Anticipation Stage and 'Fall' into the Other World
Carol Milford begins this book with great anticipation about how her life is going to turn out and all the adventures she's going to have. But once she gets married, she realizes that she has committed herself to a life of dullness and mediocrity. The town of Gopher Prairie is not what she thought it would be. But—oh, well. She figures that maybe she'll be able to change the place and make her mark on the town.
Initial Fascination or Dream Stage
Despite her despair, Carol tries her best to make Gopher Prairie into a better town. She tries to set up a dramatic club to perform plays, and she even gets the women's reading club to look at some actual literature. But every time she feels like the town has taken a step forward, it takes two steps backward. People sometimes love Carol's ideas, but none of them ever take root. Still, Carol has some hope that she'll be able to change things.
Over time, Carol realizes that none of her projects will ever succeed in making Gopher Prairie any better. The people of the town resent her for thinking she's better than all of them. If anything, Carol is horrified to find out that the town has been changing her much more than she's been changing it. When she travels to the big city, Carol realizes that she's totally out of touch with modern fashion and that she's turned into a clumsy country bumpkin. She's not sure how much longer she can go on like this.
Carol eventually strikes up an emotional affair with the young Erik Valbourg. But her husband Will finds out and runs Erik out of town. Worse yet, Carol realizes that Erik doesn't have enough talent to realize any of his big dreams in life, which makes her wonder if she's in the same situation. She runs away to live in Washington, D.C. just to get away from her husband and from Gopher Prairie.
Thrilling Escape and Return
After living in Washington for two years, Carol gets pregnant with her second child and decides to come back to Gopher Prairie. Her great hope is that the future will provide her daughter with better options in life than it provided Carol herself. It's not that happy of an ending, but Lewis isn't about to give us any easy answers when it comes to the problem of how to live a fulfilling life.