In March, Carol attends a meeting of the Thanatopsis Club, the women's study group. She is disappointed, however, when the ladies decide to discuss the whole subject of English poetry in one session. The ladies read dull, biographical statistics about English poets rather than reading or discussing actual poetry. The minister's wife reads a paper on Burns and Byron that criticizes the loose morals of the poets. Careful to avoid offending the ladies, Carol suggests that they should discuss more poetry during the next meeting. The ladies then elect Carol as a new member.

Carol decides to start reforming the town by rebuilding the small city hall. Visiting the town library, she looks through architectural magazines and dreams about turning ugly Gopher Prairie into a beautiful New England village. Carol approaches several people about how ideas, but the townspeople do not express any interest in a new city hall. The minister's wife tells Carol that the town really needs a united church. Then, the school superintendent's wife tells her that the town needs a new school instead.

During the next meeting of the Thanatopsis Club, the ladies discuss the whole history of English literature in one session. Carol feels thwarted in her attempts to rebuild the town. She decides to concentrate on smaller projects, such as refurnishing the rest room for farmers' wives, but again meets no success. At another Thanatopsis meeting, Carol proposes that the club provide self-help programs for the poor, like creating an employment office and providing housing loans, so that the poor do not need to depend so much on charity. The ladies once again shoot Carol's ideas down. When the ladies decide to choose topics of conversation for their next meetings, Carol suggests that they discuss relevant social issues like the labor movement. The ladies ignore her idea and choose to discuss the subject of "Furnishings and China." Disheartened, Carol decides to give up her dreams of transforming the town. Most of the townspeople object to her reforms because they possess a deep-rooted aversion to change and are loathe to spend any money.

One beautiful day in May, Carol walks out into the country and meets Bjornstam in a gypsy camp. He tells her that he is going to leave town for the summer, and Carol envies his freedom. Summer arrives, and she finds the heat and flies stifling. Kennicott purchases a summer cottage by a lake. The whole social circle of the Kennicotts owns cottages, and Carol enjoys the outdoor life, making picnics and having dances and going swimming. In September, they all move back to their homes in town and return to their usual routines.

On her first wedding anniversary, Carol invites Vida Sherwin and Guy Pollock to dinner. After meeting the Perrys, Gopher Prairie's first settlers, Carol begins taking an interest in the pioneer days of the Midwest. Carol calls on the Perrys frequently, much to their delight. When Carol suggests that Gopher Prairie should return to the spirit of its pioneer days, the Perrys agree. They suggest that everyone in town should be Baptists and Republicans. They also say that people need to work hard and do not need science and socialism. Carol's admiration of the Perrys dwindles when she hears their opinions, but she continues to visit them out of respect.

One November evening, Carol goes walking and happens to find herself at Guy Pollock's law office. Although she remembers that decent women do not pay social calls to men in Gopher Prairie, she decides to enter anyway. As they talk about the town, she realizes that Guy does not find anything wrong with the fact that she has visited. Guy tells Carol that the townspeople are like people everywhere else. He relates his personal past to her, telling her that he has the "Village Virus," as he is comfortable in a small town and does not desire change. When Guy reveals to Carol how lonely and miserable he is, she feels his desire for her. When he invites her to stay for coffee, she points out that people will gossip if she stays much longer. Guy therefore invites his neighbors for coffee so that people will not gossip. Carol returns home.