Summary and Analysis
Without much success, Carol tries to get her husband to discuss his cases with her. Then Vida Sherwin calls and blows Carol's world to pieces. Vida says that her friend is the "pluckiest little idiot in the world," but a bit tactless. Carol dresses too well, is too frivolous, too chummy with her servant, and too irregular in church attendance for Gopher Prairie standards. The guests had also criticized the housewarming party, including the Chinese food and costumes.
That evening Dr. Kennicott adds to his wife's misery by asking her to trade more with the firms that patronize him rather than those that favor Dr. Gould. He also asks her to do as much buying as possible from local merchants instead of from the large stores in Twin Cities.
Realizing that the lambs which she wishes to teach to dance have turned out to be wolves, Carol forms the habit of avoiding people. She perceives that all of what Vida Sherwin has told her is true. She finds some relief in the Scandinavian farm wives, who at least are not whispering about her. Since her checked suit looks too smart, she covers it with her coat, though not before a gang of loafers, aged from fourteen to twenty, had snickered and made remarks about it. Two of these boys, her neighbor, Cy Bogart, and Harry Haydock's young brother, Earl, she afterwards overhears analyzing her in intimate detail, much to her confusion. From the same conversation she learns that her husband has given up chewing tobacco for her sake. More and more she appreciates his sterling qualities and resolves to be more considerate of him.
On a visit to Lac-qui-meurt, in the Big Woods, Carol meets her mother-in-law and is favorably impressed. On their return to Gopher Prairie, the Kennicotts are welcomed by their friends. Vida volunteers the information that the town has quit criticizing Carol and invites Carol to attend the next meeting of the Thanatopsis Club. Carol, however, still crushed, refuses to go to the monthly supper and evening bridge game of the Jolly Seventeen. Dr. Kennicott has taken a patient to Rochester for an operation, and Carol, except for Bea, is quite alone.
Though no longer interested in the Jolly Seventeen, Carol wants a party and prepares an elaborate tea. When no guests come of their own accord, she is disappointed and weeps. Then she realizes that with wolves it is fight or be eaten and that Gopher Prairie with its three thousand people is not the center of the universe. She resolves that when her husband returns she will teach him to like poetry.
On the second day of Kennicott's absence, Carol takes a walk in thirty-below-zero weather. Near the slum of "Swede Hollow" on the outskirts of town, she encounters the town handyman, Miles Bjornstam, who had once repaired the furnace in her home. Miles considers himself a pariah because of his free thinking. He makes fun of the Jolly Seventeen and tells Carol that the two of them, Guy Pollock, and the socialist foreman of the flour mill have all the imaginative brains in town. Her talk with Miles gives Carol courage and lifts her spirits.
When Dr. Kennicott returns at midnight, he finds Carol more cheerful. She buys a dainty pair of shoes the next day from Raymie Wutherspoon, and that evening Guy Pollock comes in for a game of cribbage. Happy again, Carol tries in a few days to interest her husband in poetry, with dubious success. At the next meeting of the Jolly Seventeen, she is present, playing bad bridge and enduring the conference on husbands and their foibles. "Isn't it dandy that you have settled down to being homey with us!" gushes Juanita Haydock, who suggests that Carol be the next hostess on St. Patrick's Day.
Carol's realization that people have been criticizing instead of admiring her is a severe blow to her ego. That her own husband expects her to support local business firms that favor him is also an intolerable thought. She is stunned to think how her actions have been misinterpreted. Vida Sherwin's revelations of what people have been saying are startling and confusing. Her husband's deep-rooted loyalty to his native town is also incomprehensible to her.
The narrative proceeds, the spotlight always on Carol and her experiences, both psychological and physical. Dr. Kennicott's mother is introduced. Her son, like her, has a genius for trusting, a disdain for prying, and a sure integrity.
Note how Carol's critics change their tone when she changes her attitude of superiority. Though she is deeply hurt, she craves company and is more lonely than ever. A social problem is presented by a gang of teenage loafers, some of them of good family background, but a menace to the community and to themselves. This problem has been greatly expanded and intensified in modern times.
The point of view that Miles Bjornstam takes of Gopher Prairie and of the world in general resembles that of Sinclair Lewis himself, who was a relentless critic of the manners and customs of his times. Carol, the nonconformist, finds a kindred spirit in this odd job man who dares to be different. She has not changed except on the surface when she regains the approval of the Jolly Seventeen set, though her longing for companionship has forced her to make concessions and to be more diplomatic.