a cottony blanket, a granite-ware

frying-pan reposing on a sun-faded crepe blouse.
Sam Clark's Hardware Store. An air of frankly metallic enterprise. Guns

and churns and barrels of nails and beautiful shiny butcher knives.


Chester Dashaway's House Furnishing Emporium. A vista of heavy oak

rockers with leather seats, asleep in a dismal row.


Billy's Lunch. Thick handleless cups on the wet oilcloth-covered

counter. An odor of onions and the smoke of hot lard. In the doorway a

young man audibly sucking a toothpick.
The warehouse of the buyer of cream and potatoes. The sour smell of a

dairy.
The Ford Garage and the Buick Garage, competent one-story brick

and cement buildings opposite each other. Old and new cars on

grease-blackened concrete floors. Tire advertisements. The roaring of

a tested motor; a racket which beat at the nerves. Surly young men in

khaki union-overalls. The most energetic and vital places in town.


A large warehouse for agricultural implements. An impressive barricade

of green and gold wheels, of shafts and sulky seats, belonging

to machinery of which Carol knew nothing--potato-planters,

manure-spreaders, silage-cutters, disk-harrows, breaking-plows.


A feed store, its windows opaque with the dust of bran, a patent

medicine advertisement painted on its roof.


Ye Art Shoppe, Prop. Mrs. Mary Ellen Wilks, Christian Science Library

open daily free. A touching fumble at beauty. A one-room shanty of

boards recently covered with rough stucco. A show-window delicately rich

in error: vases starting out to imitate tree-trunks but running off

into blobs of gilt--an aluminum ash-tray labeled "Greetings from

Gopher Prairie"--a Christian Science magazine--a stamped sofa-cushion

portraying a large ribbon tied to a small poppy, the correct skeins of

embroidery-silk lying on the pillow. Inside the shop, a glimpse of bad

carbon prints of bad and famous pictures, shelves of phonograph records

and camera films, wooden toys, and in the midst an anxious small woman

sitting in a padded rocking chair.
A barber shop and pool room. A man in shirt sleeves, presumably Del

Snafflin the proprietor, shaving a man who had a large Adam's apple.


Nat Hicks's Tailor Shop, on a side street off Main. A one-story

building. A fashion-plate showing human pitchforks in garments which

looked as hard as steel plate.
On another side street a raw red-brick Catholic Church with a varnished

yellow door.


The post-office--merely a partition of glass and brass shutting off

the rear of a mildewed room which must once have been a shop. A tilted

writing-shelf against a wall rubbed black and scattered with official

notices and army recruiting-posters.


The damp, yellow-brick schoolbuilding in its cindery grounds.
The State Bank, stucco masking wood.
The Farmers' National Bank. An Ionic temple of marble. Pure, exquisite,

solitary. A brass plate with "Ezra Stowbody, Pres't."


A score of similar shops and establishments.
Behind them and mixed with them, the houses, meek cottages or large,

comfortable, soundly uninteresting symbols of prosperity.


In all the town not one building save the Ionic bank which gave pleasure

to Carol's eyes; not a dozen buildings which suggested that, in the

fifty years of Gopher Prairie's existence, the citizens had realized

that it was either desirable or possible to make this, their common

home, amusing or attractive.
It was not only the unsparing unapologetic ugliness and the rigid

straightness which overwhelmed her. It was the planlessness, the flimsy

temporariness of the buildings, their faded unpleasant colors. The

street was cluttered with electric-light poles, telephone poles,

gasoline pumps for motor cars, boxes of goods. Each man had built

with the most valiant disregard of all the others. Between a large

new "block" of two-story brick shops on one side, and the fire-brick

Overland garage on the other side, was a one-story cottage turned into

a millinery shop. The white temple of the Farmers' Bank was elbowed back

by a grocery of glaring yellow brick. One store-building had a patchy

galvanized iron cornice; the building beside it was crowned with

battlements and pyramids of brick capped with blocks of red sandstone.


She escaped from Main Street, fled home.
She wouldn't have cared, she insisted, if the people had been comely.

She had noted a young man loafing before a shop, one unwashed hand

holding the cord of an awning; a middle-aged man who had a way of

staring at women as though he had been married too long and too

prosaically; an old farmer, solid, wholesome, but not clean--his face

like a potato fresh from the earth. None of them had shaved for three

days.
"If they can't build shrines, out here on the prairie, surely there's

nothing to prevent their buying safety-razors!" she raged.


She fought herself: "I must be wrong. People do live here. It CAN'T be

as ugly as--as I know it is! I must be wrong. But I can't do it. I can't

go through with it."
She came home too seriously worried for hysteria; and when she found

Kennicott waiting for her, and exulting, "Have a walk? Well, like

the town? Great lawns and trees, eh?" she was able to say, with a

self-protective maturity new to her, "It's very interesting."


III


The train which brought Carol to Gopher Prairie also brought Miss Bea

Sorenson.


Miss Bea was a stalwart, corn-colored, laughing young woman, and she was

bored by farm-work. She desired the excitements of city-life, and the

way to enjoy city-life was, she had decided, to "go get a yob as hired

girl in Gopher Prairie." She contentedly lugged her pasteboard telescope

from the station to her cousin, Tina Malmquist, maid of all work in the

residence of Mrs. Luke Dawson.


"Vell, so you come to town," said Tina.
"Ya. Ay get a yob," said Bea.
"Vell. . . . You got a fella now?"
"Ya. Yim Yacobson."
"Vell. I'm glat to see you. How much you vant a veek?"
"Sex dollar."
"There ain't nobody pay dat. Vait! Dr. Kennicott, I t'ink he marry a

girl from de Cities. Maybe she pay dat. Vell. You go take a valk."


"Ya," said Bea.
So it chanced that Carol Kennicott and Bea Sorenson were viewing Main

Street at the same time.


Bea had never before been in a town larger than Scandia Crossing, which

has sixty-seven inhabitants.


As she marched up the street she was meditating that it didn't hardly

seem like it was possible there could be so many folks all in one place

at the same time. My! It would take years to get acquainted with them

all. And swell people, too! A fine big gentleman in a new pink shirt

with a diamond, and not no washed-out blue denim working-shirt. A lovely

lady in a longery dress (but it must be an awful hard dress to wash).

And the stores!
Not just three of them, like there were at Scandia Crossing, but more

than four whole blocks!


The Bon Ton Store--big as four barns--my! it would simply scare a person

to go in there, with seven or eight clerks all looking at you. And the

men's suits, on figures just like human. And Axel Egge's, like home,

lots of Swedes and Norskes in there, and a card of dandy buttons, like

rubies.
A drug store with a soda fountain that was just huge, awful long, and

all lovely marble; and on it there was a great big lamp with the biggest

shade you ever saw--all different kinds colored glass stuck together;

and the soda spouts, they were silver, and they came right out of the

bottom of the lamp-stand! Behind the fountain there were glass shelves,

and bottles of new kinds of soft drinks, that nobody ever heard of.

Suppose a fella took you THERE!
A hotel, awful high, higher than Oscar Tollefson's new red barn; three

stories, one right on top of another; you had to stick your head back

to look clear up to the top. There was a swell traveling man in

there--probably been to Chicago, lots of times.


Oh, the dandiest people to know here! There was a lady going by, you

wouldn't hardly say she was any older than Bea herself; she wore a dandy

new gray suit and black pumps. She almost looked like she was looking

over the town, too. But you couldn't tell what she thought. Bea would

like to be that way--kind of quiet, so nobody would get fresh. Kind

of--oh, elegant.


A Lutheran Church. Here in the city there'd be lovely sermons, and

church twice on Sunday, EVERY Sunday!


And a movie show!
A regular theater, just for movies. With the sign "Change of bill every

evening." Pictures every evening!


There were movies in Scandia Crossing, but only once every two weeks,

and it took the Sorensons an hour to drive in--papa was such a tightwad

he wouldn't get a Ford. But here she could put on her hat any evening,

and in three minutes' walk be to the movies, and see lovely fellows in

dress-suits and Bill Hart and everything!
How could they have so many stores? Why! There was one just for tobacco

alone, and one (a lovely one--the Art Shoppy it was) for pictures and

vases and stuff, with oh, the dandiest vase made so it looked just like

a tree trunk!


Bea stood on the corner of Main Street and Washington Avenue. The roar

of the city began to frighten her. There were five automobiles on the

street all at the same time--and one of 'em was a great big car that

must of cost two thousand dollars--and the 'bus was starting for a train

with five elegant-dressed fellows, and a man was pasting up red bills

with lovely pictures of washing-machines on them, and the jeweler was

laying out bracelets and wrist-watches and EVERYTHING on real velvet.
What did she care if she got six dollars a week? Or two! It was worth

while working for nothing, to be allowed to stay here. And think how it

would be in the evening, all lighted up--and not with no lamps, but with

electrics! And maybe a gentleman friend taking you to the movies and

buying you a strawberry ice cream soda!
Bea trudged back.
"Vell? You lak it?" said Tina.
"Ya. Ay lak it. Ay t'ink maybe Ay stay here," said Bea.

IV

The recently built house of Sam Clark, in which was given the party to



welcome Carol, was one of the largest in Gopher Prairie. It had a clean

sweep of clapboards, a solid squareness, a small tower, and a large

screened porch. Inside, it was as shiny, as hard, and as cheerful as a

new oak upright piano.


Carol looked imploringly at Sam Clark as he rolled to the door and

shouted, "Welcome, little lady! The keys of the city are yourn!"


Beyond him, in the hallway and the living-room, sitting in a vast prim

circle as though they were attending a funeral, she saw the guests. They

were WAITING so! They were waiting for her! The determination to be all

one pretty flowerlet of appreciation leaked away. She begged of Sam,

"I don't dare face them! They expect so much. They'll swallow me in one

mouthful--glump!--like that!"


"Why, sister, they're going to love you--same as I would if I didn't

think the doc here would beat me up!"


"B-but----I don't dare! Faces to the right of me, faces in front of me,

volley and wonder!"


She sounded hysterical to herself; she fancied that to Sam Clark she

sounded insane. But he chuckled, "Now you just cuddle under Sam's wing,

and if anybody rubbers at you too long, I'll shoo 'em off. Here we go!

Watch my smoke--Sam'l, the ladies' delight and the bridegrooms' terror!"


His arm about her, he led her in and bawled, "Ladies and worser halves,

the bride! We won't introduce her round yet, because she'll never get

your bum names straight anyway. Now bust up this star-chamber!"
They tittered politely, but they did not move from the social security

of their circle, and they did not cease staring.


Carol had given creative energy to dressing for the event. Her hair was

demure, low on her forehead with a parting and a coiled braid. Now she

wished that she had piled it high. Her frock was an ingenue slip

of lawn, with a wide gold sash and a low square neck, which gave a

suggestion of throat and molded shoulders. But as they looked her over

she was certain that it was all wrong. She wished alternately that she

had worn a spinsterish high-necked dress, and that she had dared to

shock them with a violent brick-red scarf which she had bought in

Chicago.
She was led about the circle. Her voice mechanically produced safe

remarks:
"Oh, I'm sure I'm going to like it here ever so much," and "Yes, we did

have the best time in Colorado--mountains," and "Yes, I lived in St.

Paul several years. Euclid P. Tinker? No, I don't REMEMBER meeting him,

but I'm pretty sure I've heard of him."
Kennicott took her aside and whispered, "Now I'll introduce you to them,

one at a time."


"Tell me about them first."
"Well, the nice-looking couple over there are Harry Haydock and his

wife, Juanita. Harry's dad owns most of the Bon Ton, but it's Harry who

runs it and gives it the pep. He's a hustler. Next to him is Dave Dyer

the druggist--you met him this afternoon--mighty good duck-shot.

The tall husk beyond him is Jack Elder--Jackson Elder--owns the

planing-mill, and the Minniemashie House, and quite a share in the

Farmers' National Bank. Him and his wife are good sports--him and Sam

and I go hunting together a lot. The old cheese there is Luke Dawson,

the richest man in town. Next to him is Nat Hicks, the tailor."
"Really? A tailor?"
"Sure. Why not? Maybe we're slow, but we are democratic. I go hunting

with Nat same as I do with Jack Elder."


"I'm glad. I've never met a tailor socially. It must be charming to meet

one and not have to think about what you owe him. And do you----Would

you go hunting with your barber, too?"
"No but----No use running this democracy thing into the ground.

Besides, I've known Nat for years, and besides, he's a mighty good shot

and----That's the way it is, see? Next to Nat is Chet Dashaway. Great

fellow for chinning. He'll talk your arm off, about religion or politics

or books or anything."
Carol gazed with a polite approximation to interest at Mr. Dashaway,

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