Context: Finished this off while out on a day walking around Brisbane. New mp3 player so a new way of capturing images for the blog.
Babbitt was a book that very much resonated with me, showing me that despite the popularity of Updike’s Rabbit, he was beaten to it by over 50 years. With Main Street, Lewis actually predates Babbitt and casts a female in the protagonist role. In essence though, and with the same wry humour, the book explores the same themes of small-mindedness, middle-age crises and the futility of the American Dream.
Carol marries an older man who she hopes will help her realise her dreams. Instead, she finds herself trapped in the claustrophobic, life-sucking banality that is small-town USA. As she settles into the town and meets the rather narrow spectrum of its inhabitants, she does her best to make the best of it.
But her initial efforts lead to further frustration. Like many of us confronted by cultures we do not understand, Carol attempts reformation without taking the time to learn the motivations and reasons behind the way things have been done for generations.
That’s not to say that the reasons are worthy of esteem. But Lewis does an excellent job of showing that the very narrow-mindedness Carol criticises forms just as much a part of her character as those she is attempting to change.
There are a number of strong characters apart from Carol in the novel. No more so than Will Kennicott, her kind but unutterably boring husband. There are rare moments of intimacy between them, but by and large their marriage and the home that results are rather joyless. This lack of joy leads her, for a time, to reconsider her marital ties. I’ll leave you to find out whether she or the town win in the end.
Written two years before Babbitt, I felt that the later novel had a stronger protagonist, but perhaps this was because Babbitt, like me, is male, and I just related more to him. But whichever book you pick up out of these two, be prepared for scathing satire of middle-class values which is just as applicable today as it was nearly 100 years ago.
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