Community Life in Main Street Essay

Community Life in Main Street

 

Carol is a modern, college educated woman. In the novel we see a great distinction between small town existence and the sophistication of city life. When she moves to Gopher Prairie, she sets her mind on reform, intending to transform the small town into a place of sophisticated culture, intellectualism, and beauty. Most of the novel deals with Carol’s unsuccessful and haphazard attempts at reforming the stubborn, conservative citizens of her new home town.

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Carol is anxious to transform her new home; she has honest and noble motives, but her methods are seen as ridiculous and frivolous by the townspeople, and her many suggested improvements all become failures—her attempts are blocked by the small town’s social elite. Carol’s husband, Will Kennicott, one of the town’s leading figures, is affected as well; her actions and attitude troubles their marriage, and he accuses his wife of being superior and snobbish.

 

The main conflict in Main Street is between Carol’s optimistic motives and the townspeople’s extremely conservative stance. Carol is constantly in conflict with the local women, and her attempts at implementing the reform in her mind is overwhelmed by them. She finds the townsfolk conservative and oppressive, and mostly indifferent to any of her ‘higher’ concerns, but contrastingly vicious in scrutinizing and condemning her actions and motives. her repeated failures leads her to become drawn to Gopher Prairie’s other outcasts.

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An interesting contrast is observed between Carol and Bea, the girl who becomes Carol’s maid. While Carol finds Gopher Prairie to be a dismal and unrefined place, to Bea, who comes from a town even smaller and less cultured than Gopher Prairie, it is modern and beautiful; here we see the relativism inherent in Carol’s brand of mindset about the town and its people, and how outlooks can be entirely different depending on the environment (and of course on the community) from which one originated.

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Carol has an intense fear of living a stereotypical life—she does not want to be merely one of the townspeople, content to subsist day to day without the culture and intellectual progressiveness that she so longs for (her fears are made greater by the advent of her first child, which makes it even more difficult to be a reformist without being continually tied to domestic concerns).

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Towns such as Gopher Prairie are undeniably common. These places are where the local folk wallow in self-righteous ignorance, where the citizens concern themselves only with day to day existence, with a bit of gossip and controversy on the side. Like the citizens of Gopher Prairie, they are gossipy and judgmental; these townspeople will always find something suspicious behind the most respectable front.

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The Gopher Prairie townspeople themselves keep a ‘proper’ veneer, but their weakness for gossip, backstabbing, and categorical prejudice readily manifest, as can be seen in the town’s regard for Will Kennicott as a person of ‘class,’ while relegating people such as Sam Clark as socially inferior to him.

 

An interesting point in the novel is that in a small town such as Gopher Prairie, one can expect the conventional manifestations of friendliness, neighborliness, and recognition from everyone, but all this for the price of intense, inescapable, judgmental scrutiny and the lack of anonymity. On the other hand, in a large city one can be anonymous and free, but must live with the fact that friendliness, neighborliness, and recognition are mostly absent. While small towns such as Gopher Prairie are generally regarded as having warm and neighborly citizens, there is indeed this darker side to it, as Carol eventually discovers: the local townspeople watch her every move for any deviations from the town’s norm. Because Carol is used to the anonymity of large cities, she takes long to realize this. A small rigid community has a much stronger grip upon its members, and will resist the attempts at reform of any deviant, while in a large, anonymous community, there is no resistance aside from the law.

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Also demonstrated are the potential shortcomings of reformists. Carol, as the reformist, tries to maintain individuality in a society that demands her conformity. Her mindset is distinctly at odds with the rest of the townspeople’s, and thus is criticized and attacked basically because she dares to be different. Carol is an independent spirit trapped in a circumstantial quagmire of well-meaning but sadly narrow-minded community, its members bound by convention (when carol joins two women’s clubs, she finds that her ideas are outrightly rejected).

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Main Street deals with disillusion and hypocrisy in the context of community. In it we see the restrictiveness of small-town life (and even the potential restrictiveness of any small community), with its rigid demand for conformity, where members are suspicious of anyone not conforming to their standards, and where they expect everyone to think, speak, and act like them. Main Street, in its satire of small town life, holds the same amount of relevance today as it did in Lewis’ time.