Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) was born in the town of Sauk Center, Minnesota. He was graduated from Yale after several unhappy years there, and then became an editor and writer. His early writing was commercial and undistinguished. But when he publishedMain Street in 1920, he proved that he had become a very effective novelist. Main Street immediately captured America's attention, as did Scott Fitzgerald's very different This Side of Paradise, published in the same year.
In his first important novel, Lewis established the methods and subject matter that would bring him world fame and eventually a Nobel Prize in LiteratureˇXthe first American author to be so honored. That is, he described daily life in America with such a sharp eye and ear that readers could easily recognize it as part of their own experience. But he did it with such an emphasis on the comic and ridiculous that he made his readers laugh, in spite of themselves, at some of the silliness of their country. Like the noted satirists of the past, he wanted to reform the America he pictured by skillfully arousing his readers' sympathies for the non-conformist in a conformist society. The heroine of Main Street is a rebellious young woman who struggles hard to bring culture to her dead little town, and we feel a wry regret when in the end she decides to conform. However, Lewis' comic energy is so compelling that we cannot take her failure entirely seriously, though Sauk Center's inhabitants recognized themselves all too clearly at the time and took Lewis' lampooning so much to heart that it was years before the town could advertise itself to tourists as the model for Main Street.
The hero of Babbitt, Lewis' second highy successful novel, is as standard a middle-class businessman as if he had been put together on an assembly line. He appears to be a stereotype of millions of American men.