Summary and Analysis
The women's study club, Thanatopsis, is meeting to consider the whole field of English poetry in one session, and Carol is invited. The program is dull and statistical. Shakespeare, Byron, Burns, Moore, Tennyson, Browning, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Gray, Mrs. Hemans, and Kipling are all disposed of, facts about their lives being considered but not their poetry itself. Carol is voted into membership and makes a few suggestions about future programs.
The next morning Carol considers the city hall as a possible starting point for civic improvement. She visits the public library and finds in the magazine files pictures of beautiful towns and villages throughout the world.
Mrs. Leonard Warren, wife of the Congregational minister, thinks, however, that improvement should begin with union of all evangelical denominations into one strong body. Mrs. Mott, wife of the superintendent of schools, has a different idea. A new school building is the most important need of Gopher Prairie. Mrs. Dyer, however, would have all juvenile delinquents given universal military training. She feels that the old school building is adequate.
Spring comes to Gopher Prairie. The Thanatopsis Club is now presenting statistics on Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Scott, Hardy, Lamb, DeQuincey, and Mrs. Humphrey Ward. Carol, thwarted in previous attempts at civic improvement, urges modernization of the rest room for farmers' wives, though without success. Plans for a farm bureau, domestic science demonstrations, and lecture halls all go down the drain. Not in twenty years would Gopher Prairie vote the funds for a new city hall, though there might be a new school in ten years. One more idea, that of rebuilding the town with Mr. Dawson's donated millions, falls flat. Gradually Carol replaces the city hall project with one concerning the unpicturesque poor.
Carol asks not for charity for the poor, but for self-help, but this plan is likewise rejected. The other women think this idea impractical and turn to another more vital subject, that of keeping Mrs. Edgar Potbury, an interesting speaker, but an advocate of women's suffrage, from the state presidency of women's clubs.
With the coming of spring, Carol walks cheerfully on the outskirts of town. On her way back, she discovers the encampment of Miles Bjornstam and his friend Pete Rustad, who are just starting for the Northwest to spend the summer horse trading. Carol envies them their freedom as well as their chance to see the Bad Lands and the Big Horn Mountains. In June and July, the heat is stifling in Gopher Prairie. Dr. Kennicott purchases a summer cottage on Minniemashie Lake, and Carol, with Juanita Haydock, Maud Dyer, and several other wives, spends much time swimming and picnicking until September. Then the vacationers return to town for nine months, "their hearts shut again till spring."
Carol becomes interested in the pioneers of the area, the Champ Perrys being two of them. She reads records of sixty years ago and interviews the aged Perrys, who had lost their money when already old and now lived above Howland & Gould's grocery. She finds that in "the era of aeroplanes and syndicalism" they oppose "new-fangled science" and Higher Criticism, want to go back in politics of Blaine and McKinley, think Harold Bell Wright a model writer, believe that the very wealthy, the very poor, and all Europeans are wicked, and are certain that all would be well if everybody worked as hard as Pa used to. Carol goes home with a headache. Next day she meets Miles Bjornstam, just returned from Montana, and forgets the Perrys.
Carol tries to call on the Perrys, but they are not at home. She sees a light under an office door and knocks. Guy Pollock admits her. They discourse at length on the "Village Virus" and the impossibility of escaping it, and she realizes that he is lonely. He calls in Dr. Harvey Dillon, the new dentist in town, and his wife and the four have coffee together.
Carol advances one civic project after another only to meet with opposition or indifference. People are content with the status quo and are not interested in improvement. Coming in for a share of Lewis' criticism are women's clubs, juvenile delinquents, antipathy toward higher taxes, lack of tolerance for poverty, opposition to women in politics, a veneer of culture without depth, and deep-rooted aversion to change. Another form of ultra conservatism attacked in these chapters is the habit of living in the past, as the aged Perrys did.
Carol, in spite of the diversity of her interests and her repeated attempts at reform, fails to find an area for improvement which will command the interest and approval of the leading citizens of Gopher Prairie. They are particularly averse to any proposal which will involve expenditure of considerable money and consequently result in higher taxes. Unwilling to follow Vida Sherwin's advice to work through organizations already in existence, Carol continues to try to launch improvement projects on her own. Notice that she wants immediate success and cannot endure the idea of a long period of waiting. She cannot comprehend the slow growth of public opinion.
Guy Pollock introduces Carol to Dr. Harvey Dillon, a new dentist in Gopher Prairie, and his wife, whom she carefully sizes up.