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MonkeyNotes-Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
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Historical Information

The First World War had just ended. The novel was written in 1920. It was the period of the return to normalcy after the war. The Bolshevik Revolution had also inspired fear in the minds of the Americans. The Germans were being demonized. After the war there was a surge of intolerance directed against the socialists, labor organizers and immigrants. The suffrage movement was gaining, in momentum. This led to arrests and deportations. Prohibition of liquor was implemented. The election of Warren G.Hadding put an end to idealism and internationalism. Puritanical, small -town America seemed to gain control.

Literary Information

Sinclair Lewis has often been referred to as a writer in revolt because his novels are satiric. They expose the hypocrisy and mechanization of American society. If in Main Street, he deals with the flaws of American rural community, in Babbitt, he focuses his attention on the conservative but hypocritical business community. Babbitt, the protagonist of the latter novel, is a typical businessman with lofty aims and a desire to climb the ladder of social success.

When Lewis started writing novels, America had established itself as a super power. People were glorifying the New World and emulating it as their model. The American people, therefore, considered themselves to be a superior race. At such a time, Lewis’ novels were a timely reminder that the "super" nation had its underbelly. He exposed the follies of American society courageously. His fans admired his frankness, but his critics condemned his cynicism.


American politics was isolationistic. But the social fabric was changing relentlessly. The spread of electricity, new technology, home appliances, automobiles, motion pictures, radios and telephones was changing the American way of life. The conflict between the old puritanical ideas and the desire for modernization became very prominent. When the ministers were preaching against closed automobiles, celebrity cults were growing around film stars and sports persons. Aggressive techniques were used in advertising and public relations. There was a boom in the stock market.

Dance and music became the outward signs of the rebellion of the young people. More people were moving out to big cities. A revolution of manners and values was taking place. Writers like Upton Sinclair and Jack London were preparing America for the change by attacking poverty, soulless materialism and conformity. They condemned the market mentality that had replaced the ideals of Democracy and personal freedom.

Mark Twain, Sherwood Anderson Hemingway and the other midwestern writers remained bound to the land that produced and revolted them. Lewis himself had expressed in his novels published before 1919 the need to escape the confines of provincial life. He worked in Upton Sinclair's community and was influenced by writers like Jack London. If Main Street reflects the small-town America of the 1920s, his heroine Carol reflects the spirit of reformation that stirred the young critics of his day.

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