Summary and Analysis
Dr. and Mrs. Kennicott spend a whole day hunting prairie chickens and squirrels with his new hammerless shotgun. Though the rough terrain hurts her feet and the sport is new to her, Carol enjoys the day, especially the contact with Mr. and Mrs. Rustad and her visit to their farm.
At Mrs. Gurrey's boarding house, Carol becomes acquainted with "Raymie" Wutherspoon, a clerk in the shoe department of the Bon Ton Store and a believer in purity of art and fiction. He considers Balzac a disgusting writer, who uses English that is "real poor" and believes that only "improving" books are worth reading. Though both Dr. Kennicott and the traveling salesman try to discourage Raymie, Carol finds him somewhat diverting.
This take-off on small-town journalism contains as many clichés as possible in its account of the party at the Clarks. Examples are "handsome new residence," "prominent citizens," "charms of the bride," "past several years," "delightful surprise," and "will reside."
Gradually Carol becomes better adjusted and is happy in her first home. With Bea Sorenson as her maid, she manages the housekeeping and shopping with comparative ease and loses sight of much of the drabness of Gopher Prairie while concentrating on its better aspects and more interesting people.
Two of the people who Carol finds relief in are Vida Sherwin, a high-school teacher, and Guy Pollock, a lawyer of thirty-eight, who reads Sir Thomas Browne, Agnes Repplier, and Charles Flandrau. With Carol as a leader, the three plan to organize a dramatic club.
When November comes, Carol begins refurnishing and redecorating the parlor of her home in yellow and deep blue. Her husband approves of the changes, though some of the neighbors do not. Mrs. Bogart, curious and conservative, keeps an eye on the house from her side window and comes, uninvited, to call. She feels that people are wasting their money on bathtubs and telephones and their time going automobiling on Sunday.
Carol has difficulty extracting money from her husband for household expenses. He is contrite, gives her fifty dollars, and promises to do better, though he does not regularly give her a stated amount.
An unusual party is planned and carried out. Instead of stunts, and conversation about personalities, Carol manages an old-fashioned square dance, a solo by Raymie Wutherspoon, and a rough-and-tumble game involving wolves and shepherds, the guests' shoes being sheep. The grand climax of the evening is the donning of paper Chinese masquerade costumes for a Chinese concert, with tabouret and combs for drums and fifes. The Weekly Dauntless compliments the party profusely, and so does Dr. Kennicott; but at the Chet Dashaways' party the week after, the group reverts to stunts and dull conversation.
Winter comes to Gopher Prairie. It snows daily, and the temperature sometimes drops to twenty or thirty below zero. Carol tries to organize skating and skiing parties with scant success. She can go rabbit hunting with her husband, but the women of Gopher Prairie are more interested in bridge-whist than in outdoor sports. Suddenly she realizes that she has nothing to do, a woman with a working brain and no work. She recalls her plans, now indistinct, of reforming the town. Yet she feels self-conscious and has a sense of not being well liked.
The Jolly Seventeen (ranging in number from fourteen to twenty-six) is the social pivot of Gopher Prairie. Carol had early been accepted into this group of young married women. At one of the afternoon bridge sessions, Carol offends the other women by disagreeing with them about the wages of servants and the care of library books. She goes home and weeps in terror.
Lewis' comments on books read at the time are noteworthy. Whereas the superficial Wutherspoon has Balzac removed from the library shelves, the more cultured Pollock reads not only classics but the best of modern literature as well. Carol, of course, as a librarian has read books of all types.
Two new characters who are to influence Carol's life in Gopher Prairie from now on are brought into these chapters: active and energetic Vida Sherwin and well-mannered, intellectual Guy Pollock. Two others are Miles Bjornstam, the town handyman, and Ethel Villets, the stiff-necked librarian. There is also a slight change in Carol's outlook, since she is learning to like the more acceptable customs, buildings, and people of Gopher Prairie and to ignore the rest.
Doing her best to jar the elite out of their provincialism, Carol goes to extremes in her attempts at entertainment and again succeeds in shocking certain individuals. It is notable that the next party given shows a reaction to her liveliness. The account of Carol's party is graphic, and the reader almost has the feeling of being there. Again the Lewis satire vents itself upon such characters as Raymie Wutherspoon and Mrs. Bogart, as well as upon the mores and ways of thinking of their times.
Trivial disagreements, such as the matter of paying a servant a dollar more a week, are no more insignificant, according to Sinclair Lewis, than "cellar plots and cabinet meetings and labor conferences in Persia, and Prussia, Rome and Boston." This critic of small-town customs is no less critical of world affairs and their solutions.