Main Street By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 24-27

"Now look here! That'll do! Of course I know you don't mean it — you're simply hot and tired, and trying to work off your peeve on me. But just the same, I won't stand your jumping on Perce. You — — It's just like your attitude toward the war — so darn afraid that America will become militaristic — — "

"But you are the pure patriot!"

"By God, I am!"

"Yes, I heard you talking to Sam Clark tonight about ways of avoiding the income tax!"

He had recovered enough to lock the door; he clumped up-stairs ahead of her, growling, "You don't know what you're talking about. I'm perfectly willing to pay my full tax — fact, I'm in favor of the income tax — even though I do think it's a penalty on frugality and enterprise — fact, it's an unjust, darn-fool tax. But just the same, I'll pay it. Only, I'm not idiot enough to pay more than the government makes me pay, and Sam and I were just figuring out whether all automobile expenses oughn't to be exemptions. I'll take a lot off you, Carrie, but I don't propose for one second to stand your saying I'm not patriotic. You know mighty well and good that I've tried to get away and join the army. And at the beginning of the whole fracas I said — I've said right along — that we ought to have entered the war the minute Germany invaded Belgium. You don't get me at all. You can't appreciate a man's work. You're abnormal. You've fussed so much with these fool novels and books and all this highbrow junk — — You like to argue!"

It ended, a quarter of an hour later, in his calling her a "neurotic" before he turned away and pretended to sleep.

For the first time they had failed to make peace.

"There are two races of people, only two, and they live side by side. His calls mine 'neurotic'; mine calls his 'stupid.' We'll never understand each other, never; and it's madness for us to debate — to lie together in a hot bed in a creepy room — enemies, yoked."


It clarified in her the longing for a place of her own.

"While it's so hot, I think I'll sleep in the spare room," she said next day.

"Not a bad idea." He was cheerful and kindly.

The room was filled with a lumbering double bed and a cheap pine bureau. She stored the bed in the attic; replaced it by a cot which, with a denim cover, made a couch by day; put in a dressing-table, a rocker transformed by a cretonne cover; had Miles Bjornstam build book-shelves.

Kennicott slowly understood that she meant to keep up her seclusion. In his queries, "Changing the whole room?" "Putting your books in there?" she caught his dismay. But it was so easy, once her door was closed, to shut out his worry. That hurt her — the ease of forgetting him.

Aunt Bessie Smail sleuthed out this anarchy. She yammered, "Why, Carrie, you ain't going to sleep all alone by yourself? I don't believe in that. Married folks should have the same room, of course! Don't go getting silly notions. No telling what a thing like that might lead to. Suppose I up and told your Uncle Whit that I wanted a room of my own!"

Carol spoke of recipes for corn-pudding.

But from Mrs. Dr. Westlake she drew encouragement. She had made an afternoon call on Mrs. Westlake. She was for the first time invited up-stairs, and found the suave old woman sewing in a white and mahogany room with a small bed.

"Oh, do you have your own royal apartments, and the doctor his?" Carol hinted.

"Indeed I do! The doctor says it's bad enough to have to stand my temper at meals. Do — — " Mrs. Westlake looked at her sharply. "Why, don't you do the same thing?"

"I've been thinking about it." Carol laughed in an embarrassed way. "Then you wouldn't regard me as a complete hussy if I wanted to be by myself now and then?"

"Why, child, every woman ought to get off by herself and turn over her thoughts — about children, and God, and how bad her complexion is, and the way men don't really understand her, and how much work she finds to do in the house, and how much patience it takes to endure some things in a man's love."

"Yes!" Carol said it in a gasp, her hands twisted together. She wanted to confess not only her hatred for the Aunt Bessies but her covert irritation toward those she best loved: her alienation from Kennicott, her disappointment in Guy Pollock, her uneasiness in the presence of Vida. She had enough self-control to confine herself to, "Yes. Men! The dear blundering souls, we do have to get off and laugh at them."

"Of course we do. Not that you have to laugh at Dr. Kennicott so much, but MY man, heavens, now there's a rare old bird! Reading story-books when he ought to be tending to business! 'Marcus Westlake,' I say to him, 'you're a romantic old fool.' And does he get angry? He does not! He chuckles and says, 'Yes, my beloved, folks do say that married people grow to resemble each other!' Drat him!" Mrs. Westlake laughed comfortably.

After such a disclosure what could Carol do but return the courtesy by remarking that as for Kennicott, he wasn't romantic enough — the darling. Before she left she had babbled to Mrs. Westlake her dislike for Aunt Bessie, the fact that Kennicott's income was now more than five thousand a year, her view of the reason why Vida had married Raymie (which included some thoroughly insincere praise of Raymie's "kind heart"), her opinion of the library-board, just what Kennicott had said about Mrs. Carthal's diabetes, and what Kennicott thought of the several surgeons in the Cities.

She went home soothed by confession, inspirited by finding a new friend.


The tragicomedy of the "domestic situation."

Oscarina went back home to help on the farm, and Carol had a succession of maids, with gaps between. The lack of servants was becoming one of the most cramping problems of the prairie town. Increasingly the farmers' daughters rebelled against village dullness, and against the unchanged attitude of the Juanitas toward "hired girls." They went off to city kitchens, or to city shops and factories, that they might be free and even human after hours.

The Jolly Seventeen were delighted at Carol's desertion by the loyal Oscarina. They reminded her that she had said, "I don't have any trouble with maids; see how Oscarina stays on."

Between incumbencies of Finn maids from the North Woods, Germans from the prairies, occasional Swedes and Norwegians and Icelanders, Carol did her own work — and endured Aunt Bessie's skittering in to tell her how to dampen a broom for fluffy dust, how to sugar doughnuts, how to stuff a goose. Carol was deft, and won shy praise from Kennicott, but as her shoulder blades began to sting, she wondered how many millions of women had lied to themselves during the death-rimmed years through which they had pretended to enjoy the puerile methods persisting in housework.

She doubted the convenience and, as a natural sequent, the sanctity of the monogamous and separate home which she had regarded as the basis of all decent life.

She considered her doubts vicious. She refused to remember how many of the women of the Jolly Seventeen nagged their husbands and were nagged by them.

She energetically did not whine to Kennicott. But her eyes ached; she was not the girl in breeches and a flannel shirt who had cooked over a camp-fire in the Colorado mountains five years ago. Her ambition was to get to bed at nine; her strongest emotion was resentment over rising at half-past six to care for Hugh. The back of her neck ached as she got out of bed. She was cynical about the joys of a simple laborious life. She understood why workmen and workmen's wives are not grateful to their kind employers.

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