Summary and Analysis
America is engaged in World War I, and Carol is doing Red Cross work and volunteer nursing. Raymie Wutherspoon, recovered from his wounds, returns as a major to a jubilant Vida and is made manager of the Bon Ton. He, however, is less impressive in civilian clothes than in uniform.
Gopher Prairie is booming because of the war-time price of wheat. Mr. James Blausser is brought in to head the campaign of boosting the town. He is the go-getter type, full of clichés and familiarities. Carol heartily dislikes him, but he makes a big impression on many people. Gopher Prairie finally captures one "small, shy factory" which plans to make wooden automobile wheels.
Kennicott and Carol have a big argument over the organizer and the booster campaign, each asserting in the end the right to live one's own life. The discussion lasts a month before Carol sets out for Washington in October, just before the war ends on November 11. She takes Hugh with her, and on the train Carol discovers that her son has tastes like those of his father.
The Dauntless announces that Mrs. Kennicott has gone to Washington to be connected with one of the multifarious war activities. In the same issue appears a smaller item, that Dr. Will Kennicott had enjoyed a delightful picnic with the Dyers.
Carol finds employment in the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. In spite of substandard living conditions, she feels herself a whole person again. She loves Washington. Hugh is left with a nurse while she works. Although the city contains "a thick streak of Main Street," she finds other attractions, mostly cultural, for which she has long been starved.
Other towns worse than Gopher Prairie are represented by their former inhabitants now in the nation's capital. Gradually Carol realizes that she has raged at individuals while institutions are really to blame.
After Carol has been in Washington a year, she encounters the Haydocks on Massachusetts Avenue. They tell her that Mr. Blausser has left Gopher Prairie and that the town boosting campaign has been temporarily dropped. She also hears that Percy Bresnahan, though a wonderful salesman of motors, is a misfit in his dollar-a-year job. In a current motion picture she discovers Erik Valborg playing a bit part.
Dr. Kennicott comes to see his wife thirteen months after her departure from Gopher Prairie. She takes him sightseeing and introduces him to her friends. He does not ask her to return, but he indicates that he will be delighted to have her do so of her own accord. When they build a new house, he will let her plan it the way she wants it. She obtains a two weeks' leave, and they spend what he calls a "second wooing" in Charleston. He tells her that he has always loved her more than anything else in the world, but that he would occasionally "pike out" when she was chilly and he was lonely. If she returns to Gopher Prairie, he wants her to be satisfied.
Kennicott goes back to Gopher Prairie without Carol. She spends five months more in Washington, but her hatred of Gopher Prairie has run out. When she finally does return, her second child is stirring within her.
Carol feels that if Gopher Prairie is now as beautiful and up-to-date as Blausser and his committee say it is, there is no more for her to do. The shallow but persistent professional booster businessman comes in for analysis here, for Blausser is a type found in several Lewis novels, an example being Clif Clawson, in Arrowsmith.
The author has long been leading up to the break between the Kennicotts, when Carol leaves Gopher Prairie and goes to the East to lead her own life. For the first time in years she can act without consulting Kennicott. Gradually her horizon is broadened, and she becomes conscious of some of the reasons for her mistakes in Gopher Prairie.
Sinclair Lewis brings his two leading characters together again and prepares for his conclusion. New light is thrown on such minor personalities as Erik Valborg and Percy Bresnahan. The generalissima of suffrage is also unique. The second wooing, like the first, includes snapshots of Gopher Prairie, completing a cycle beginning and ending with the town.