Sinclair Lewis: Biography & Books

Instructor: Natarielle Powell
In a family of doctors, one would think the youngest son would follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and brother. However, this author didn't have aspirations of spending years in medical school. Instead, he chose to spend his time writing. Read on to learn more about Sinclair Lewis.

Sinclair Lewis

Early Life

Harry Sinclair Lewis was born on February 7, 1885 in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. His parents were Edwin and Emma Lewis, and he had 2 older brothers, Fred and Claude.

His grandfather, father, and his brother Claude were all doctors, yet they could not convince Sinclair to join them in this profession. He was always reading and even wrote articles for the local paper while he was in high school.


Growing up, Lewis went to public schools and attended Yale University for college. He graduated in 1908, after taking a break in 1906.

A lot of students take a break during the summer to study abroad or complete an internship in their career field. At age 21, Lewis left school for a totally different reason. He went to work in a socialist colony in New Jersey called Helicon Hall. It was a group started by writer Upton Sinclair and made up of people who lived and worked together as total equals.

Explorations after College

Sinclair Lewis had some pretty interesting jobs after he graduated from college and they all involved writing or editing in some way.

In Iowa and San Francisco, he worked as a newspaper reporter. He later worked at a publishing house in New York where he made a whopping $15 a week! Can you imagine working all week and receiving just $15? That would be a huge stretch in the 21st century.


A lot of people enter marriage with hopes that they will be with their spouse forever. In some cases, however fortunate or not, divorce is a result of the two people not being able to work things out.

Sinclair Lewis is no stranger to divorce. He did it twice. In 1914, he married Grace Hegger, a staff writer at Vogue, and divorced her in 1928. Shortly after, in the same year, he married Dorothy Thompson who was a newspaper columnist. They were together for 14 years before they got a divorce.


Lewis wrote several novels throughout his lifetime. Most of them have a one or two-word title. His four most popular novels are Main Street (1920), Babbit (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), and Elmer Guntry (1927). He focuses on characters who conform to the usual way of doing things rather than being openminded.

The novel Main Street tells the story of a cultured, young lady who marries a boring, older man. He is set in his ways, and so are the people in the town where they live. The main character, Carol Kennicott, tries effortlessley to bring a bit of culture to the area, but the residents aren't openminded enough to welcome new things. Lewis modeled this town after Sauk Centre, the town he grew up in.

Babbit is centered around a small town businessman with dreams of living outside of the conveniently crafted box that society has placed him in. George F. Babbitt does not want to be a typical middle class guy who joins the right local organizations and clubs. His attempts highlight the many limitations in American culture.

In Arrowsmith, a young doctor portrays science as a method of saving the soul. He becomes frustrated with the corruption and prejudice in the world. This book is satirical, making fun of the ideas and situations that society deems important.

Elmer Gantry pokes fun at religious hypocrites. This colorful novel centers around a college athlete who loves romancing and using women. He studies law but does not care for being a lawyer. He begins to abuse alcohol heavily, and then, get this, is accidentally ordained a minister! He weaves an incredibly tangled web.

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