A lot happens towards the end of the book. Carol's love towards the outcast never really goes anywhere, and a scandal involving a young female schoolteacher, which ends with her basically run out of town on the train, forewarns Carol about what's in store for her if she gets caught. After a California vacation, Carol packs up her things, her son included, and moves to Washington DC. She gets a job working for the government, shares a flat with a couple of other working girls, and hangs out with Bohemians and suffragettes. This move surprised me, as I didn't think she had it in her. She spends over a year there, and while she enjoys it, she realizes it's not all it's cracked up to be...the work is not all that stimulating, there are cliques here as well (although not as pervasive as in Gopher Prairie), and when talking to a suffragette leader the woman laments to her about how she longs for children. The grass is indeed always greener.
Will comes to visit, and they reconnect, as best they can. He's a very sympathetic character to me. He has no intellectual life or inclinations at all, but when pushed he shows a deep understanding of Carol, and he does seem to truly love her. He eventually goes back to Gopher Prairie, and she returns as well several months later. She has a second child, a daughter. The novel ends with her vowing to carry on the fight, to "keep the faith", but also resigned to the fact that she's getting older, and still giving up rather too easily when challenged. So it's somewhat of an ambiguous ending, which is probably most appropriate. It's clear she'll never be fulfilled like she wants, yet isn't that how life generally is? As They Might Be Giants sang "Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful". And crap, I think about how this reflects on myself, on my life. I'm 46 years old, and how many of my dreams are clearly never going to be fulfilled? Like, most of them? Life can seem so promising when you're young...in fact, so promising that you can't imagine it otherwise. Then you wake up and you're 46, and you're over 1/2 way to death. Fuck. Maybe the folks on Main Street aren't thwarting you, but your job is, or your mortgage, or your car payments. So then what else can you do but grab a glass or two of fine American whiskey, make a list of books, and start a blog. Not much has changed in the 80-something years since this book was written. Except the blog part.