Summary and Analysis
Carol becomes conscious that her infatuation for Erik is deepening into love. He calls on her one evening in Will's absence, and they take a walk in the country. The doctor overtakes them in his car and orders them to ride home, Erik in the front seat and Carol, ignored, in the back. Once home, her husband tells Carol that it is about time for her and Valborg to "call a halt," describing in detail the crude life she would lead should she become the wife of a Swedish farmer. Carol promises never to see Erik again and next morning receives a note saying that the young man is leaving town. Soon she hears the whistle of the Minneapolis-bound train.
A week later Erik's father appears at the Kennicott home and demands to know what Carol has done with his son. His attitude is so hostile and threatening that Carol is ill after he leaves. When her husband returns, she makes him promise to take her to California for several months. Gossip is curbed by both Kennicotts, and when questions become too personal, attention is deflected to the proposed trip. The Smails are to keep the Kennicott house and Hugh during the trip. As the train passes through Minneapolis, Carol wonders vaguely about Erik.
The grand tour of the west occupies three and a half months. On the first of April, the Kennicotts return to Gopher Prairie in a sleet storm. No one meets them at the station, and they have difficulty getting home because of the bad weather. Harry Haydock relates his experiences in California two years ago instead of listening to Dr. Kennicott's more recent ones. Dr. Kennicott is delighted to be at home again and notes every small improvement in Gopher Prairie. Carol, except for the reunion with little Hugh, feels more depressed than ever.
The storm breaks over Carol's head but with less force than in the case of Fern. Dr. Kennicott's wisdom is notable in hushing up the whole affair. Sinclair Lewis' denunciation of small-town gossip is again in evidence, as well as his portrayal, in detail, of the mode of living of the Swedish farmers of the area. The Minneapolis train is again used as a symbol of escape from an unsatisfactory environment.
Sinclair Lewis, again the cynic and minute observer, brings in another human characteristic often overlooked: the desire to talk about one's own experiences instead of listening to those of others. Every returned traveler has had friends to pick out and concentrate on one spot which he did not see, as Harry Haydock did on San Luis Obispo. Lewis also makes it plain that there is no real escape for Carol from Gopher Prairie.