To some extent, the attitudes that prevail in the book’s fictional setting, Gopher Prairie, are a result of the town’s geological circumstances. As Lewis makes clear, the towns scattered across the North American Great Plains plateau were set off in virtual isolation from the rest of the world before the twentieth century. At the time when the novel takes place, from 1912 to 1920, automobiles were unreliable, with thin, smooth tires that offered little traction in wet or snowy conditions and simple engines that gave out frequently even under normal conditions, jammed by common problems, such as “carbon buildup,” that are not serious today. Telephone service was secure within a town, but the wires that stretched along country roads were weak and vulnerable to the elements, and long distance service was very costly. Living in isolation most of the time, with travel especially hampered during the winter, the citizens of prairie towns fed off each other’s ideas, prejudices, and wisdom, without the benefit of fresh ideas from the other towns in their own state, much less from the great metropolitan centers or from other countries.
Most of Carol Milford Kennicott’s struggles stem from her attempts to find a convincing and satisfactory identity for herself. It is clear that she thinks of herself as some sort of artist and that she is knowledgeable in various aspects of sciences, but she has a difficult time blending all of her theories together with her environment to provide an identity that she can be proud of. In college, she takes a particular interest in sociology, but she never pursues it formally as a profession. Dining at a boarding house, she is pressed to name her particular artistic interest, and, suffering under the pressure of the traveling salesmen’s mockery, she blurts out, “archeology,” a subject that had been on her mind at the time but certainly not a subject that identifies her...
(The entire section is 1,345 words.)