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Teaching Sinclair Lewis

Bowling Alone and Sinclair Lewis: A Teaching Experiment in a First-Year Program by George Killough, College of St. Scholastica  [Sinclair Lewis Society Newsletter Spring 2009 (17.2)]

"My idea was to focus on contrasting visions of community in America, the idealistic view being represented by the widely admired book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, and the more pessimistic view being represented by literary works such as the novels of Sinclair Lewis."

"The goal in setting Lewis against Putnam was not to demolish Putnam's main idea but to showcase opposite positions of equal weight. Together, the two authors give rise to interesting questions, which are challenging enough to make definitive answers unlikely."


Teaching Kingsblood Royal: Student Responses to Issues of Race by Sally E. Parry, Illinois State University   [Sinclair Lewis Society Newsletter Spring 2004 (12.2)]

"Teaching the novel can be problematic because it uses a lot of derogatory language about African Americans and other minority groups. Lewis does this to make a very specific point about the power of language to intimidate others and promulgate ignorance. I wanted to make sure that the students were very aware of the reason for the use of language as well as the context for the novel."


Teaching Main Street: What Really Happens After the Novel Ends? by Sally E. Parry, Illinois State University  [Sinclair Lewis Society Newsletter Spring 2002 (10.2)]

"Whenever I teach Main Street, especially to students in my English Senior Seminar, I like to ask them to imagine what would happen to Carol after the novel ends. The course is the last one that English majors take before they graduate, and I find that they need to be encouraged to think about the possibilities for life after graduation and the problems that can arise. Carol's despair, as 'a working woman with no work,' and her fight to maintain some kind of vibrant intellectual life in a small town, is something that may happen to my students."


Teaching Arrowsmith by Sally E. Parry, Illinois State University   [Sinclair Lewis Society Newsletter Spring 2002  (10.2)]

"I started searching for a rationale to teach the novel and make it speak to the students in a number of ways. By  foregrounding issues of power and language, I was able to provide the occasion for several lively discussions on a variety of topics from medical ethics to male-female relationships."



Getting Kingsblood Royal by Robert L. McLaughlin, Illinois State University   [Sinclair Lewis Society

 Newsletter Spring 1996  (4.2)]

"In the first half of the semester we looked at the aesthetic experiments of the high modernists; in the second half we read texts that comment on social conditions and self-consciously seek social reform. My challenge to the students was to explore the ways in which the aesthetic and theoretical concerns of the modernists are connected to, overlap with, or allow us to understand in a different way the social and ideological concerns of the social commentators."


Main Street Still Mainly Main Street by George Killough, The College of St. Scholastica   [Sinclair Lewis Society Newsletter Fall 1994  (3.1)]

"Small-town high school principals say Main Street is alive and well. ... The occasion was an NEH-sponsored summer institute for  secondary principals from small towns in Wisconsin, Minnesota, upper Michigan, North Dakota, and South Dakota. ... Seeking to  cover the range of upper-midwestern literature from Hamlin Garland to Louise Edrich, the institute invited me to lead a discussion  of Main Street for one of its all day sessions. I added also an excerpt from Lewis's 1940s journal, 'A Minnesota Diary,' to  illustrate his writing on Minnesota in another mode."


From Resentment to Recognition: Babbitt in the Classroom by Clare Virginia Eby, University of 

Connecticut  [Sinclair Lewis Society Newsletter Spring 1994  (2.2)]

"Babbitt still speaks to me, and to my students, because of Lewis's treatment of one of the most important conflicts depicted in American Literature: independence versus conformity. ... The problem with teaching Babbitt is that many students initially find themselves distanced from the novel either emotionally or aesthetically: some of them find it too "depressing" to risk connecting with it, while others resent what they feel is its lack of artistry."


Using Students as Experts by Sally E. Parry, Illinois State University  [Sinclair Lewis Society Newsletter Spring 1993  (1.2)]

"One of the challenges to be met when teaching Sinclair Lewis is the amount of detail he put into his writing to create a specific socio-historical context. Popular songs, movies, and authors, as well as politicians, philosophers, and poets appear with regularity in his novels. Although this certainly indicates Lewis was well read and that his references correlate with his characters' economic and intellectual attainments or at least comment on them, this denseness of allusion can provide daunting to students."


It Can't Happen Here in the Classroom (Or Can It?) by Robert L. McLaughlin, Illinois State University [Sinclair Lewis Society Newsletter Fall 1992  (1.1)]

"I ask [my students] to decide, considering the things we learned about Lewis and the 1930s time period, how the text is most valuable: as a window on the past which tells about American life 60 years ago or about Lewis the man; as a text that speaks to and about America today; or as a text that speaks to and about all times and places."

"A novel, then, is a battleground wherein various discourses are put into conflict so that they and their belief systems can be defined, examined, and critiqued."