Carol Milford attends Blodgett College in Minneapolis and dreams about settling down in a prairie village and transforming it into a place of beauty. After graduation, she works as a librarian at St. Paul for three years. She meets Dr. Will Kennicott at a friend's house, and he begins courting her. After courting for a year, they marry and move to Kennicott's hometown of Gopher Prairie. Disappointed by her first impression of the Gopher Prairie, Carol finds the town to be ugly and the townspeople to be provincial. The townspeople gossip all the time and are completely uninterested in cultural or social issues. Mrs. Bogart, the Kennicotts' neighbor, proves to be a religious hypocrite who idly gossips about everyone. However, Bea Sorenson arrives in Gopher Prairie on the same day as Carol. Awestruck by the magnificence of the town, which is larger than any she town has ever seen, Bea decides to stay and becomes Carol's maid.
Carol refurbishes Kennicott's old-fashioned house with modern furniture and makes elaborate preparations for a party, a party unlike any party the town has ever seen. However, Carol discovers that the dull townspeople do not like change. Furthermore, she feels disheartened to learn that the townspeople constantly watch her every move and criticize her for being different from them. They criticize the way she dresses and the way she acts. She finds few friends in Gopher Prairie, except for the lawyer, Guy Pollock, and the high school teacher, Vida Sherwin. Carol also becomes friends with her maid, Bea, and the town's handyman, Miles Bjornstam. While the townspeople treat Miles as an outcast because he supports socialism and the Democratic Party, Carol finds herself drawn to him.
Carol tries to get the people to build a new city hall,