Critical Essays Social Criticism, Satire


Social criticism is the keynote of Main Street. Lewis is akin to Dickens in that both were "angry young men" of their own generation and locale. Both called attention to the faults and shortcomings of people and places, but neither proposed a definite or rational cure. Both criticized manners, morals, social conditions, institutions, and city planning (or lack of it); both revolted against the imitative quality and conventionality of many of the novelists of their time. Neither accepted the theory that mankind is in the clutch of circumstance but believed that the individual should be strong enough to overcome odds and to fight off pressures. Like Dickens, Lewis could invent a good story that holds the reader's attention with its leisurely telling.

Lewis is famous for his satire, a term in literary criticism which holds persons, modes of living, or institutions up to ridicule with the intention of making people laugh until a change is made. For example, the town of Gopher Prairie, in spite of the beautiful scenery and fine farming lands surrounding it, is a blot on the Minnesota landscape. Its people are without vision or appreciation of the finer things of life. They are symbolic of other towns and people all over the United States. Vernon L. Parrington considered Sinclair Lewis "Our Own Diogenes." Sherwood Anderson, on the other hand, thought that although Sinclair Lewis had found out much about his country and the way its people live, there are forces at work in America that had escaped the notice of Mr. Lewis. Other authors, such as Ring Lardner, had not found America all barren and ugly, said Anderson.

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