Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 8; Life on the Great Plains
Or. Roland Brett. You've lived in the SO. Your home is are you with. Your Cloud broadcasting service under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Minnesota. Oh. You can't have your purse with my. This was written by Dr. James Lundquist native Minnesotan and author of several articles and a book on Sinclair. Sinclair Lewis considered himself a lifelong student of Minnesota and Minnesota law. One of the favorite games was to challenge a fellow Minnesotan to name all the counties of the state along with the respective counties. With such an interest in the state unlike in his
fiction. The most commonly overlooked area in the state. The plane to the northwest. And here with a look at Lewis's conception of Minnesota Flatland is our narrator Leslie. His topic on the Great Plains. Sinclair Lewis possessed a certain ambivalence toward his home state. He consistently praised Minnesota but he was never able to live in it or anywhere else for that matter very long once he had left after graduating from high school. He castigated the Minnesota small town but proclaimed again and again that his own small town soccer center was a foreign place even though he no longer resided there. And in his treatment of Minnesota's cities he was both problems their progress and skeptical of its consequences. This ambivalence
toward his home state is reflected no better than in his attitude toward the most unknown part of Minnesota. The plane that begins in the northwestern part of the state. Minnesota's north woods and its corn belt and its twin cities are well known to most Americans but the notion that Minnesota is partly a plain state usually enjoys no place in the geographical frame of reference of the otherwise and lightened citizen. The fact is that a great flat plain spreads across northwestern Minnesota and a band of more than 50 miles wide running for hundreds of miles along the borders of the state from Rainy Lake to traverse lake to many travelers the whole flat plane looks exactly the same but really it has three different parts. There are the flat sandy ridges several miles wide but standing only slightly higher than the neighboring land and running from Traverse lake to the Lake of the woods east of the ridges is the big bog west of the bog and the sandy ridges. The plane is different again. It is smooth but
not quite flat. This sloping plane is broken by the Red River of the north which flows all the way up to Hudson's Bay. Lewis acquired his knowledge of the Minnesota plane in a western trip. He and his wife talk in 1916 over the Lincoln Highway. Then only two grooves in the wheat fields. They went on to Seattle then finally down to San Francisco with a Model-T equipped for camping the Lewises spent four months rolling over Western America shooting rattlesnakes from the front seat of a car and singing the Wobblies hymn Hallelujah I'm a bum. This is how Mrs. Lewis recalled that trip. Distances are enormous in the West. And when we saw that we could not make it home by 6 o'clock the normal way. A wise precaution if you want a real meal we would stop on a pretty prairie beside a lake or perch on a hilltop and start the water from the thermos bottle boiling while my husband smoke and watch the sun setting I arranged biscuits jam and the other simple subprocess Reis. This was a time we usually
had guests a rancher riding bikes round up his cattle a young Harvester changing jobs some Heine Yorkers our homestead is in a prairie schooner creeping along contentedly to stake a claim. We did it for good fellowship for information sake not to propitiate the God of the open road when they got to Seattle. Lewis had notebooks full of observations most of which went into the novel for a year which was published in 1919 and recounts her cross-country pursuit of Clara bold who had by M. Daggett changed from Minnesota a garage mechanic clever eventually falls in love with Milt. This puzzled conclusion is secondary to the description of traveling by automobile at a time when such a trip was uncommon. But some of Lewis's notes were no doubt employed in the picture he evokes in Aerosmith of a village depicted more fully than any single town in free air. No better impression can be given us of weeks old Ania than the problem by Dr Martin Aerosmith who kindly consented to return from the limbo enjoyed by
fictional characters and recounts memories of his life on the Great Plains. Certainly can tell you about the northern. You know at least about what they were like about 40 years ago when I practiced in wheat Sylvania said. Ordinarily I wouldn't take time off from my research to talk about something like this but I've noticed not many people have a conception at all of that part of the country. Now how shall I begin. I think the best thing would be to describe would survey itself and then go on to the people I met there. Hammered away at Sylvania used to consist of one street of shanties with the red grain elevators at the end and round the village. The living wait arched by a tremendous clouds. And dry in the summer but incredibly
cold in the winter with the wind rower and down from Saskatchewan with nothing to slow it for hundreds of miles on end. Was always a little Ayla Sylvania the flatness of the countryside gave the town an unprotected atmosphere. Tornado season I felt doubly realty. Will the people of the media fit into this environment. Well. They seem to have personalities that were to be honest downright flat. But every now and then when you least suspected it tornadoes would sweep across those expansions of metal towns and all hell would break loose. Came the we set up my practice right after getting out of medical school. My wife came from the town. Her father Andrew Jackson sometimes known as Jackass tows it was owner of the bank. The creamery and the elevator he was a real tech who knew the value of the dollar. To him
a dollar was worth about a dollar ninety cents. But son more or less ran the banks not quite as grasping his was old jack ass to bird a dollar was worth only a dollar fifty. But it was a very articulate modern man of affairs. He had buck teeth and on his eye glasses was a gold chain leading to a dainty hook behind his left ear. He believed Tommy boosting organized tours and Boy Scouts and the hanging of the IWW. Social life and with Sylvain centered around chicken salad and coffee suppers at United brother in church or perhaps in going to the German Lutheran Church and listening to Farmer saying an ancient tonic hymns. Remember my reception when I first came to we surveyed here. It was when I was in medical school and it come up to talk later or into marrying me. Mrs. Tozer met me at the door when I came in Mr. Arrowsmith. Let me take your coat. Did you have a comfortable trip on the train.
Yes it was rather it was pretty crowded. Oh Was it crowded. Yes there were lots of people travelling where they are I suppose. Yes well sometimes I wonder all the people can be coming that you see going places all the time. But it's very cold in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Yes it was pretty close. Yes. Well come into the sitting room. Get in there during just me. How long I'm marking Arrowsmith undertows there is my son Burke pleased to meet you. So you want to marry Laura do it. Yes as a matter of fact. Well I'm making enough money to support a wife. That's something I hear will turn Catholic. No I mean well I should get out here in God's country. Yes it's fine. What about the Eastern States is you haven't got the gift or the room to go. Yes you ought to see a real Minnesota Dakota harvest. Look here our How come your way from school at this time of the year. Well it's about I don't know about school terms. I went to Business College in Grand Forks. Now how come you can get away now. I took a little layoff that's the first time I've heard you get anything
close to be such a stalker don't you. I'm sure you want to do the right thing. Look here about ready mother. Maybe some good country cooking will loosen Mr. Ausman. That was the front the reception I got. Course that's only part of the picture and I got settled in the town. We had some pleasant times. And somehow we drove to the pony river for picnics in the autumn I went Dot Cotton with who became nearly tolerable when he stood at sunset on a pass between two screws. And when winter isolated the village in a some blank desert of snow we had sleigh rides parties and sociables at the churches. The card parties were a little more than you might think. If there's a poker capital of the world it must be with Sylvania actually throughout the entire area there were celebrated poker players rustic looking back with stolid faces men who sat in ships chewing tobacco and listening to the Victrola.
That's all well get ready. When I deal I like to live there. When you do go learning out of a smile I mean oh I don't know if you saw how well I'll raise you up. But doctors are supposed to lie. Don't say nothing about that. Anyway I might be but I'm out of line. Another shot of whiskey to clear my mind. Damnedest thing I've ever tried the doc. All right one more. No choice I guess. Plays again. OK let's see what you've got here is a straight arrow point really. That game went on for 72 unbroken hours in the office of the week Sylvania garage. The players came and went. The sewing machine agent from the bootlegging from Grand Forks read Batman from Fergus Falls who had known no other
profession. Players left on the floor for an hour or two but there never were more than four and they gave. The stink of cheap able cigarettes cheap powerful cigars hovered about the table like a malign spirit. The floor was scattered with stuff matching no cards. Whiskey bottles course when heard about the game we feared for the good fame await Sylvania and I know that he went around gossiping about my evil ways. Thus it happened that while I was at the height of my prosperity and credit as a position along the Red River Valley arose the whispers that I was a gambler that I was at. And that I never went to church. I no doubt more than one earnest citizen said to bed to see a decent young man like that going to the dogs. One thing that Burton first I'm going to let go to the dogs was weeks away and his reputation. It was after over a year and a half it really became a prominent booster. It returned that year from the state convention of
Modern Woodmen of America with notions. Several towns and sent boosting delegations to the convention and the village of Ronald Reagan turned out a procession of cars each with an enormous penetrating. Point Man. So although Bertie was impelled to proclaim to me and to everyone else and Towle that oh I tell you doc everything in this man's town I have a pen Adonis machine. Where are we to get these pens. Oh I either have printed up there on sale at the bank for 75 cents a piece is that the cost price almost. You're enough of a businessman doc to know that handling something. I think 11 cents above my cost is a fair price don't you. What ever your price is I don't want one of those fool things flopping from my car. What's the idea anyway. The idea is to advertise your town of course what is there to advertise. You think you're going to make strangers believe tropical is like Minneapolis or Jim Tom by hanging a dusty rag behind a second
hand Tin Lizzie. You never did have any patriotism. Let me tell you if you don't put a banner on it I'll let everybody in town notices it. Carson announced to the world or at least to several square miles of the world that we was the 100 town of wheat. My clattering forward went bare and I heard people remarking that I ought to appreciate the place I was getting my money out of. I didn't remain to appreciate it much longer. I became interested in public health work and left for Iowa. To this day I've never been back to India. Not because I really have anything against the town but those who like it I guess it's a pleasant place. There are pleasant memories associated with it now or at least memories that would be painful if I went back.
Memories associated with. LAURA. As you know if you read Mr. Lewis a book about me that makes me wish I'd gone into psychiatry in the West Indies that the plague took her with me when I went to St. Hubert to test the vaccine developed. But that's another story and a doubly sad one for me. So now I have some work to do. Now we don't want you to think that there weren't a lot of amusing things happening out on the prairie around week Sylvain you know not everyone abided by the Tozer is notion of humor. I Will Smith might have a story about goings on in and about sort of a new stories that were enough to knock him right out of his chair. A lot of the funny stuff was based of course on practical jokes which became considerably embroidered in the
retelling. Read Lewis heard some of those bizarre narratives and as you might expect he put a few of them down on paper. One story in particular is memorable because it's the kind Aerosmith might have heard of first 10 from the vendor Hyde Grove undertaker during a break in a poker game a few years later he might have come across the same story in The Nation magazine carrying the byline Sinclair Lewis and untitled. The hack driver. The story is reset by Lewis in a town he calls new Molly. But it might as well be wheat sort of thing. Lewis has a young lawyer tell us a story and it seems that this young fellow was just starting out in his profession and not too happy about his role as an underling in a big city law firm. Imagine how I felt when after graduating from law school with honors and becoming a fifteenth assistant clerk in the magnificent law firm of Hodgkins
Hodgins Bookman and top I was set not at preparing briefs but serving summonses like a cheap private detective. Well they told me I had to start somewhere so I feebly went about getting kicked out of actresses dressing rooms and getting beaten up by large and indignant litigants. I got to know one hate every shadowy corner of the city and it was with some relief and almost a sense of vacation that I learned one day that I was to travel out to a prairie town named new movie and to serve a summons on one Oliver Lukens. This Lukens had worked in the northern woods and he knew the facts about a certain timber land boundary agreement. We needed him as a witness and he had dodged us. When I got off the train at New million I was confronted by an agreeable looking express man a person of about forty red faced cheerful. I want I told him to find a fellow named Oliver Lukens ass song around here not an hour ago.
I've got to catch always chasing around on some phony business that out of habit trying to get a poker game in the back of Fred's bank you tonic shop. But I'll tell you what why don't you hop into my cab out back and we can drive around together in five days. I know most of the places he hangs out in. I don't want to offend you. So if you're around I can tell you from the city what would
you want me to ask. What he said made a lot of sense to me and I agreed that by myself I might never find Lukens. So I told the expressman everything that I wanted to serve a summons on Lukens but the fellow had refused to testify in a suit where his knowledge of a certain conversation would clear up everything. The driver listened earnestly and I was still young enough to be grateful at being taken seriously by any man of forty. At the end he pounded my shoulder very painfully I might add and declared that we would spring some surprises on Brother Lukens. He also told me that most folks around William called him Bill Bill Magnussen at the first place we should tackle is a harness shop. At the somewhat gloomy hunt harness shop we descended and went in the room was odorous with the smell of dressed
leather a scanty sort of man presumably Mr Banky was selling a horse collar to a farmer. I looked around here today for a friend of his here look and fall I'm not sure if he was in here a little while ago or I guess you'd gone over to the Swedes to get a shave. And if it comes down I'm not going far I'm going to get. Tell that lookin to play those immoral games of chance. I believe he's not going to sit in now and then. We saw at the barbershop of the suite Bill once again good enough to take the lead all I looked at the door he asked not only the Swede but two customers if they had seen Lukens. The Swede decidedly had not declaring that he hadn't seen him but if we found him we were to collect the dollar 35 the owed on a haircut or to one of the customers interrupted the Swede to remark that Lukins had been seen in front of the hotel at the hotel we missed by only five minutes. He had just left
presumably for the pool room at the pool room. It appeared that he had merely bought a pack of cigarettes and gone on thus we pursued him but never catching him and we went right through the lunch hour. Yes people said he had been here. He had been there. If only we'd arrived a few minutes sooner. At last bill cornered a friend of Lukens and made him admit that he guessed Oliver had gone out to his ma's farm three miles north. We drove out there might he was strategy of. She put in a took my hide off somewhere about nine feet tall and four feet and she heard somebody talk or maybe even
been educated in custody or farmyard. We were faced by an enormous and cheerful old woman my guardian stood stock before her and snarled Magnussen expression. I want to find a son of a friend of mine here from the state it got a present for him. I don't know anything about Oliver and I don't want to know how you look a there. We've just about enough money. Young man he is the attorney general problem and we got a legal right to search any and all premises for the person of one I'll have a look. Bill sounded authoritative enough and the Amazon seemed impressed. She retired into the kitchen and we followed until she snatched a hot poker from the old fashioned range and marched on us clamoring. You just search all you want to get one you don't mind getting burnt to a cinder it's get out of this one she's going to murder us. We did however make adequate search. The cottage had but one story. Bill went around peeking in all the windows. We explored the barn in the stable. We were reasonably certain that Lukins was not there it was nearly time for me to catch
the afternoon train and Bill drove me to the station on the way to the city I worried very little over my failure to find Lukens. I felt as if I had done my best. But if I didn't worry about Lukens the senior partners did. I found them in less than a friendly attitude toward me the next morning. The suit was ready to come to trial. They had to have Lukens. I was a disgrace and a fool. That morning my eminent career almost came to an end. The chief did everything but commit mayhem. He's somewhat more than hinted that I would do well at ditch digging. I was ordered back to New Delhi and with me they sent an X number of camp clerk who knew Lukens when the train drew in a new million. Bill was on the station platform near his dray. What was curious was that the old dragon Lukens mother was there talking to him and they were not quarrelling but laughing from the car steps I pointed them out to the lumber camp clerk and I remarked that there was the fine fellow who spent most of yesterday helping me look for Lukens.
The clerk turned to me slowly and asked. And I'm here yesterday I spent the day with him on parole. Yes he helped me a lot. It must have looked on themself. But what really hurt was that when I served the summons Lukens and his mother laughed at me as if I were a bright boy of seven and then in a strange sort of turnabout they'd beg me to get to a neighbor's house for a cup of coffee. I very defensively asked why I told them about you know I had to have a look. About the only folks in town that I didn't introduce you to yesterday. I am. That was weeks of pain you know. Forty years ago we told Pena for which we might have trouble finding
a model today. Talons of the size of Dr. Al Smith depicted for us are dying out or else they have been transformed into a commercial Sutter's improved roads. The daily availability of big city papers and ubiquitous presence of radio and television have all but eliminated the extreme provinciality of weeks old Ania and wild remnants of such towns still remain a kind of living most characteristic of Minnesota's great playing today is found in the commercial centers of Fergus Falls Fargo Morehead and Grand Forks. We have now viewed the major sections of Minnesota through the eyes of its greatest novelist Sinclair Lowe We have been guided on a tour of the small town the city's Northwood and now is a great place. Next time we should get a different perspective on San Carlos is going to as we see both
Louis and the state through the eyes of Frederick man a present day Minnesota novelist who is a young writer was a personal friend Sinclair love. You have been listening to Sinclair Lewis as Minnesota a state of mind this 12 program series has been produced by the St. Cloud today college broadcasting service under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. You know with the way
that. This series was written by Dr James Lundquist of the St. Cloud State College Department of English music composed and performed by laws like you this program was produced and directed by Scott Brown. AS.
- Episode Number
- Life on the Great Plains
- Producing Organization
- St. Cloud State College
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- 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
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 71-9-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 8; Life on the Great Plains,” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 4, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-wm13sm71.
- MLA: “Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 8; Life on the Great Plains.” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 4, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-wm13sm71>.
- APA: Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 8; Life on the Great Plains. 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-wm13sm71