Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 12; A Lewisian Look at "Where We've Been"
Didn't. You. Say. You. Know you. Take college broadcasting service under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting present. Sinclair Lois's minister of state of mind. You can't escape. Your. This was written by Dr. James Lundquist native Minnesotan and
author of several articles and a book on the Sinclair low. We have seen the parts of Minnesota Sinclair Lewis wrote about. We have heard from his characters. We have seen Louis through the eyes of another writer and we have learned about Lewis's interest in Minnesota politics. It is now time to look back over our tour of the state and consider what we have found out about his minister. So here with a backward glance through the list is our narrator Leslie. 1042 Sinclair Lewis delivered a lecture at Hamlin University in St. Paul on the subject. Environments don't make writers he argued that writers
create the environments that they observe. Implying that once a famous author categorizes an area even the inhabitants of the area begin to look at themselves through the eyes of the writer. The Lost Boys in the Midwest grow up seeing themselves as Huckleberry Finn and discontented ladies in small towns. Think about themselves as Carol kind of cuts the importance of this phenomenon cannot be overemphasized the impact of certain widely read books like Huckleberry Finn Main Street and Babbitt has become so great that almost all literate Americans view themselves in terms of fictional characters which they either admire or pour. We grow up trying to emulate Huck Finn and spend our adult years trying often not very successfully to avoid becoming Babbitts and in addition to this take a some go let him go. Now that he's caused this much disruption you might as well let him have his say.
Oh I have call on Dan Burton while going to have want to have my say I don't think much of that remark you just made about me that people want to be like Huck Finn but not like me and that's a tumble with this country. Everyone wants to live in childhood. Well I've got some to tell you about that. You don't want to finish doing right now. No not offhand I couldn't say for sure myself but I'll bet anything he's on at Rafter or in the bushes somewhere making small going to mess cigarettes while I'm here like 100 percent American speaking up for myself and representing the business community and a silent minority. If you think for a minute that this free enterprise it's given is going to go on then you've got another thing coming. Look I'm sorry if I offended you I was just speaking metaphorically when I alluded to you metaphorically. Now that's Professor talk from you. But I think I heard about do you say about read Lewis was was more Professor talk. Writers making environments and I want to flip flop. Well Sachs header is often confused with Gopher Prairie even by its own inhabitants and people in Duluth aren't sensitive to the word busyness City for nothing.
And what I said about people thinking about themselves and fictional concept holds up pretty well I think holds up about as well as a drunk saddled by drunks alibi. Well I didn't mean to get personal but I dug Navid you you remember when you wanted to interview me about Minneapolis and I just happened to go into that bar and hit up an avenue. Well I think I think I had one too many yes that's what I think but Mr Babbitt as I recall you were still drinking when I left and as I remember you were flying pretty high you still just did that to entertain you. HARVEY It was all part of being congenial. Besides to get back to what I was saying and I'll say this once and for all told her all of the folderol. Yeah that's right folderol. Next time you'll be saying as I read Lewis and he was another fellow who couldn't hold a drink greater that whole Golden State of Minnesota all by some anon on a q t. Well I didn't intend to be quite so literal as all that. What I mean to say is that we found out that Minnesotans tend to look at themselves and their cities their environments in the way that
Louis said they do and it well may be that Lewis's lingering influence as a writer still has something to do with the way Minnesotans live and think. How could you prove something like that other than the astrology book you were always bored. We traveled around the state talking to people we looked into Lewis's books and isolated what he had to say about places like the Twin Cities and then Cato. Then will we put these two processes together. All we got is an impression but what more could you expect. Maybe it makes sense. I don't know I am just a realtor and can't say. Besides I've got to be on my way. I'm a busy man. Got to go over the university but for taking a course in the great classics next quarter its European history. Never too late for a man to change his image. I don't want my family and neighbors to think that just because I'm a well-to-do businessman that I'm nothing more than a oh go out and say what Mr. Babbitt folderol. Boy Babbitt is certainly a ubiquitous fellow and I think will keep the
studio door locked the rest of the way. I don't think we need another confrontation like that. It's bad enough having to get along with characters out of contemporary literature such as Mr. Portnoy and Dr. Strangelove without having to deal with someone like Babbitt who insists on hanging around despite rising interest rates and multiple listing service. But anyway to return to the thread of my discourse this matter of Sinclair Lewis and his background Lewis did much to frame the image of Minnesota in the national consciousness and a consideration of his genius will certainly tell us more about how he was able to understand and conceptualize Minnesota so well. But it was not an entirely one sided development that led to the representation of Minnesota that we have in Lewis's writings. Minnesota in the raw. Minnesota as a place in which to grow up influenced Lewis's mind in more ways than we will ever have time to discuss. Frederick Manfred the Minnesota novelist
has thought about why Minnesota produced such a writer as Lewis and why the Minnesota area has produced so many fine writers in addition to Lewis. Here is how Manfred responded to questions we asked in this regard. One of the most famous evaluations you've made of Lois was contained in the eulogy you delivered it is huge. Looking back on that and perhaps elaborating on it how do you view Lewis now in relationship to his Minnesota background where you know I look into that thing. Or. Something I put in and he was a wonder the nature of the artist has to be a part and to me separate and apart from people I can't conceive of an artist being a member of a group. Not in this country and I don't think he ever was you know in the Middle Ages they often had to be members of groups. It's a nature of an artist who is a man who is an observant enough to particularize it in his own head and then universalize it into works of art. He has to be a part of the whole process to do this part of the time and this was part of
us. And this isn't peculiar to Minnesota. And it isn't until you do American isn't it because it's it's a natural state for all artists for all time anywhere. And I have been in that eulogy. I think some of the problems are. And. I'm kind of. There. Were brought to a little sharper focus in this thing and actually had their act on Louis when he grew up here pushed you know. And this is why I think this area produces. So many really first great literature. Remind us Scott Fitzgerald but Long Beach who had it in mind. Gray James Gray of St. Paul wrote well murder the sewer and most of us can find him as I understand you include really soft good Iowa too and you know then Garland has to cross the line over there and I will get started here. Paul Engle.
And again it's remarkable that we have as many prying literary minds come out here as we do for such a small area for the number of people and I think because I think the. Problems of life right here not the army right. Brings warning where else but it just is that the rings here are. Rigged up with more and very little more. And this is part of why hoops became what he became. Lewis became what he became partly because he grew up in Minnesota at the time he did his surroundings as a child contributed greatly to the vision he had of Minnesota. In some ways that vision has become slightly out of date although our general impression is that it was his conception of Minnesota remain surprisingly vital even today. Decades have passed however since the publication of Lewis's novels and the Minesota of Lewis's day must be continually juxtaposed against the Minnesota of today. If Lewis is worth as a commentator is to be evaluated justly. So we accordingly
asked Governor Locke Vandar to summarize some of the changes that have taken place in Minnesota since the time when Sinclair Lewis wrote about the state. Well I think that one Sinclair Lewis was writing about Minnesota towns and when I was living in Minot Watertown and that water Minnesota we were at that time in the center of a large country that was pretty detached from the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. We could be described I guess as isolationism because we knew very little about the tremendous expanse of the world. And we did not have a contact by radio and by television or by a media news releases by the press from all over the world. So we were living in a very sheltered and very peaceful and very quiet area in which the daily things of meeting our friends and getting acquainted and living in the neighborhood was our main concern. And certainly that has had such a change in the last 40 or 50 years that it's almost unbelievable. As I look at Minnesota today we are certainly as well informed and educated and know as much about be out
front about Nigeria and about all the places in the world as they do on either the east or the West Coast. But these are changes that Lewis himself pointed out and understood as what was said late in his life when asked the question would you change Main Street. Well I think the book needs only mechanical changes. It was after all before radios came into the home before cement roads and when people could only travel 25 miles an hour. Now the citizens of Gopher Prairie can get to Minneapolis in a few hours. That's a great change right there. Change stories change things too. The old village characters aren't around anymore like the Norse ski's and the old Swede used to keep store. Maybe the kids don't put on their hats right after supper and take off like they used to sense television has come. But all in all maybe Main Street would seem like an antiquarian shop now.
We asked Frederick Manfred a question similar to the one Louis was asked about the changes that have beset the Minnesota small town. Our question was of course updated by Manfred to the 70s and response to the suggestion that Minnesotans have changed in the past few years in the same ways that other Americans have changed. Manfred said no not interested. I think you're still. Around here. On to head to the wind to pick up the wind the window still where they run when they want to on or off. There aren't nearly as many kids inclined to were there because I'm soft. If they have beards they have them here off and on every now and then because of the town's operation so no one gets particularly excited about. Here there is a little bit of excitement when some hippie do come in town and they drink a little. There were always one on the world I taught my kids how their friends come home. They know all the recent writings. They report noise complaint before I did.
I haven't read it yet. They've also read my no tired and they've also read the Robert are very. Territorial Imperative and African Genesis. No stone unturned by Cindy Brennan is talking our young college kids that come back from. From the schools around here as well I was sure our. Little War was going on in the world but they take it in their own way in a number on strike. Pretty solid kind of. Person living in this territory which is different from anything on the West Coast or the East Coast which I like to think is really the real America the one that came down from Emerson and the old colonies. The America that Jefferson knew and wanted in America than Washington wanted and Lincoln wanted and even tell you lose it all I want is more to be found in the great broad Mississippi Valley and certainly the upper half of it anywhere else in our in our country.
The East has never never figured out yet you know whether it's part of an old umbilical cord or if it's cut off or still connected and the West Coast. They don't know what or what they are they are a retard and Hollywood has gone busted. And then some Pacific Ocean notions that they have over there and that's really no country either. They just stand to sing I am I forgetting is unlike those two countries and I call them countries or returned Tories that things are a wash on either coast. It's kind of money out there there are no distinct colors. It's sort of all mixed up and it's mud up here we have some pretty strong colors yet the colors haven't washed into it. And they're not so geezer in the sense that you know they don't dance
they do this they do have their TV sets and they do go to places come by and they do support symphonies that come through here right. 200 miles to go to something and the roads are improving there are people who have any up to something and simply being supported more now by people outside the Twin Cities and. Because people don't have to do anything to have cars from here Friday afternoon before you can leave in your room even get to the same thing. I mean you know I did acquire the lucky part. But I mean they do it again so I say games before Congress for I go up there go see plays my wife is not three four times and yet they because they have a room here I think the stuff you know more space around. They're remaining. Pretty much what they always were becoming You're slowly but surely emerging over the stereotype is this anxious for clues about you know on these. I'm
giving you really a call I don't answer. My sense of it is they have remained pretty much what they've always been up to put on new clothes a new style of worry has come along but they're still pretty much the same people. That's my feeling about Iraq. I sort of like it. I enjoy being alive today. It's getting better every day too. I think they all are or are very happy to be a part of the moment that you I think are almost I'm a behind it the intelligent one here. They wish the war in Vietnam and some of that money would extend to furnish work. Now I know where you are in New York and Chicago but at the same time I think you know crying and I think you are such
an isolationist when it comes to space. Lewis wasn't entirely pleased with the changes he saw taking place in his Minnesota. He made fun of the provincialism of Gopher Prairie in the early part of this century but it was no less kind on the variety of sophistication that replaced the provincialism in an amusing essay he wrote for The Nation magazine during the 20s. Lewis expressed his displeasure with the lasting modifications in Minnesota that he sensed were taking place even then. The essay is entitled Main Street's been paved and is an imaginary account of how the characters of Bain straight are thinking about the 1924 presidential election. Louis narrates an account in which Will Kennicott explains both the glories of local progress radio the new golf course at airport a paved Main Street and a White Way and the glories of Calvin Coolidge. The essay ends however with the skeptical lawyer guy Potok stating some of Lewis's own reservations about the quality of life
in the new changing Gopher Prairie. As Lewis narrates I climb to the office of guy Paul like that lone fastidious attorney with whom Carroll and I once in the supposition that we were talking about literature exchanged book titles. He was at home and his unchanged shabby den reading VAN LOON story of the Bible. He was glad to see me of course. Then after amenities after questions about the death of this man the success of that I remembered Well there have been a lot of changes in the town pavement and all the house a lot and there's more coming. I would have a new water system an hourly buses to the Twin Cities fastest trains and cheaper and the new St. Methodist Church. Be aware that word I know it. Only I don't like the town as well as I used to. There's more talk about automobiles
and about the radio. There's less conversation less people who are interested in scandals politics abstractions gallantries smut or anything else save the new way batteries since Dr. Westlake died in this fellow miles to join stream one away and the video show winds become more interested in her son's progress in the Boy Scouts and even Carol Kennicott. Oh well the doctors told her to be nuns a Tory or even an enthusiastic isn't quite respectable. I don't seem to be awakened by the talk of anyone anymore. Often there isn't talk but well it depresses me so the Petrel bright talk about gas mileage and macho on here while they sing a four wheel brakes is a Persian poet sang of Rosalie's their religion is road paving and their patriotism the relation of weather to Sunday motoring and they discuss the balloon tires with a quiet fervor such as the
fifteenth century gate of the Immaculate Conception. I feel like creeping off to a cottage in the Massachusetts hills and taking my Greek again. But let's talk of simpler things. Well then why don't you tell me of your opinion of this presidential campaign. I suppose your vote for Coolidge. I remember you always liked books that the public libraries borrowed as immoral. But then on the other hand you wanted to hang the I.W.W. and you thought La Follette was a doubtful fellow. Well this time I'm going to vote for La Follette and I've campaigned for him and oh Lord I'll be roasted by the respectable lawyers. But I have faith that if we don't elect him this year some time we shall or somebody like him will surely the very passion and the worship of the great god motor must bring its own reaction. We've been delayed too long by the doc Kennicott said by the beautiful balloon tires that roll over the new pavement on Main Street.
You know over our souls. Ben Dubois Sachs and her banker and boyhood acquaintance of Sinclair Lewis said Lewis did not know what he was looking for and wouldn't have recognized it had he found it. To a certain degree this characterization of Lewis seems accurate or in his perpetual wandering and pervasive discontent. Lewis gave evidence of his underlying uncertainty. But in another sense the boy's description of Lewis misses a vital point that Lewis knew what he was looking for but realized that what he saw would probably never be anything more than a dream. What Lewis was seeking was an environment a kind of life and which all of the things he attacked small town narrow mindedness big city materialism and middle class pride. The culture of roughing it in the great outdoors and the willingness to be dominated by dull and unpleasant surroundings would be devalued. What would he have substituted in the place of these evils. We have a word for
it today. A word that Lewis would probably have made fun of while nevertheless understanding its very real validity. The word is sore. Lewis has Guy Pollock say that addiction to machinery into automobiles radios to mechanical thoughts is flattening our souls is dehumanizing us. And to Lewis this failure to make progress in the 20th century synonymous with an advance in civilization is unforgivable. One thing that is easy to forget in reading Lewis the realist is that there is a strain of romantic idealism underlying all of his writing. Lewis after all was born in the 19th century and a town only freshly evolved from a frontier community and rather unreceptive to the impractical and awkward son of old Doc Lewis young Sinclair Lewis readily retreated from the hostilities of suc center and into the more congenial world of Scots. Dickens kept playing tennis and in Hugo. Many of Lewis's objections to American life in his fiction can be understood by realising
that while he was growing up in socks that are in making the kinds of observations that he later utilized so fully he was steeping himself and romantic in Victorian literature with its vision of another often highly idealistic way of life. So Lewis's reaction to his world was in many respects the reaction of a 19th century intellectual like Matthew Arnold. Louis was horrified by the mediocrity of the post agrarian world and he wanted to change it in the direction of sweetness and light. He did not stipulate how this could be done but in his stories and novels he presents a convincing case for doing so. Lewis is reaction to life seems doubly acute when we realize that Minnesota culture forms the basis of almost all he has to say about American culture. Minnesota too Louis is a state with soul or at least a potential for it. It is the state of the Nonpartisan League the fiber Labor party and independent thinking. It is the state with a reaction to totalitarianism is likely to be the strongest
as Lewis so dramatically emphasizes in it can't happen here. Minnesota in short possesses all of the ingredients needed for sweetness and light for a culture of high quality yet it consistently disappointed Sinclair Lewis. And it is one of the ironies of history that the one author who seemed to love and understand Minnesota the best could never live in the state for long once he had left it as a youth. Perhaps he could not be at ease in Minnesota because he knew so much about it and expected so much from it. This then is Sinclair Lois's Minnesota a land of Gopher Prairie Xena's island of wilderness and plains peopled by Carol Kennicott CE Will Kennicott guy pox and George F. Babbitt I land which lends itself equally well to satire and to eulogy a land which Lewis said he always dreamt of as his true home. We have now completed our series of 12 programme. Devoted to Sinclair
Lewis's Minnesota. We hope that we have provided an unusual look. At an unusual relationship between a writer. And his native surroundings. You have been listening to Sinclair Lewis is Minnesota a state of mind. This 12 program series has been produced. By the St. Cloud State College broadcasting service under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Exposed for you. To not mess with it would never speak to you. And you cannot hide confessing.
Sins. And with. That in. Mind. This series was written by Dr. James months with. Of the St. Cloud State College Department of English. A music composed and performed by Lol psyche. This program was produced and directed by the executive producer. He's right. This is the national educational radio network.
- Episode Number
- Producing Organization
- St. Cloud State College
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Series Description
- In 1920, Minnesotan Sinclair Lewis published his novel "Main Street," an inciteful analysis of the American small town. This radio series, produced five decades after the novel was published, explores whether "Main Street" still holds true of small towns.
- Asset type
- Media type
Producing Organization: St. Cloud State College
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 71-9-12 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 12; A Lewisian Look at "Where We've Been",” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 5, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-5t3g2h20.
- MLA: “Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 12; A Lewisian Look at "Where We've Been".” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 5, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-5t3g2h20>.
- APA: Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 12; A Lewisian Look at "Where We've Been". Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-5t3g2h20