Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 5; The Author of Main Street Looks at the City
Rolling over bread. In the cities you. Know never. Missing. You are living in the SO. Your home is. The soldier. With. A colleague Broadcasting Service. Under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting present. Lois's Minnesota a state of mind. You can't escape here is now UK. Europe and so the person. With. My. This. Was written by Dr. James Lundquist native Minnesotan and author of several articles and a book on Sinclair Lois.
Welcome again to Minnesota. This time we will hear about a side of San Carlos is writing. It doesn't always get much recognition is treatment of American cities and the urban environment. Here's our narrator Leslie Davis is topic the author of Straight looks at the city. Sinclair Lewis is most often thought of as the chronicler of small town life. This is of course because Main Street is his most famous book. But Lewis also wrote extensively about life in the big city and in many ways his criticism of city living in such novels as Babbitt cast timber lane and king's blood royal as well as in dozens of short stories is just as insightful as his analysis of village
life is. Lewis grew up in a small town but with only a few exceptions whenever he later returned to Minnesota to live he invariably chose a city as his dwelling place in the winter of 1917 18. He rented a house at 5:16 Summit Avenue and St. Paul. The following winter he rented a house at 18 0 1 James Avenue South. Then in the fall of 1942 it occupied a house on Mount Kerr Avenue in Minneapolis and finally in 1045 deciding that he had had enough of wandering. Lewis brought the enormous house of Dr. E. Weber 26 0 1 East 2nd Street in Duluth and there placed his personal possessions and his library of thirty five hundred volumes. So while most of Lewis's youth was spent experiencing this small town environment most of his experience with Minnesota as an adult involved Minnesota cities. Google says commentary on cities is almost
always veiled behind fictitious names. He seldom refers directly to any Minnesota city itself but three of his fictional Metropolis is correspond very closely to actual cities. Two of these fictional cities the zenith of Babbitt and the Virgin of various short stories suggest a combination of Minneapolis St. Paul third fictional city the grand Republic of Cass timber lane and king's blood royal. Most resembles the loo. What does louis say about these cities. Nothing very positive although he seems to be easier on the medium sized cities like Duluth than he is on the megalopolis like Minneapolis St. Paul. Louis was one of the first American writers to sense that the 20th century shift of population from small town to city and from country to city did not necessarily represent cultural improvement much less an improvement in living conditions. And this is one of the major points in Babbitt the first novel that was wrote after Main
Street the setting of Babbitt is Gopher Prairie expanded into a city zenith in the fictional state of when a Mac which is Minnesota thinly disguised as Edith has a size that Gopher Prairie lacks. It has attracted the industry that on its gym blouse or the professional booster in Main Street unsuccessfully tried to get for Gopher Prairie. Zenith in its claim to be the fastest growing most culturally expensive city in the United States if not in the world is in its extravagant assertions trying to have what Carlyle called the name without the thing it has size without a plan. I did as without philosophy and the promise of a good life for all of which only a few can't enjoy. It's representative citizen is a 46 year old real estate broker named George felons be Babbitt who in his dependence on newspaper editorials for his fraught men's clubs for much of his friendship and slightly crooked
business deals for his living is the end product of middle class life living in a barren city and trapped by his own ignorance and folly. As the story of Babbitt's struggle against a way of life and a system of values that leaves him vaguely discontented develops. We are given a dumb Test tour of an emerging city and its social structure in which are pictured such aspects of bourgeois life as domestic manners marriage and family travel. But next a should not leisure time. Sex politics social classes out religion. What is the difference between Gopher Prairie and cedar. What is the difference in Lewis's estimation between a Minnesota small town such as Sox center and a city like Duluth or Minneapolis T.K. Whipple in an essay written on Lewis in one hundred twenty eight states the difference very succinctly viewed externally Gopher Prairie is most conspicuous for its hit or miss ugliness its lack of attraction for the eye or any other organ of sense.
It looks as if its inhabitants were more or less permanently camping out and not as if they had built themselves a lasting habitation. It is a dreary haphazard uncared for only one degree better than the boom towns of the last century thrown together by pioneers just to do for a while and betraying essentially much the same spirit. You have to go for Prairie is past the stage of pioneering it is established and prosperous and the people do not know what to do with their prosperity as witnesses the interior of their houses with their shiny golden furniture and their hideous carpets. Not a room in any of the dwellings nor a structure in the village was made with the design of its being well fitted to human life. All of it cries aloud an indifference to human living. It is an accurate index to the attitude of the people. Zenith on the other hand has attained a real beauty in its groups towering skyscrapers yet wholly by luck and accident not purpose. And this beauty is only in the large. A closer inspection though it shows comfort and luxury and
even a kind of a static striving reveals this effort at beauty is spurious from the old English dining room of the athletic club to the sepia photographs on the living room walls and Floral Heights. The taste for art is affected and unreal. The material showing us of Zenith is no improvement over the ugliness of Gopher Prairie. For it is conventional only and the inhabitants find their truest pleasure in the accumulation of ingenious mechanical contrivances and conveniences. Zenith has arrived at the perfection of a mechanical luxury in which the only flaw is that it is altogether unhuman. Sinclair Lewis to dot approve of either the small town or the city. To him both were unfit for human habitation with their emphasis on show weakness over art materialism over the pleasures to be gained from fine painting pleasing architecture and good books to be certain. He is more sympathetic to small town life if only because the countryside is more accessible to Gopher
Prairie that it is to zenith and the US is not holes. It is the rural landscape that is most often described in terms of beauty and it is significant that when he was asked by the Minneapolis tribute in one thousand forty two to list the areas of Minnesota which he had found scenically memorable not one of his responses involved a city or a town. Zenith Lewis's version of Minneapolis St. Paul is not included in the US is a steady guide to Minnesota for reasons that George have Babbit himself would make most clear if he were able to tell us of his city and perhaps say a few things about his life there. What do you mean if he were able. I may be old and fictional but I talk about a zing left. I've put on a little more weight since Mr Sinclair Lewis wrote me up but I'm I'm still the same old kid. Though not half the bogeyman out to be. It's just that like Mr. Lewis that not to list my city as you know there's one of the first class sites of this state. They never like much of anything if you didn't come
up in a bottle and not there is there anything wrong with a drink now and then and besides I don't think it was half as good a writer as my old Chum Frink Chum Frink. Oh you would be Dina's song man of letters letters I don't know anything about that but I I know that jump Frank is a first class real he poet write stuff to appeal to a fellow who doesn't like a lot of us frilly nonsense like you you get when Henry H Shakespeare. Mr Lewis got to learn a lot from WANT TO chums poems. Which one is that and I don't know if I can re cited just so but it it goes something like this. I sat alone and Ralston trunk and scratched my head and sighed and wrong and groaned. There still are boobs I lack who like the old time gin mailed back that den that makes a sage a loon. The vile and smelly old soloed. I never miss their poison booze whilst I the
bubbling spring gun use that leaves my head at merry morn as clear as any babe newborn. What makes that poem so good is that it is that it was written by a regular guy not some grubby fellow with a beard living and living in a filthy room and eating spaghetti. And to top it off what Tom says is there's a real help to a lot of weak fellows who who maybe shouldn't take a drink. Well like Mr Lewis himself if you don't mind me saying so. No no I I don't. Well I just want to be sure it's never good business to offend people. Something I try never to do. Live and Let Live you know. But here in Zenith we got we got a lot of good sensible attitudes like that. Even during prohibition we didn't let ourselves get carried away. Lot of cities went to the dogs during prohibition. Morally I mean everyone's breaking the law and feeling guilty about it but not here in Zenith. We want our Wessels once in a while you can be sure of that.
And I guess it was illegal. But what we did was to break the law sensibly if you know what I mean. Well I'm not so sure I understand the ethics of such a situation where you don't have to talk like a professor to me I'm just a regular fellow you know on the side on a college graduate went to State U BUT. But if you want to know about how we think got down here and Zenith Well I'm going to tell you about a little cocktail party I had back in the 20s. I had a great bunch of little women there and. That my on the wrong side of this because I take your
picture you'll see what I've got as a writer. Can I write you argue like a want for just $8 dollars and pay the rent I get to be nothing but water. Well I was standing on the quarter the fella came up and they said it all wrapped the stuff around with folks don't realize about boys and stuff but I don't propose to have anybody telling me that no American would stand for that. I got ahold of a homemade beer the other day. The way that we can do is ferment side
it might be a good thing if they can find some way of keeping away from the responsible people like God worries me is that I want to know why didn't you tell us about your research to get back to civilization. I certainly I mean the folks there are the best on earth as well as mainstream. And you fellows can't hardly appreciate what it means to be here with a bunch alive. Whew bet you know the best folks on earth those small town folks but oh mama what conversation. They can't talk about anything but the weather on the floor by hand all right that's right. They all talk about the same thing. They just say the same things over. They just seem to lack all power of looking at things impersonally they simply go over and over the same talk about forge and so on. Still you can't blame them they haven't got any intellectual stimulus such as you get out there in the city.
That's right. I don't want you highbrows to get stuck on yourselves but let's say it keeps a fellow right on its toes to sit in with the poor and with power and put the con in economics. But nobody but each other to talk to do they get so sloppy and uncultured in their speech and that's all balled up in their thing that well take our other advantages the movies for instance these yeah pills. Think they're all get out if they have one change of billowy where in the city you got a choice of a dozen different movies any evening you want to name. You can excuse these road birds up in front of it doesn't show the initiative get up and beat it to the city like we done did. Just speaking in confidence among my friends they're jealous as the devil of a city man. Why every time I go up to the top I have to go around apologizing to the fellows that I was brought up with because well I'm more last succeeded and they haven't. And if you talk natural to him the way we do here and in Show the finale
and what you might call a broad point of view why do I think side half brother Martin runs a little general store that my dad used to say I'll bet he don't know that there is such a thing as a tux. Well as a dinner jacket. Be with me here right now I think about that. Gosh I swear it would have. Oh yes she almost got some remedy for this empty glass. As I was saying here in Zenith we were doing a lot of pride in our city and our attitudes are for the most part sensible. And we must do something right because as gunge said time and again every little bird knows what it's doing is trying by heck to become just. Just like Xena. And not
even Mr. Lewis can do anything about that. Even if you don't like it. But you've got to excuse me now I'm going to write up some contacts for my London lane development you know. The only strictly up to date burial place in or near Xeno city were exquisitely garden plots look like daisies dotted Hills slopes across the smiling fields of Dorchester. I wrote that ad myself. Well don't take any wooden dealt. Lewis was not kind with either Babbitt or Babbitt city. Like many American thinkers who grew up in the 19th century and did their work in the 20th Sinclair Lewis was more than a little horrified at what was happening to the quality of life in America. The dullness of the small town is inescapable he admitted. But the dullness the falseness the aesthetic failure of the cities was an outrage to him and in his portrait of Babbitt and Zenith he tried to make graphic the reasons why urban life in America must be reformed. But let's have Lewis speak for himself on this matter.
The landscape of Zenith. I suppose I could say something about it when you look out over the city say from our friend Babbitt's house and Floral Heights on a spring morning. You can see the towers of Zenith aspiring above the morning mist. Austere towers of steel and cement and limestone sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods they are neither citadels nor churches but Frank and beautiful office buildings. A closer look as the mist less reveals the fretted structures of earlier generations. The post office with its shingle tortured mansard the red brick minarets of hulking old houses factories with stingy and sordid windows wooden tenements colored like mud. The city is full of such grotesqueries but the clean towers are dominant and on the far heels are shining new houses homes. They
seemed for laughter and tranquillity as the mist lifts and spins away. One might see men with lunch boxes clumping toward the immensity of new factories sheets of glass and hollow tile where 5000 men work beneath one rough crying out the honest wares it would be sold up the Euphrates and across the veldt whistles roll out in chorus the song of a laborer in a city built it seems for giants. But if one would like another view of Xena There's also the Vista enjoyed by Babbitt himself every morning on his way to work. He admired each district along his familiar route to the office. The bungalows and shrubs and winding irregular driveways of Floral Heights the one story shops on Smith Street a glare of plate glass and new yellow brick groceries and drugstores to supply the more immediate needs of Eastside Housewives.
The market gardens and Dutch hollow the shanties patched with corrugated iron and steel and doors billboards with crimson goddesses nine feet tall advertising films pipe tobacco beer talcum powder. The old mansions along Ninth Street southeast like aged dandies in filthy Lennon wooden castles turning into boarding houses with muddy walks and Rusty had shoes jostled by fast intruding garages cheap apartment houses. Across the belt of railroad tracks factories with high perched water tanks and tall stacks factories producing condensed milk paper boxes lightning fixtures motor cars then the business center thickening darting traffic the high doorways and marble polished granite. It was big. And Babbitt respected bigness in anything in mountains. Jewels mussels well or words.
He was in his spring enchanted moments. The lyric going almost unselfish lover of his city zenith. He thought of the outlying factory suburbs the river with its strangely eroded banks the orchard dappled hills to the north and all that fat dairy land the big barns the comfortable cows and many a day Babbitt could be heard exclaiming gee gosh I feel pretty good this morning. Well Babbitt had a right to feel that way about Zenith I guess an address at the Boosters Club which you may remember he had admitted. It isn't once the duty and privilege of the Realtor to know everything about his own city and its environs surgeon is a specialist in every vein and mysterious style of the human body and the engineer upon electricity in all its phases. The realtor must know a city inch by inch all its faults and virtues by heck.
Well though Babbitt did know the market price inch by inch of certain districts of Zenith he did not know whether the police force was too large or too small or whether it was in alliance with gambling and prostitution. He knew the names of fireproofing. Building contractors and the relation of insurance rates to fireproofing. But he didn't know how many firemen there were in the city how they were trained and paid or how complete their apparatus. Are you saying eloquently the advantages of proximity of school buildings to runnable homes. But he did know he didn't know that it was worthwhile to know where the school rooms are properly heated lighted ventilated furnished. He didn't know how the teachers were chosen and though he chanted one of the ghosts of Zenith is that we pay our teachers. That was because he had read the statement in The Advocate times himself. Why he couldn't have given the average salary of teachers in Zenith or anywhere
else. He heard it said that conditions in the county jail in the zenith city prison were not very scientific. He had with indignation at the criticism of Zenith skim through a report in which the notorious pessimist that a liberal Seneca Doane the radical lawyer asserted that to throw boys and girls into a bull pen crammed with men suffering from syphilis delirium tremens and insanity was not the most perfect way of educating them. He had controverted the report by growing folks that think the jail ought to be a bloomin hotel Thornly make me sick if people don't like a jail right now to behave themselves and keep out of it. Besides these reform cranks I was exaggerate stuff like that. So that was the beginning and quite completely the end of his investigations into Xena's charities and corrections. And as to the vice districts as he rightly expressed it
those are things that no decent man monkeys with besides matter of fact I'll tell you confidentially. It's a protection to our daughters and a decent women to have a district or roughnecks can raise Cain keeps them away from our own homes and nothing as the expert in whose advice families move to new neighborhoods to live there for a generation was Babbit more splendidly innocent than in the science of sanitation. He had a normal area bearing mosquito from a bat he knew nothing about test or drinking water. And in the matters of plumbing and sewage he was on learned as he was voluble. He often referred to the excellence of the bathrooms in the house as the soul to be sure when he laid out the glowing Auriol acreage development on the iron woodland and dipping matter a lot and rolling hills into a landless Oriole a sunburnt flat prickly area with small boards displaying the names of imaginary streets. He righteously put in a complete sewage system. It made him feel superior.
It enabled him to sneer at competing developments which advertise cesspools and it provided a course for the full page advertisements and what she announced the beauty convenience cheapness and healthfulness of Glen oil. The only flaw was that the glen Oriole sewers had insufficient outlet so that waste remained in them. Not very agreeably but Babbitt was able to talk himself around any objections to whatever order might be hanging over Glen Auriol. But perhaps I've said enough on the skyscrapers in the sewers of Zenit and maybe I should stop before I make the city seem worse than it is. I go all cities in America well enough and you can find beauty there. I can't help thinking though that a man ought to be able to do more than simply live you know and that the beauty might be easier to find. That of course is partly what I was trying to say when I wrote Babbitt.
This has been the fifth in a series of programs devoted to an examination of Sinclair LOS is Minnesota. Next week Dr. Lundquist will continue our tour of Lois's home state by taking us to and discussing some of the problems and development facing it. In the 1970s. And 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. He's still exposing the not the one who knew a man's with a with
you and then with that and all I see. This one this series was written by Dr. James Lundquist at the St. Cloud State College Department of English. A music composed and performed by Lowell psyche. This program was produced and directed by Gary Hawkins. If this or even got right. Sent to me as a. Film. You.
Know. The part of Lewis and other characters were played by members of the St. Cloud State College Department of theatre. 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.
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- Media type
Producing Organization: St. Cloud State College
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 71-9-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 5; The Author of Main Street Looks at the City,” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-bg2hc00g.
- MLA: “Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 5; The Author of Main Street Looks at the City.” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-bg2hc00g>.
- APA: Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 5; The Author of Main Street Looks at the City. 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-bg2hc00g