Carol Kennicott, an idealistic girl eager to reform the world. Interested in sociology and civic improvement, she longs to transform the ugliness of midwestern America into something more beautiful. Having married Dr. Will Kennicott, she moves to his home in Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, a hideous small town indistinguishable from hundreds of similar communities. There, she shocks and angers the townspeople by her criticisms and by her attempts to combat the local smugness. To its citizens, Gopher Prairie is perfection; they can see no need for change. To her, it is an ugly, gossipy, narrow-minded village, sunk in dullness and self-satisfaction. Her efforts to change the town fail, and she drifts into a mild flirtation with Erik Valborg, a Swedish tailor with artistic yearnings. Frightened by the village gossip, she and her husband take a trip to California; but on her return, she realizes that she must get away from both her husband and Gopher Prairie. After some argument, she and her small son leave for Washington, where she stays for more than a year. The flight is a failure, for she finds Washington only an agglomeration of the small towns in America. She returns to Gopher Prairie, realizing that it is her home. Her crusade has failed; she can only hope that her children will accomplish what she has been unable to do.
Dr. Will Kennicott
Dr. Will Kennicott, Carol’s husband, a successful physician in Gopher Prairie. Though he loves Carol, he is dull and unimaginative, unable to enter her world or to understand her longings. He is the typical self-satisfied citizen of a small town.
Guy Pollock, a lawyer. Though sensitive and intellectual, he is the victim of the “village virus” that has deprived him of all initiative. At first, he appears to Carol as the most hopeful person in town, but he disappoints her with his timidity and conventionalism.
Vida Sherwin, a teacher at the high school. Though better educated, she is as satisfied with the Gopher Prairie standards as are the other citizens. She marries Raymond Wutherspoon.
Raymond Wutherspoon, a sales clerk in the Bon Ton Store. A pallid, silly man, he marries Vida Sherwin. He goes to France during World War I and returns as a major.
Erik Valborg, a tailor in Gopher Prairie, the son of a Swedish farmer. Handsome and aesthetically inclined, he attracts Carol, and they have a mild flirtation. Gossip drives him from the town; he goes to Minneapolis and is last seen playing small parts in the movies.
Bea Sorenson, a farm girl who comes to Gopher Prairie to find work. She is as much fascinated by the town as Carol is repelled. She becomes the Kennicotts’ hired girl and Carol’s only real friend. She marries Miles Bjornstam and has a son. She and the little boy both die of typhoid fever.
Miles Bjornstam, the village handyman and radical, one of the few genuine people in Gopher Prairie and one of the few who understand Carol. He marries Bea Sorenson; when she and their child die, he leaves the town.
Mrs. Bogart, the Kennicotts’ neighbor. She is the epitome of village narrow-mindedness.
Sam Clark, a hardware dealer and solid citizen.
Percy Bresnahan, born in Gopher Prairie but now a successful automobile manufacturer in Boston. He visits his home for occasional fishing trips and stoutly maintains that it is God’s country. Heavy-handed, jocular, and thoroughly standardized, he is the forerunner of George F. Babbitt.
(The entire section is 901 words.)