Summary and Analysis Chapters 19-20



After three years of exile from herself, Carol finally admits her longing to find her own people.

Bea and Miles Bjornstam are married in June. The more powerful people of Gopher Prairie do not attend the wedding or call on the newlyweds afterward.

Carol is unexpectedly appointed to the library board. She is amazed to find that other members like Westlake and Cass are even better read than she, although they are parsimonious about spending money for new books.

Kennicott makes considerable money on a land deal and approves of the expected baby, now that they can afford it. In daydreams Carol visualizes the exotic scenes to which she might escape from Gopher Prairie. Only the train can take her there. Some day she will take a train.

The Chautauqua brings "a week of culture under canvas" to the wilderness. After listening to nine "inspirational addresses," four "entertainers," a "lady elocutionist," three brass bands, a company of opera singers, and a Hawaiian sextette, Carol is surprised when a plain little man criticizes the architecture of Gopher Prairie and the cinder-heaped railroad embankment along the lake front. His lecture is not popular and is soon forgotten.

The Great War smites Europe. Kennicott thinks that America should keep out of the scrap, while Miles Bjornstam believes that Germany should be licked. That autumn Carol knows that with the baby coming, life at last promises to be interesting.

Feeling that she is now being initiated into the assembly of housekeepers, Carol knows that with a child she can never escape from the tedium of Gopher Prairie. For two years after Hugh is born, Carol is a part of the town. Already she has begun to plan her son's college education.

The uninvited arrival of the Smails — Kennicott's Uncle Whittier and Aunt Bessie — hems Carol in still more closely. They come unannounced before the baby is born and stay indefinitely, interfering with everything in the household. Finally Mr. Smail buys Ole Jenson's grocery and moves into his own house. Carol takes refuge in the Jolly Seventeen and as a parent also participates in the first child welfare week held in Gopher Prairie. The Best Baby prize is won by Olaf Bjornstam, child of Bea and Miles.

The citizen of the prairie town has a tendency to drift westward, from one Main Street to another. Jenson the grocer and Dahl the butcher moved on to South Dakota and Idaho. Carol thinks that she and Will might move to Montana or Oregon, but her husband has no such idea.

Two weddings take place. Rita Simons marries Terry Gould, and Vida Sherwin weds Raymie Wutherspoon.


Chapter 19 is rich in satire and in pre-World War I customs and ideas, with a multitude of concrete examples. The influence of the railroad on the development of the prairie towns is emphasized. Eliciting criticism are the trite Chautauqua programs, the snobbish class system that prevents the wealthier and more influential citizens from associating with the Swedes, the stinginess of well-read people with money for library use and other public projects, and the indifferent attitude of such men as Kennicott toward World War I.

Feeling more restricted but less discontented after the birth of her child, Carol outwardly adapts herself to the role of young mother. Yet inside she is as rebellious as ever.

Two new characters are introduced, Kennicott's relatives, Mr. and Mrs. Smail. They are on a social and intellectual par with Mrs. Bogart, the Dawsons, and the Piersons, being interested mostly in gossip and in curious prying into the affairs of others. The tendency to drift west, never east, is also mentioned in connection with inhabitants of the prairie towns.

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