Main Street: Novel Summary: Chapters 22-27
Carol's reading increases her world-view and she marvels at the simple contentment of the people in small towns like Gopher Prairie where dullness is made God. Vida counters that Carol's standards are too high. Vida brags that a new school building is in the works and though it took a long time and Carol didn't help at all she, Vida, persevered. Carol is glad for Vida and somewhat ashamed but wonders whether they will inculcate the same old dullness in the new building. Carol submits to Vida's guidance and takes on more civic responsibilities. Carol feels, however, that she must do something more with her life when she considers that she is growing older.
America enters the Great War, and Vida sends Raymie to officers' training school. He graduates a lieutenant and is among the first troops sent abroad. Other people from Gopher Prairie join the Army, most of them the sons of the poor farming families. Cy Bogart talks a great deal about joining the Army but never does. In June, Percy Bresnahan, the millionaire president of the Velvet Car Company in Boston and Gopher Prairie's most famous son, returns for a fishing trip. He greets Will warmly and insists on seeing Hugh. Carol decides that he is friendly but she feels threatened by his forward manner. A small group, including Carol and Will, take Bresnahan fishing and Carol is alternatively thrilled and disgusted by the man's worldliness and bold familiarity. Soon afterward Bresnahan convinces Carol to take a ride with him. He admits that she has him figured out but tells her that he has her figured out as well. He theorizes that all her posture of reform is simply her identity - her need to be different. She accuses him of proliferating small town dullness by defending it to his peers. Unlike the other men of Gopher Prairie, he counters her arguments with substantive rhetoric rather than dismissing what she says out of hand. He flirts with her and tells her she is pretty. After he leaves she begins to examine her life more closely.
Carol begins to notices her husband's slovenliness and lack of imagination. She contrasts his awkward but endearing attempts to refine himself in the early days of their marriage fwith his present state of disregard. One hot evening he has his friends over to play poker. Afterward she and Will quarrel and go to bed without making up. The next day Carol begins turning the spare room into her own bedroom. Kennicott is uneasy when he realizes she really means to have a room of her own. Aunt Bessie criticizes the plan but Mrs. Dr. Westlake encourages her and Carol confides her opinion of Aunt Bessie, Vida Sherwin and Raymie, the Library Board, and several other troubling subjects to the old woman before she leaves. Oscarina resigns and bereft of domestic help Carol must do the housework which makes her tired and sore; she feels independent and somewhat surly. Kennicott hints that they should start thinking about building a new house and Carol is initially excited - she dreams of a stone rose cottage - but she soon realizes that her husband wants a standard square house. She stops mentioning the project and he soon stops talking about it as well.
Carol had long dreamed of a trip to the East and though Will was unable to take her he recognized that his wife needed an outing that summer so he suggested they go to the town of Joralemon, where the United and Fraternal Order of Beavers were holding a street fair. He also had the idea of visiting a colleague, Dr. Calibree, while there. Carol, desperate for any diversion, warms to the plan. Her enthusiasm soon wanes, however, when she discovers that Dr. Calibree and his wife are as boring as the inhabitants of Gopher Prairie and that Joralemon is a carbon copy of her own miserable town. That night she tells her husband that she thinks Jorelemon is an "ash heap."
Alone in his office, Will broods over his wife's expectations. Sometimes he wishes he could be with a more sympathetic woman. He muses that Carol would be shocked to learn how many married men in Gopher Prairie are able to clandestinely see other women. Maud Dyer comes to the office and suggestively discusses her back pain. Will tells her that her troubles are imaginary and that she should get away from her penny-pinching husband, Dave, for awhile. She asks Will to come by her house to keep her company that evening while Dave is out working late. After some equivocation he agrees to visit but regrets his promise as soon as she leaves. That afternoon he wrestles with the idea. At home he watches his wife reading a story to his son. That evening Nat Hicks, the tailor, comes by the house and invites Will to join him and Harry Haydock and some willing young ladies, including Miss Swiftwaite, out for a drive and drink later that night. Kennicott demurs. Later he invites Carol to sit on the porch with him but she doesn't respond to his cheerfulness or his suggestions, romantic and otherwise, of things they could do that evening. She goes to bed and, claiming a house call, he goes to see Maude Dyer.
The next day Aunt Bessie and Mrs. Bogart call on Carol to complain about Miss Swiftwaite and the rumored parties at her house. When Mrs. Bogart intimates that not even Will is immune to carnal temptations, Carol explodes in indignation and anger and tells the surprised ladies that she knows every thought in her husband's head. She explains that her husband thinks only of mundane matters.
Carol and Hugh spend many happy hours at the shack of Bea, Miles and Olaf Bjornstam. Hugh is thoroughly enchanted with the large Swede. Carol notes that Olaf is a patient, noble and beautiful child. Miles has established a thriving creamery on his land but he confides to Carol that he will never overcome his bad reputation in town. One day Carol finds both Olaf and Bea sick. She immediately sends for Will who diagnoses typhoid. As Carol nurses them she watches her friends slowly lose strength. After lingering in pain and illness for several weeks both Bea and Olaf die. Nobody attends their funeral.
Miles Bjornstam sells his dairy and leaves town to go to Alberta a broken man. The town blames him for his wife and child's death and bids him good riddance. Carol is depressed and, after talking to old Mrs. Flickerbaugh, who has always hated the town, she is afraid she will simply become a bitter old woman in Gopher Prairie.
During this section, Carol realizes that though she loves her child she is completely disengaged from her husband. During this portion of the novel Carol, now thirty years old, scrutinizes her appearance in the mirror and laments her fading youth. Perce Bresnahan, whom she dislikes, makes her feel attractive something her husband no longer provides. Whereas Will finds illicit solace in the arms of Maude Dyer, Carol takes comfort, disapproved of by the town, at Miles and Bea Bjornstam's shack. Carol's insistence that their sons should play together despite the censure of the town is in keeping with her rebellious nature but the tinge of embarrassment she suffers at their friendship indicates the degree
to which she has become assimilated to the life of Gopher Prairie. She begins to form a conviction, however, that the American dream has become mired in the pursuit of wealth and status; she longs for a noble, artistic pursuits which she realizes are anathema to the land speculation and conformity of Main Street. As she famously quips of small town life: "It is dullness made God." Before the section ends Carol suggestively jokes to an unsympathetic Kennicott that one day she and her baby might just go East without him.