Main Street became a household word, both in the United States and abroad, within a few years after the publication of Sinclair Lewis' widely read novel. The book satirizes the ugliness and conformity found in small Midwest towns during the second decade of the twentieth century and ridicules the uninspired and self-satisfied inhabitants.
Lewis gives little recognition to the forces contributing to small-town deterioration, notably the advent of the automobile as a common means of transportation and the consequent increase of city buying at the expense of local trade. Connected also with the decline of the American village was the exodus to the cities of many of its brighter and more aggressive young people, in search of more attractive living conditions and better work opportunities.
Yet the story is absorbing. H. L. Mencken rated it highly, adding:
It represents characters that are . . . genuinely human but also authentically American. . . . It is well written, full of a sharp sense of comedy, and rich in observation and completely designed.
Lewis Mumford maintains that Carol Kennicott's struggle with the stodgy, self-satisfied society of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, is the continuation of Main Streets everywhere, since the same story could occur in Ohio or Montana, in Kansas, Kentucky, or Illinois.
Main Street is the Lewis novel best known in the author's birthplace, Sauk Centre, Minnesota, for in spite of its satire, it reflects the true nature of the town and its inhabitants.