The seven ages of Sinclair Lewis: A study in the relation of Sinclair Lewis to his age



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This thesis attempts to discover if Sinclair Lewis is a true expression of his age. The sixty-four years of his life, from 1885 to 1949, is examined in seven periods for prevalent trends in thought and life. The character and work of Lewis at each time is compared with what appears to be characteristic of the era. Three divisions, concern the early life and the years of obscurity before the first great success of Lewis in 1920, when he wrote the famous novel Main Street. The first of these periods, from his birth in 1885 to his entrance at college in 1903, falls almost within the reign of Queen Victoria. Lewis was spiritually in revolt but outwardly conformed to the conservative pattern of American life. The second period, from 1903 to 1914, a time of optimism and self-glorification in the national life, was even harder for Lewis. He had difficulty at Yale but finally took a degree. Outside college, he could find no congenial place and no adequate way to make a living. From 1914 to 1919, Lewis made an effort to conform. He wrote several novels in the Victorian tradition. Ignoring the current social problems. But society changed in his direction in the twenties. When the election of Harding showed extreme conservatism Lewis gained recognition with Main Street, a novel against conservatism. This success was followed by six more books by the end of the decade all dealing with current aspects of American life but each one in opposition to the majority viewpoint at the time. Three of these books have been considered important. Babbitt, written in 1922, won the Nobel prize in literature in 1930. The Pulitzer prize was offered for Arrowsmith in 1926 but Lewis refused it. Dodsworth, was called a good novel by competent critics and had little adverse criticism. Elmer Gantry in 1927 was controversial with mostly adverse criticism. The Man Who Knew Coolidge was a gentle irony on the Coolidge-era, the age of the common man. The later writings of Lewis are less Important but continue to show a character gradually becoming more closely identified with his contemporaries, more deeply concerned with their problems. It Can't Happen Here in 1935 took seriously the threat of Fascism. Cass Timberlane was a thoughtful study of American marriage. Kingsblood Royal dramatized the race problem in 1947. The Godseeker, 1949, is a novel showing something of the spiritual element in American frontier history. The conclusion is that Lewis has been a non-conformist if considered at any given point in his life: but on the whole he has lived and shared American life for sixty-four years—seven ages of change.