Study Guide

Will Kennicott in Main Street

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Will Kennicott

Self-Assured and Satisfied

When you take a good long look at Will Kennicott, you pretty much see s decent guy who's satisfied with his life as a doctor in a small Midwestern town. Carol's first impression of him is also pretty accurate: "But there was also a stranger, a tall thick man of thirty-six or seven, with stolid brown hair, lips used to giving orders, eyes which followed everything good-naturedly, and clothes which you could never quite remember" (2.1.2).

In other words, Will is solid. He's a responsible doctor who's old enough to know what he likes and doesn't like. Nevertheless, his clothes suggest that he doesn't have much imagination… which will turn out to be a real problem for Carol after she marries him.

Once they move to Gopher Prairie, Will tries to accommodate Carol's growing dissatisfaction in whatever ways he can. But that doesn't mean he's spineless: when Carol calls out the townsfolk as parasites who live off the local farmers, for example, Will shoots back, "Parasites? Us? Where'd the farmers be without the town? Who lends them money? Who—why, we supply them with everything!" (5.1.23).

Will might be flexible when it comes to respecting Carol's views, but he's quite sure of his own take on things, too. Even with his hobbies, he has a sort of religious conviction: "To him motoring was a faith not to be questioned, a high-church cult, with electric sparks for candles, and piston-rings possessing the sanctity of altar-vessels" (16.2.3).

In a sense, Carol's dissatisfaction is like an unstoppable force, while Will's satisfaction is like an immovable object. Um, so how do these two poor souls actually live with each other?

I Got Dreams Too, You Know!

Answer: they have a pretty hard time of it.

Now, it's not like Will gets angry at Carol very often, but sometimes her criticism of Gopher Prairie and all its people is so strong that he can't hold back his temper. He tries to defend his friends in town from Carol's sharp tongue, saying things like, "You think Jack hasn't got any ideas about anything but manufacturing and the tariff on lumber. But do you know that Jack is nutty about music?" (14.1.148). Will refuses to believe that the people from his town are as dull and worthless as Carol makes them out to be.

On top of everything else, Will gets frustrated when Carol acts like she's the only person in all of Gopher Prairie who has big dreams. He confronts her at one point by saying, "And if you think for one moment I want to be stuck in this burg all my life, and not have a chance to travel and see the different points of interest and all that, then you simply don't get me" (14.1.160).

The strange thing here is that there is no other point in this book where Will suggests he wants to leave Gopher Prairie. It's possible he just says this to shut Carol up, and it works. But deep down, the man seems pretty gosh-darn satisfied with small-town life, right to the end of the book. In fact, the only dissatisfaction in his life comes from the fact that he has no clue how to make Carol happy.

Is Will wrong to be satisfied? Is Carol wrong to be dissatisfied? Lewis doesn't really come down for sure on either side. Carol may have trouble figuring out exactly what she wants, but Will, on the other hand, is pretty closed-minded, as if he turned twenty-two and just stopped evolving completely at that point. Carol is all about forward motion, while Will is all about standing still. Is one approach right and the other wrong? Is there a middle ground? Lewis isn't going to give an answer: the point is to make us think.