Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott

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Author: Sinclair Lewis

I

THE baby was coming. Each morning she was nauseated, chilly, bedraggled, and certain that she would never again be attractive; each twilight she was afraid. She did not feel exalted, but unkempt and furious. The period of daily sickness crawled into an endless time of boredom. It became difficult for her to move about, and she raged that she, who had been slim and light-footed, should have to lean on a stick, and be heartily commented upon by street gossips. She was encircled by greasy eyes. Every matron hinted, "Now that you’re going to be a mother, dearie, you’ll get over all these ideas of yours and settle down." She felt that willy-nilly she was being initiated into the assembly of housekeepers; with the baby for hostage, she would never escape; presently she would be drinking coffee and rocking and talking about diapers.

"I could stand fighting them. I’m used to that. But this being taken in, being taken as a matter of course, I can’t stand it—and I must stand it!"

She alternately detested herself for not appreciating the kindly women, and detested them for their advice: lugubrious hints as to how much she would suffer in labor, details of baby-hygiene based on long experience and total misunderstanding, superstitious cautions about the things she must eat and read and look at in prenatal care for the baby’s soul, and always a pest of simpering baby-talk. Mrs. Champ Perry bustled in to lend "Ben Hur," as a preventive of future infant immorality. The Widow Bogart appeared trailing pinkish exclamations, "And how is our lovely ’ittle muzzy today! My, ain’t it just like they always say: being in a Family Way does make the girlie so lovely, just like a Madonna. Tell me—" Her whisper was tinged with salaciousness—"does oo feel the dear itsy one stirring, the pledge of love? I remember with Cy, of course he was so big----"

"I do not look lovely, Mrs. Bogart. My complexion is rotten, and my hair is coming out, and I look like a potato-bag, and I think my arches are falling, and he isn’t a pledge of love, and I’m afraid he WILL look like us, and I don’t believe in mother-devotion, and the whole business is a confounded nuisance of a biological process," remarked Carol.

Then the baby was born, without unusual difficulty: a boy with straight back and strong legs. The first day she hated him for the tides of pain and hopeless fear he had caused; she resented his raw ugliness. After that she loved him with all the devotion and instinct at which she had scoffed. She marveled at the perfection of the miniature hands as noisily as did Kennicott, she was overwhelmed by the trust with which the baby turned to her; passion for him grew with each unpoetic irritating thing she had to do for him.

He was named Hugh, for her father.

Hugh developed into a thin healthy child with a large head and straight delicate hair of a faint brown. He was thoughtful and casual—a Kennicott.

For two years nothing else existed. She did not, as the cynical matrons had prophesied, "give up worrying about the world and other folks’ babies soon as she got one of her own to fight for." The barbarity of that willingness to sacrifice other children so that one child might have too much was impossible to her. But she would sacrifice herself. She understood consecration—she who answered Kennicott’s hints about having Hugh christened: "I refuse to insult my baby and myself by asking an ignorant young man in a frock coat to sanction him, to permit me to have him! I refuse to subject him to any devil-chasing rites! If I didn’t give my baby—MY BABY— enough sanctification in those nine hours of hell, then he can’t get any more out of the Reverend Mr. Zitterel!"

"Well, Baptists hardly ever christen kids. I was kind of thinking more about Reverend Warren," said Kennicott.

Hugh was her reason for living, promise of accomplishment in the future, shrine of adoration—and a diverting toy. "I thought I’d be a dilettante mother, but I’m as dismayingly natural as Mrs. Bogart," she boasted.

For two—years Carol was a part of the town; as much one of Our Young Mothers as Mrs. McGanum. Her opinionation seemed dead; she had no apparent desire for escape; her brooding centered on Hugh. While she wondered at the pearl texture of his ear she exulted, "I feel like an old woman, with a skin like sandpaper, beside him, and I’m glad of it! He is perfect. He shall have everything. He sha’n’t always stay here in Gopher Prairie. . . . I wonder which is really the best, Harvard or Yale or Oxford?"

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Chicago: Sinclair Lewis, "I," Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott in Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1920), Original Sources, accessed January 23, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=485SGFJD8HUJK9B.

MLA: Lewis, Sinclair. "I." Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott, in Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott, New York, Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1920, Original Sources. 23 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=485SGFJD8HUJK9B.

Harvard: Lewis, S, 'I' in Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott. cited in 1920, Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott, Harcourt, Brace & Co., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=485SGFJD8HUJK9B.