Main Street By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 17-18

On the street they met people from home — the McGanums. They laughed, shook hands repeatedly, and exclaimed, "Well, this is quite a coincidence!" They asked when the McGanums had come down, and begged for news of the town they had left two days before. Whatever the McGanums were at home, here they stood out as so superior to all the undistinguishable strangers absurdly hurrying past that the Kennicotts held them as long as they could. The McGanums said good-by as though they were going to Tibet instead of to the station to catch No. 7 north.

They explored Minneapolis. Kennicott was conversational and technical regarding gluten and cockle-cylinders and No. I Hard, when they were shown through the gray stone hulks and new cement elevators of the largest flour-mills in the world. They looked across Loring Park and the Parade to the towers of St. Mark's and the Procathedral, and the red roofs of houses climbing Kenwood Hill. They drove about the chain of garden-circled lakes, and viewed the houses of the millers and lumbermen and real estate peers — the potentates of the expanding city. They surveyed the small eccentric bungalows with pergolas, the houses of pebbledash and tapestry brick with sleeping-porches above sun-parlors, and one vast incredible chateau fronting the Lake of the Isles. They tramped through a shining-new section of apartment-houses; not the tall bleak apartments of Eastern cities but low structures of cheerful yellow brick, in which each flat had its glass-enclosed porch with swinging couch and scarlet cushions and Russian brass bowls. Between a waste of tracks and a raw gouged hill they found poverty in staggering shanties.

They saw miles of the city which they had never known in their days of absorption in college. They were distinguished explorers, and they remarked, in great mutual esteem, "I bet Harry Haydock's never seen the City like this! Why, he'd never have sense enough to study the machinery in the mills, or go through all these outlying districts. Wonder folks in Gopher Prairie wouldn't use their legs and explore, the way we do!"

They had two meals with Carol's sister, and were bored, and felt that intimacy which beatifies married people when they suddenly admit that they equally dislike a relative of either of them.

So it was with affection but also with weariness that they approached the evening on which Carol was to see the plays at the dramatic school. Kennicott suggested not going. "So darn tired from all this walking; don't know but what we better turn in early and get rested up." It was only from duty that Carol dragged him and herself out of the warm hotel, into a stinking trolley, up the brownstone steps of the converted residence which lugubriously housed the dramatic school.

V

They were in a long whitewashed hall with a clumsy draw-curtain across the front. The folding chairs were filled with people who looked washed and ironed: parents of the pupils, girl students, dutiful teachers.

"Strikes me it's going to be punk. If the first play isn't good, let's beat it," said Kennicott hopefully.

"All right," she yawned. With hazy eyes she tried to read the lists of characters, which were hidden among lifeless advertisements of pianos, music-dealers, restaurants, candy.

She regarded the Schnitzler play with no vast interest. The actors moved and spoke stiffly. Just as its cynicism was beginning to rouse her village-dulled frivolity, it was over.

"Don't think a whale of a lot of that. How about taking a sneak?" petitioned Kennicott.

"Oh, let's try the next one, 'How He Lied to Her Husband.'"

The Shaw conceit amused her, and perplexed Kennicott:

"Strikes me it's darn fresh. Thought it would be racy. Don't know as I think much of a play where a husband actually claims he wants a fellow to make love to his wife. No husband ever did that! Shall we shake a leg?"

"I want to see this Yeats thing, 'Land of Heart's Desire.' I used to love it in college." She was awake now, and urgent. "I know you didn't care so much for Yeats when I read him aloud to you, but you just see if you don't adore him on the stage."

Most of the cast were as unwieldy as oak chairs marching, and the setting was an arty arrangement of batik scarfs and heavy tables, but Maire Bruin was slim as Carol, and larger-eyed, and her voice was a morning bell. In her, Carol lived, and on her lifting voice was transported from this sleepy small-town husband and all the rows of polite parents to the stilly loft of a thatched cottage where in a green dimness, beside a window caressed by linden branches, she bent over a chronicle of twilight women and the ancient gods.

"Well — gosh — nice kid played that girl — good-looker," said Kennicott. "Want to stay for the last piece? Heh?"

She shivered. She did not answer.

The curtain was again drawn aside. On the stage they saw nothing but long green curtains and a leather chair. Two young men in brown robes like furniture-covers were gesturing vacuously and droning cryptic sentences full of repetitions.

It was Carol's first hearing of Dunsany. She sympathized with the restless Kennicott as he felt in his pocket for a cigar and unhappily put it back.

Without understanding when or how, without a tangible change in the stilted intoning of the stage-puppets, she was conscious of another time and place.

Stately and aloof among vainglorious tiring-maids, a queen in robes that murmured on the marble floor, she trod the gallery of a crumbling palace. In the courtyard, elephants trumpeted, and swart men with beards dyed crimson stood with blood-stained hands folded upon their hilts, guarding the caravan from El Sharnak, the camels with Tyrian stuffs of topaz and cinnabar. Beyond the turrets of the outer wall the jungle glared and shrieked, and the sun was furious above drenched orchids. A youth came striding through the steel-bossed doors, the sword-bitten doors that were higher than ten tall men. He was in flexible mail, and under the rim of his planished morion were amorous curls. His hand was out to her; before she touched it she could feel its warmth — —

"Gosh all hemlock! What the dickens is all this stuff about, Carrie?"

She was no Syrian queen. She was Mrs. Dr. Kennicott. She fell with a jolt into a whitewashed hall and sat looking at two scared girls and a young man in wrinkled tights.

Kennicott fondly rambled as they left the hall:

"What the deuce did that last spiel mean? Couldn't make head or tail of it. If that's highbrow drama, give me a cow-puncher movie, every time! Thank God, that's over, and we can get to bed. Wonder if we wouldn't make time by walking over to Nicollet to take a car? One thing I will say for that dump: they had it warm enough. Must have a big hot-air furnace, I guess. Wonder how much coal it takes to run 'em through the winter?"

In the car he affectionately patted her knee, and he was for a second the striding youth in armor; then he was Doc Kennicott of Gopher Prairie, and she was recaptured by Main Street. Never, not all her life, would she behold jungles and the tombs of kings. There were strange things in the world, they really existed; but she would never see them.

She would recreate them in plays!

She would make the dramatic association understand her aspiration. They would, surely they would — —

She looked doubtfully at the impenetrable reality of yawning trolley conductor and sleepy passengers and placards advertising soap and underwear.

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As research for Carol's new Gopher Prairie Dramatic Association, she and her husband attend several plays in




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