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Main Street is a satirical novel. When it was published in 1920, it was not expected to be extremely popular, but in the first six months of 1921, the novel sold 250,000 copies, becoming a major best-seller of its time.
Readers' fascination with the portrayal of petty back-stabbers and hypocrites in a small town was probably a factor in the novel's popularity. When the book was published, it was common to wish to live in purportedly "wholesome" small towns like Gopher Prairie; a notion denounced by Main Street's vicious realism and biting humor.
The story is set in Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, a fictionalized version of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, Lewis's hometown. The novel takes place in the 1910s, with references to the start of World War I, the United States' entry into the war, and the years following the end of the war, including the start of Prohibition.
With the book published in 1920, Lewis could not have written about the Roaring Twenties or the Great Depression to follow, but his characters give voice to many of the social and cultural attitudes which would become significant in the years to come.

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