Noir Poet: Sinclair Lewis

Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

“When a man straggles on the short death-walk from his cell through the little green door, into the room where stands the supreme throne, does he, along with his incredulous apprehension, along with trying to believe that this so-living and eternal-seeming center and purpose of the universe, himself — this solid body with its hard biceps, its curiously throbbing heart that ever since his mother’s first worry has in its agonies been so absorbing, this red-brown skin that has glowed after the salt sea at Coney Island and has turned a sullen brick after wild drinking — the astonishment that this image of God and Eternity will in five minutes be still and stiff and muck — is he at that long slow moment nonetheless conscious of a mosquito bite, of a toothache, of the smugness of the messages from Almighty God which the chaplain gives him, of the dampness of the slimy stone corridor and the echo of their solemn march? Is he more conscious of these little abrasions than of the great mystery?”

Sinclair Lewis, ‘Dodsworth’ (1929)

2 thoughts on “Noir Poet: Sinclair Lewis”

  1. “Is he more conscious of these little abrasions than of the great mystery?”

    Indeed he is. Sinclair Lewis is one of America’s greatest literary figures, and his great novels spoke more about the human condition and society than his formidable contemporaries–Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Fitzgerald. This brilliant, provocative passage is a definitive example of the (prospective) acute level of the mind at a time when one is to meet their maker, and how the thinking will invariably embrace the realization that the great mystery will remain so even at the departure gate when one is left only with the last sensory connections with life on earth.

    Extraordinary passage in bringing this incomparable writer into focus.


  2. I have only discovered Lewis lately. American lit was not studied in high school over here – at least not in the 60s! He is strikingly modern and has a canny way of delving into the inner life of his protagonists – of the sometimes chaotic emotional responses we have to the big issues in our lives while to all appearances we are in control.


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