Sinclair Lewis: Contribution as American Writer

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      Harry Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) was born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, and graduated from Yale University. He took time off from school to work at a socialist community, Helicon home Colony, financed by muckraking novelist Upton Sinclair. Then he became freelance writer and editor in New York before returning to Yale and graduating in 1908. For years later, he published his first novel Hike and the Aeroplane (1912) under the pseudonym Tom Graham. Lewis’s Main Street (1920) satirized monotonous, hypocritical small-town life in Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. His incisive presentation of American materialism, narrowness, and hypocrisy brought him national and international recognition.

      In 1926, Lewis was offered and declined a Pulitzer Prize for Arrowsmith (1925), a novel tracing a doctor’s efforts to maintain his medical ethics amid greed and corruption. In 1930, he became the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Lewis’s other major novels include Babbitt (1922). George Babbitt is an ordinary businessman living and working in Zenith, an ordinary American town. Babbitt is moral and enterprising, and a believer in business as the new scientific approach to modern life. Becoming restless, he seeks fulfillment but is disillusioned by an affair with a bohemian woman, returns to his wife, and accepts his lot. The novel added a new word to the American language - “Babbitty” bourgeois ways. Elmer Gantry (1927) exposes revivalist religion in the United States. Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1928, the first American to be so honored.

      Sinclair Lewis commitment to social and political change is evident also in his novels of 1930s and 1940s. Ann Vickers (1933) is about the discontented mid western girl who goes east to college and becomes a social worker; she becomes involved in the women's movement and works for prison reforms. Work of Art (1934) is about the American hotel industry. In 1940s he began his career as an actor. It Cann’t Happen Here (1935) is a play in which he acted. In Federal Theatre Project he himself took the lead. The other plays are - The Prodigal Parents (1938) Bethel Merry Day (1940) deals with the career of an young actress. Gideon Planish (1943) is about each professor who marries a student and then finds himself manipulated into the lucrative advertising profession by his wife. Lewis’s next three novels are Cass Timberlane (1945) and Kingsblood Royal (1947) The God-Seeker (1949) in which he treats the American-Indian question. His last novel World So Wide was published posthumously in 1951.

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