Summary and Analysis
The Kennicotts have the first real quarrel of their married life, each enumerating the faults and shortcomings of the other. From her husband's point of view, Carol is highbrow, extravagant, and ungracious to his friends. She thinks of him as unappreciative of finer things, jealous of fellow practitioners, and stingy with cash. As a result of their argument, the atmosphere is cleared for the time being. Dr. Kennicott agrees to give his wife a bank account in her own name and to build a new house as soon as he is financially able. He too would like to travel when he has accumulated enough money to act as a buffer for illness, misfortune, and old age.
A night call brings Dr. Kennicott out in snow too deep for a car, to operate in a Dutch kitchen on a woman with acute appendicitis. When he returns by wagon at six in the morning, Carol appreciates his skill and endurance as never before. Another patient, Halvor Nelson, is treated for an injured leg, with payment postponed indefinitely. The doctor's wife is proud of his successes. She assures Guy Pollock that they are both hypercritical loafers, while her husband "quietly goes and does things."
One afternoon when Carol surprises her husband in his office with coffee and cookies, she realizes that the furniture is shabby and loses no time making the office more attractive. She had formerly wanted to reform the whole town; now she is making a small beginning close to home. Her attempt to help her husband by returning one of Mrs. Bogart's many calls ends in failure, however, for the neighbor talks of nothing but scandal and makes the impression that everyone in Gopher Prairie is leading a life of shame but her.
Kennicott is the Nels Erdstroms' family doctor, and Carol accompanies him on one of his calls to their home. A telephone call comes while they are there, informing them that Adolph Morgenroth, a farmer ten miles away, has had his arm crushed. Dr. Kennicott amputates the arm with his patient stretched on a kitchen table, Mrs. Morgenroth holding a kerosene lamp for light, and Carol acting as a shaky and nauseated anesthetist.
The Kennicotts are overtaken by a blizzard on the way home and are forced to take refuge in a barn for the night. Only then does Will tell Carol that the real danger during the operation was that the ether might have exploded, being close to the lamp, and that all concerned might have been killed.
A diamond bar pin is Carol's Christmas present from her husband. That afternoon the Kennicotts join the Elders in a game of five hundred. Yet Carol misses the fantastic Christmases she had as a child and weeps for them in private.
Dr. Kennicott has five hobbies: medicine, land investment, Carol, motoring, and hunting. It is hard to say in what order he prefers them, but he expects his wife to appreciate the other four, though he gives her little specific information in regard to them. The two disagree over a movie short they have seen together, Carol thinking it a "Peeping Tom's idea of humor." She feels, however, that she is changing and growing more like her husband. Something must prevent it; her work, she feels, must continue to preserve her soul. The next day she notices that the strings of her violin have snapped from long disuse.
Carol appeals to Guy Pollock and Vida Sherwin for guidance. The causes for discontent in women are discussed and Guy concludes that Carol wants to go back to the age of tranquility and charming manners. He hopes that with her rebellious attitude she is not classing herself with trouble-making labor leaders. Guy's timidity is depressing to Carol, and she is disappointed in him.
Miles Bjornstam arrives to cut wood for the kitchen range. His attitude is as uncompromising as ever, in contrast to Guy's leanings toward conformity. Carol invites Miles to eat lunch with Bea, and a romance begins.
Chapter 15 is Dr. Kennicott's chapter, as several of his cases are discussed somewhat in detail, together with his fine training, his practical and human qualities, and his ability to handle emergencies. Carol develops a deeper appreciation for him and gradually acquires more stamina and more ability to cooperate with him in his work. The Nels Erdstrom family comes back into the story, having been mentioned in one of the early chapters.
The incident of amputating an arm with the patient stretched on a kitchen table with a kerosene lamp for light actually occurred, when Lewis as a boy accompanied his father, Dr. E. J. Lewis, on professional calls. It is also true that if the ether had reached the open flame, an explosion might have followed.
The fact that Carol's violin is deteriorating from disuse is symbolic to her of her own regression. She turns first to Guy Pollock, the lawyer, and then to the laborer, Miles Bjornstam, for reassurance. Lewis' analysis of the spirit of discontent in women is curiously modern, considering the fact that it was written a few years before women were given the ballot. The "Swedish Othello and Desdemona, more useful and amiable than their prototypes," are brought together in this chapter, furnishing a bit of romance.