Winesburg Ohio

Winesburg, Ohio and Midwest American Life

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Life during the turn of the century in Midwestern America proved to be especially difficult. In small towns the general thought was people live a simple existence from day to day without hope for aspiring to anything greater. This is where one of America’s great authors found his inspiration.

Winesburg, Ohio is the title and setting for one of Sherwood Anderson’s most notable books. Although the people and places have been changed, the story is based on the personal experiences of Sherwood Anderson’s life growing up in a small town in Ohio. There was a notion of failure in small towns because of expectations that were never filled. The phrase “Midwestern Work Ethic” likely stemmed from entire families working together to support each other. Sherwood Anderson was nicknamed “Jobby” as a boy because of all of the jobs he took on.

Sherwood Anderson was born during a time when American families were larger than today and each one had to pull their weight. “One of seven children of a day labourer, Anderson attended school intermittently as a youth in Clyde, Ohio, and worked as a newsboy, house painter, farmhand, and racetrack helper. After a year at Wittenberg Academy, a preparatory school in Springfield, Ohio, he worked as an advertising writer in Chicago until 1906, when he went back to Ohio and for the next six years sought—without success—to prosper as a businessman while writing fiction in his spare time.” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). Life was difficult for young Anderson during his more impressionable days of youth.

Sherwood lacked the basic foundation of a supportive family that many consider necessary to be successful. “The hardships that the boy experienced growing up working and not having a strong father figure in his life, harbored some resentment toward Irwin Anderson. In fact, Sherwood did not feel that he even had a relationship with his father. In his memoirs, Anderson recalls his childhood memories and says, “I thought he was terrible. I didn’t see how my mother could stand it…. I had got to hating him.” When Sherwood was 19, his mother died of tuberculosis and his father could not keep the family together any longer. Anderson left for Chicago with his brother and loved the variant of the big city. Family life was still hard to deal with, so Anderson decided to leave everyone for a while and signed up for the National Guard, just under three years of arriving to Chicago.” (Partyka, 2002). Despite his break from the known world during his time in the National Guard, he would again be influenced by family once he returned.

Sherwood Anderson, now in his mid-twenties, was still trying to find his place in life. “After the War, he again followed his brother who had taken a job as an artist for the Crowell Publishing Company in Springfield, Ohio. In September of 1900, Anderson attended the Wittenberg Academy. Earning his food and lodging as a “chore boy” at the artists’ boardinghouse, Anderson encountered a highly cultured environment. Ironically, the influence of the artists was most important to Anderson for his advance in the business world. The Crowell advertising manager secured him a job in Chicago as a copywriter. He was highly successful in this position. In 1904, he married Cornelia Lane, the daughter of a wealthy Ohio wholesaler. Although he hoped to become an artist, he lived as a bourgeois husband and father of three for a couple of years. He left Chicago for Northern Ohio in 1906 and over the next six years, he managed a mail-order business in Cleveland and then two paint manufacturing firms. Yet, Anderson increasingly spent his free time writing. On November 27, 1912 he disappeared from his office and was found four days later in Cleveland, disheveled and disoriented, having suffered a mental breakdown. In later writings, Anderson often referred to this episode as a conscious break from his materialistic existence and many younger writers picked up on this, praising his heroic spirit.” (Doe, 1999). He never lost sight of what he wanted in life, but had trouble following the appropriate path and decided to start over.

His psychological crisis led him to quit his business and family and he returned to Chicago. “In 1916, Anderson divorced Cornelia and married Tennessee Mitchell. He also published his first novel that year, Windy McPherson’s Son. Then he gained wide recognition with the publication in 1919 of Winesburg, Ohio. This book made Anderson a revolutionary force in both the form and subject matter of the American short story. During this time, he also published Marching Men (1917). Among the other notable books published by Anderson at the height of his reputation in the early 1920s were the novel Poor White (1920), the story collections The Triumph of the Egg (1921), and Horses and Men (1923), and the autobiographical A Story Teller’s Story (1924). His marriage to Tennessee was not a success, and in 1922 he left Chicago for New York, then Reno, Nev. After his divorce in 1924, he married Elizabeth Prall, and they moved to New Orleans. During this period he wrote Many Marriages (1923) and Dark Laughter (1925).” (Sherwood Anderson Foundation, 2014). Elizabeth Prall was his third wife however, Anderson was known for his infidelity. Would the third time be the charm?

Happiness followed him for a time as his writing career seemed unstoppable. “In 1925 the Andersons settled in Grayson County near Troutdale, Virginia, where he purchased property and built a house he called “Ripshin” after the adjacent creek. In Dark Laughter (1925) was followed by Tar: A Midwestern Childhood (1926) and Sherwood Anderson’s Notebook (1926). A year later he purchased the Marion Publishing Company of Marion, Virginia. Hello Towns! (1929) contains some of his editorials and sketches. It was followed by Beyond Desire (1932) and Death in the Woods (1933). The same year he married Eleanor Copenhaver, with whom he traveled extensively in North America and beyond. In 1937 he published Plays, Winesburg and Others. His last work is an extensive essay entitled Home Town (1940).” (Merriman, 2006). His late fifties, were his waning years and seemed to be his happiest.

His troubled childhood and poor family structure led to two traits that he portrayed throughout his life. The first being a strong work ethic and the second being a lack of family values. Sherwood Anderson dreamed of being a writer and through persistence and determination he made that happen.

Sherwood Anderson was more than just a notable author. He played vital roles in developing some great American authors like Faulkner and Hemmingway. Anderson was William Faulkner’s mentor and helped Faulkner develop his writing style. They were even roommates for a time. Anderson advised Ernest Hemmingway with the intention of developing his writing style just as he helped Faulkner however, a difference in personalities would lead to a short relationship. Sherwood Anderson died of peritonitis in the spring of 1941. He was a lover, but never found his thing to love.

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Grotesquery as a Literary Device (based on Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio)

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Grotesquery in Winesburg, Ohio

What leads people away from a healthy maintenance of truth in their lives, to submersion in their own inflation of these truths? In Sherwood Anderson’s collection of short stories, Winesburg, Ohio, one of these tales, “The Book of the Grotesque”, answers this question with the notion that someone who allows a certain truth to unhealthily domineer his life can morph into a grotesque, or an extremely negative variant of that once positive truth. In Hands, Wing Biddlebaum adopts the truth of expression; he voices his ideas to the world in a fervent, passionate manner, especially with his hands, but then over-owns this truth to become a grotesque of self-doubt and over-zealous expression, leading him to a life of timidity and fear of the emergence of these undesirable qualities.

Though the state in which Wing finds himself may at first appear to be pathetic, the existence of a truth prior to his grotesquery can still be observed. Wing’s past, when most knew him as Adolph Meyers, offers the most evidence of his goodness: “He was one of those rare, little-understood men who rule by a power so gentle that it passes as a lovable weakness. In their feeling for the boys under their charge such men are not unlike the finer sort of women in their love of men” (31). In his past as a schoolteacher, Wing demonstrates a gentle, tender nature towards his young students. The truth to Wing’s life is his goodness, and his kind, moderate nature defines this goodness. Few understand him because this kind behavior is seldom seen in a man. Even though he may not be graced with the truth of masculinity, Wing’s expression through this clemency and temperance provides for him a truth to live by.

Despite Wing’s visible goodness in his past as a schoolteacher, his life takes a turn for the worse as his grotesquery surfaces. Though Wing’s goodness lies in his softness of expression, he ultimately takes this seemingly incorruptible truth too far:

“As he talked his voice became soft and musical. There was a caress in that also. In a way the voice and the hands, the stroking of the shoulders and the touching of the hair were a part of the schoolmaster’s effort to carry a dream into the young minds. By the caress that was in his fingers he expressed himself…. Under the caress of his hands doubt and disbelief went out of the minds of the boys and they began also to dream” (31).

Wing’s truth of expression is evident in this passage, but it is also a poignant example of how he takes it past the point of social acceptability. Serving as the medium through which his grotesquery is manifested, Wing’s hands caress the children in a passionate display of expression. Unfortunately, though he is instilling worthwhile ideas in the minds of the children and leading them to “dream,” it is not something that is socially acceptable to touch them. The hands epitomize the transgression of societal boundaries, for Wing’s actions are only grotesque once he begins touching his students, and the lynch mob that chases him out of town convinces him of that. Otherwise, his soft-spoken and gentle nature are good things, but in a properly moderate form.

The life consequences of falling into a life of grotesquery are almost always devastating. For Wing, the change to his life was irreparable: “Wing Biddlebaum, forever frightened and beset by a ghostly band of doubts, did not think of himself as in any way a part of the life of the town where he had lived for twenty years” (27). As Adolph Myers, Wing is chased out of a town in Pennsylvania, narrowly escaping death, to Winesburg where he starts anew. Something has changed though, and even after twenty years there, Wing has become and remained a recluse, living alone in his dilapidated house, full of doubts about himself and his life. Unlike other grotesques, though, Wing is doubtful because he realizes his grotesquery. Though he does not anything to remedy it, he acknowledges its presence, at the very least. In a way, he understands also that his hands are to blame: “Although he did not understand what had happened [the incident in Pennsylvania] he felt that the hands must be to blame” (33). Wing is a different kind of grotesque: He is one who recognizes the evil and its place in his life, but doesn’t know what to do about it. A source of confusion, Wing’s overactive hands are a part of who he is, and it is difficult to change his behavior because of that.

All humans possess an element of grotesquery. What changes between us is how much of a consequence this bit of extremity has on our lives. In addition, if grotesquery is embedded deeply enough in a person, it is sometimes very difficult to eradiate it completely. In Wing’s case, the manner in which he uses his hands in interaction with the world, is something that is inherent in who he is. Unfortunately for him, it decimated his life, though he didn’t have much truth to it in the first place.

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Alice – the Worst Grotesques in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio is a book that creates a community through the portrayal of many individual characters that reside in the town of Winesburg; the citizens of the community are connected through a commonality in the environment. The citizens chronicled in Winesburg, Ohio happen to all be what Anderson labels as grotesques. Anderson describes how one becomes a grotesque by stating it is, “…the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, call it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood” (“Book of the Grotesque” 3). By comparative means, some of the characters in the book seem to be better off than others; Alice Hindman, however, seems to be at a better place than any other grotesque that is presented in the novel. For this reason, Alice Hindman of “Adventure” is the worst grotesque in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.

Alice Hindman is presented to the reader in “Adventure” and her story is one of deep longing and commitment to a past lover. Alice falls for a smooth-talking man named Ned Currie; they copulate for some time, then Ned leaves to find a better job in a Midwest city. He promises to return for Alice after he has a stable occupation, and as Anderson puts, “…nothing could have induced [Alice]… to believe that Ned Currie would not in the end return to her” (“Adventure” 63). Alice vows to wait for Ned Currie to return because “…their brief sexual intimacy is so sacred to Alice that she feels bound to Ned in a spiritual marriage…” (Rigsbee 235). Ned Currie, however, forgets of Alice as the years pass. It is through this predicament that the reader is able to view Alice as a grotesque; she becomes obsessed with the homecoming of Ned Currie and this alters her way of living completely. She reserves herself solely for Ned and refrains from making any contact with other men.

Alice Hindman realizes that her obsessive truth became a falsehood by the end of “Adventure” and this new awareness gives her a chance to break from the constant despair that the grotesques of Winesburg face due to their obsessions. On page 67 it states, “…[Alice] began…to face bravely the fact that many people must live and die alone…” (Anderson, “Adventure”). She understands her situation, and the reader sees her break-free from her fixation on Ned Currie through these closing words on page 67; this is precisely why Alice is the worst grotesque of Winesburg, Ohio. The fact that she comprehends her current state puts her in a position that no other resident of Winesburg reaches; through her realization, Alice is allowed a potentially positive prospect. She, as the definition of worst by The Oxford English Dictionary dictates, “…[has] fallen to the lowest [or least] degree of… misfortune.” This, by literal definition, makes Alice Hindman the worst of the grotesques in Winesburg, Ohio.

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“Sophistication”- Anderson’s Blidungskurzgeschichte

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

Of all of the stories in Winesburg, Ohio, one stands out as a clear example of character growth through emotional maturity and connection with another human being. “Sophistication” tells that story, one of the simultaneous climax of two peoples’ youth, and their epiphanic transition into adulthood and maturity. Through the internal and shared conflicts of the characters, their subsequent resolution, the structure of the plot, and the fundamental style and word choice of Anderson’s writing, a pair of confused and isolated adolescents find the companionship they need for the moment in time they need to grow into adults together. Anderson’s choice of words and style throughout the story clearly establish the themes of the story, namely domesticity and coming of age.

First, Anderson begins by setting the story in the wake of the county fair, a place for juvenile merriment for adults and children alike if there ever was one. By combining the adult with the juvenile here, Anderson establishes that this story will discuss the lines between the two, and what separates a man from a boy, and a woman from a girl. Further, Anderson brings up the transience and meaninglessness of life time and again in the story, noting that 18-year-old George “Already… hears death calling”, and that “It seemed to [Helen] that the world was full of meaningless people saying words” (151). His concluding sentence to a paragraph describing the emotions one feels at a deserted fairground, “One shudders at the thought of the meaninglessness of life…”, further demonstrates this notion. However, the conclusion to that very sentence, “… and if the people of the town are his people, one loves life so intensely that tears come into the eyes”, demonstrates that Anderson is not hopeless (154). He reassures the reader that, though they may be confronted with such problems from time to time, the moments of existential despair are often counterbalanced with moments of equally existential joy, and that life is a wonderful and terrible curse and spell that is placed on us. George’s former immaturity is a theme in the center of the story, as an exercise in reflection that George undertakes, and for which he feels shame. This immaturity is displayed through the style in which Anderson portrays the summer night that George and Helen spent together. What is telling about the scene is the complete lack of speech from Helen, and the blustering speech of George.

Anderson makes clear that an insecure George had wanted Helen to respect him, that he wanted “to make himself appear big and significant in her eyes” (151). Anderson makes certain that the reader knows that under the talk, George is a frightened young man, longing for validation from this girl before him. Several phrases cut in one after the other, “The confused boy… His voice trembled… In his desperation George boasted” (152). George is consistently attempting to display an outward front of masculinity, while inwardly he is isolated and alone. What is more, George isolates Helen in his attempt to get closer to her, by removing her agency, as manifested by her lack of dialogue. He says “‘I want you to do something. I don’t know what. Perhaps it is none of my business. I want you to try to be something different from other women. You see the point. It’s none of my business I tell you. I want you to be a beautiful woman. You see what I want.” (152). Not only is George silencing her, all he is discussing is what he wants for her, not accounting for her desire, and despite stating twice himself that it is ‘none of his business’. It is no coincidence that Helen also does not speak over the instructor who has come as a suitor, despite his many lines of dialogue. This immaturity acts a foil to George’s later thoughts in the fall, when “He [has] reverence for Helen” (154). The characters George and Helen go through much of this story with a parallel conflict towards each other, not of contempt or opposition, but of longing. They each think on the other simultaneously, “Helen White was thinking of George Willard even as he wandered gloomily through the crowds thinking of her”, and they both want desperately for the other to appreciate them, and to value them as adults worthy of respect (151). From George’s perspective, “he wanted to be with her and try to make her feel the change he believed had taken place in his nature”, while from Helen’s, “She wanted him to feel and be conscious of the change in her nature.” (151).

Note that Anderson chooses the word nature to end the lines, because both Helen and George believe that they have become entirely different during their time away. This is true; they have both changed a great deal since the encounter Anderson relates that took place during the summer, and George in particular remembers his former self from that evening with shame (152). However, they are not yet adults, as evidenced by the emotions Anderson expresses that they are feeling. Helen is “no longer a girl, and hungered to reach into the grace and beauty of womanhood”, where George’s transition is described thusly, “The mood that had taken possession of him was a thing known to men and unknown to boys” (150-151). Through these two lines, the reader sees that the two have begun their transition from adolescence into adulthood. The conflict of longing begins to resolve itself when the two meet to travel to the hill overlooking the deserted county fair. Once George finds Helen, he is dumbstruck, and despite the fact that he has spent the entire walk over to her house vocally proclaiming his intentions to speak with her, “George wonder[s] what he had better do and say” (153). This line begins the tension of the story, built through an unusual manner of emotional relief for the characters. The key tension of the conflict is whether George and Helen will embrace domesticity and adulthood together. Anderson draws out the slowly fading tension in the characters, using phrases like “the irritation was all gone. The presence of Helen renewed and refreshed him” (154), and “‘I have come to this lonely place and here is this other’” (154). The images of domesticity are reinforced by the mention of “Farmers with their wives and children” (154). An apparent climax of this conflict occurs with the simple phrase “Mutual respect grew big in them” (155), and with that moment, the reader is led to believe that they have made their choice, and that they will live and love together. But the exact opposite is true.

In a way, it is a tragedy when Anderson writes, “For some reason they could not have explained they had both got from their silent evening together the thing needed… the thing that makes the mature life of men and women in the modern world possible” (155). With these closing lines, Anderson hints towards the next story, “Departure”, and how Helen and George neither speak to nor see each other. In essence, the two have gained what they needed from each other. They were stepping-stones on each other’s journey, and will depart from each other’s company, possibly forever. To conclude, “Sophistication” is Anderson’s attempt to show the way that George and Helen cross the threshold into adulthood simultaneously during one night of chaste emotional ecstasy. Anderson demonstrates the power of an emotional connection, and the joy that accompanies it. To the reader, he portrays a tragedy, characterized by the realization that they have garnered from each other the lesson they needed, and now they will go their separate ways, perhaps never to meet again.

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Sherwood Anderson’s Critique of Modernity in Winesburg, Ohio

August 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

In his collection of short stories about a simple American country town, Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson offers a critique of the emerging modern society of the early 20th century. Anderson establishes his disillusionment toward modernity by presenting the contemporary times in a materialistic and somewhat mournful fashion. He uses literary devices, specific characters, and plot lines to showcase a small town that is on the verge of transitioning into a modern society, rebelling against traditional values to create a sense of isolation and degeneration. Throughout the novel, Anderson uses a plain and unobtrusive voice in an effort to portray the simplicity of those whose lives he reports on. Anderson uses one primary device to showcase how truly isolated the individuals in the town are: George Willard, the reporter for the local newspaper, The Winesburg Eagle. George serves as the middleman for the entire town. The residents of Winesburg feel so isolated and alone that they can only confide in a person who seems to be removed from the issues in the small town. Thus, the residents of Winesburg see George as a symbolic sanctuary in which to share their life stories, secrets, and private concerns. Doctor Parcival is one of the first characters to openly confide in George Willard. Parcival himself does not understand why he is drawn to George, saying, “Why I want to talk to you of the matter I don’t know. I might keep still and get more credit in your eyes. I have a desire to make you admire me, that a fact. I don’t know why.” Doctor Parcival’s words communicate a basic human longing – the wish to belong – a theme present throughout the book. Parcival feels that he has no one to share his life with in the new town of Winesburg. To Anderson, Parcival represents the typical turn-of-the-century man, struggling to accept modernity. He is not able to simply communicate his personal emotions. Instead, he singles out George as someone who may appreciate what he has to say. Anderson even addresses the degeneration of religion in America. The fact that Doctor Parcival wishes to write a novel where he theorizes that “everyone in the world is Christ and they are all crucified” represents Parcival’s distorted view of religion. When Parcival refuses to help the young girl who is thrown from the horse-drawn buggy, he demonstrates his unwillingness to help the same men who refuse his theories and concerns. Even further, Parcival’s fear that the men “will come again bearing a rope in their hands” is symbolic of the divide between modern man and his peers. “Godliness” is the word that is melancholically used to describe Jesse Bentley, the estranged town elder who borders on being labeled a Christian extremist. At the beginning of the chapter, there is a obvious contrast between Jesse and his descendants. Anderson provides a strong visual element in his writing: “By the standards of his day Jesse did not look like a man at all. He was small and very slender and womanish of body.” It is also relevant to the theme of religious degeneration to note that Jesse attempts – and later fails – at becoming a Presbyterian minister. Only then does he return to manage the family farm. Jesse proves to be the character most centered on power and capital. He is a metaphor for the commonality of the disillusioned modern man, who attempts to achieve happiness through capital gain and superiority. Jesse’s modern tendencies are evident in his ignorance of the sensitivity of those around him, and his goals of achieving money and power. Jesse is the only brother who left the farm to live in the city – another obvious symbol of the modern movement toward industrialism and away from “small, country towns”. When Jesse returns to Winesburg he is overcome by a need for power and a desire to reach out for God. He ignores everyone else, including his wife, and later even drives his own grandson away from him. In the end, his religious brutality and greed push all of his loved ones away, and Jesse is left as isolated as he always perceived himself to be. Finally, the story of Alice Hindman, in “Adventure”, is one of absolute tradition, showcasing Anderson’s negativity and avoidance of modernity. Alice and her suitor, Ned Currie, court traditionally, with long, moonlit walks down Main Street, until Ned decides to move to Cleveland to make money for their future. This is Anderson’s first indication of his distrust and dislike of cities and modern times. Ned cannot make enough money or be satisfied solely living and working in Winesburg; he must leave the small town to be successful. During their passionate last night together, Alice and Ned, “[become]lovers”, and make a vow to “stick to each other.” For a while, Ned and Alice write every day while he is away in Cleveland. However, as time progresses, Ned moves to Chicago and finds himself in the company of many other young people, including a woman who “attracted his attention and he forgot about Alice.” However, back in Winesburg, Alice, “after what happened in the moonlight in the field, felt that she could never marry another man.” Alice’s unwillingness to move on after giving her body to her lover symbolizes her belief in love and tradition. Even if she must live her life alone, Alice “could not have understood the growing modern idea of a woman’s owning herself and giving and taking for her own ends in life.” In the story of Alice can be found Anderson’s two-fold attack on modernity. First of all, Anderson sees Ned’s wish to leave Winesburg as the catalyst that begins destroying their relationship and future together. Ned feels he must leave the small town in order to make money and be successful – one of modern man’s most profound illusions. Secondly, Anderson sees the fact that Alice and Ned become lovers as a failure to demonstrate traditional values, which ultimately tears them apart. Perhaps if they had not made love in the moonlight, Ned would have had a stronger desire to return for Alice. However, despite Anderson’s strong feelings against modern society, in “Adventure” Anderson portrays Alice as helpless and unwilling to take charge of her own life. This is a stark contrast to Anderson’s previous sentiment with regards to modernity. Throughout the novel, Anderson outlines our understanding of the people of Winesburg, Ohio, by referencing his growing sentiment against the modernity of the times. By using literary devices, character development and plotlines, Anderson reveals his belief that post-turn-of-the-century America was sadly oriented around money and power. Ultimately, the individuals in Winesburg are symbols of of small-town citizens across the United States. They feel disillusioned and isolated from their relationships, families, and even from themselves; this, in turn, push themselves further toward isolation and the degeneration of the constantly-advancing society.

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“Sophistication”- Anderson’s Blidungskurzgeschichte

June 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

Of all of the stories in Winesburg, Ohio, one stands out as a clear example of character growth through emotional maturity and connection with another human being. “Sophistication” tells that story, one of the simultaneous climax of two peoples’ youth, and their epiphanic transition into adulthood and maturity. Through the internal and shared conflicts of the characters, their subsequent resolution, the structure of the plot, and the fundamental style and word choice of Anderson’s writing, a pair of confused and isolated adolescents find the companionship they need for the moment in time they need to grow into adults together. Anderson’s choice of words and style throughout the story clearly establish the themes of the story, namely domesticity and coming of age.

First, Anderson begins by setting the story in the wake of the county fair, a place for juvenile merriment for adults and children alike if there ever was one. By combining the adult with the juvenile here, Anderson establishes that this story will discuss the lines between the two, and what separates a man from a boy, and a woman from a girl. Further, Anderson brings up the transience and meaninglessness of life time and again in the story, noting that 18-year-old George “Already… hears death calling”, and that “It seemed to [Helen] that the world was full of meaningless people saying words” (151). His concluding sentence to a paragraph describing the emotions one feels at a deserted fairground, “One shudders at the thought of the meaninglessness of life…”, further demonstrates this notion. However, the conclusion to that very sentence, “… and if the people of the town are his people, one loves life so intensely that tears come into the eyes”, demonstrates that Anderson is not hopeless (154). He reassures the reader that, though they may be confronted with such problems from time to time, the moments of existential despair are often counterbalanced with moments of equally existential joy, and that life is a wonderful and terrible curse and spell that is placed on us. George’s former immaturity is a theme in the center of the story, as an exercise in reflection that George undertakes, and for which he feels shame. This immaturity is displayed through the style in which Anderson portrays the summer night that George and Helen spent together. What is telling about the scene is the complete lack of speech from Helen, and the blustering speech of George.

Anderson makes clear that an insecure George had wanted Helen to respect him, that he wanted “to make himself appear big and significant in her eyes” (151). Anderson makes certain that the reader knows that under the talk, George is a frightened young man, longing for validation from this girl before him. Several phrases cut in one after the other, “The confused boy… His voice trembled… In his desperation George boasted” (152). George is consistently attempting to display an outward front of masculinity, while inwardly he is isolated and alone. What is more, George isolates Helen in his attempt to get closer to her, by removing her agency, as manifested by her lack of dialogue. He says “‘I want you to do something. I don’t know what. Perhaps it is none of my business. I want you to try to be something different from other women. You see the point. It’s none of my business I tell you. I want you to be a beautiful woman. You see what I want.” (152). Not only is George silencing her, all he is discussing is what he wants for her, not accounting for her desire, and despite stating twice himself that it is ‘none of his business’. It is no coincidence that Helen also does not speak over the instructor who has come as a suitor, despite his many lines of dialogue. This immaturity acts a foil to George’s later thoughts in the fall, when “He [has] reverence for Helen” (154). The characters George and Helen go through much of this story with a parallel conflict towards each other, not of contempt or opposition, but of longing. They each think on the other simultaneously, “Helen White was thinking of George Willard even as he wandered gloomily through the crowds thinking of her”, and they both want desperately for the other to appreciate them, and to value them as adults worthy of respect (151). From George’s perspective, “he wanted to be with her and try to make her feel the change he believed had taken place in his nature”, while from Helen’s, “She wanted him to feel and be conscious of the change in her nature.” (151).

Note that Anderson chooses the word nature to end the lines, because both Helen and George believe that they have become entirely different during their time away. This is true; they have both changed a great deal since the encounter Anderson relates that took place during the summer, and George in particular remembers his former self from that evening with shame (152). However, they are not yet adults, as evidenced by the emotions Anderson expresses that they are feeling. Helen is “no longer a girl, and hungered to reach into the grace and beauty of womanhood”, where George’s transition is described thusly, “The mood that had taken possession of him was a thing known to men and unknown to boys” (150-151). Through these two lines, the reader sees that the two have begun their transition from adolescence into adulthood. The conflict of longing begins to resolve itself when the two meet to travel to the hill overlooking the deserted county fair. Once George finds Helen, he is dumbstruck, and despite the fact that he has spent the entire walk over to her house vocally proclaiming his intentions to speak with her, “George wonder[s] what he had better do and say” (153). This line begins the tension of the story, built through an unusual manner of emotional relief for the characters. The key tension of the conflict is whether George and Helen will embrace domesticity and adulthood together. Anderson draws out the slowly fading tension in the characters, using phrases like “the irritation was all gone. The presence of Helen renewed and refreshed him” (154), and “‘I have come to this lonely place and here is this other’” (154). The images of domesticity are reinforced by the mention of “Farmers with their wives and children” (154). An apparent climax of this conflict occurs with the simple phrase “Mutual respect grew big in them” (155), and with that moment, the reader is led to believe that they have made their choice, and that they will live and love together. But the exact opposite is true.

In a way, it is a tragedy when Anderson writes, “For some reason they could not have explained they had both got from their silent evening together the thing needed… the thing that makes the mature life of men and women in the modern world possible” (155). With these closing lines, Anderson hints towards the next story, “Departure”, and how Helen and George neither speak to nor see each other. In essence, the two have gained what they needed from each other. They were stepping-stones on each other’s journey, and will depart from each other’s company, possibly forever. To conclude, “Sophistication” is Anderson’s attempt to show the way that George and Helen cross the threshold into adulthood simultaneously during one night of chaste emotional ecstasy. Anderson demonstrates the power of an emotional connection, and the joy that accompanies it. To the reader, he portrays a tragedy, characterized by the realization that they have garnered from each other the lesson they needed, and now they will go their separate ways, perhaps never to meet again.

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Emotional and Sexual Repression in Winesburg, Ohio

May 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

In the short stories “Hands,” “Paper Pills,” and “Drink” by Sherwood Anderson in the collection Winesburg, Ohio, Andersen shows that American emotions and sexuality are so repressed that people often choose isolation over human connection by revealing his character’s inner struggles against their deepest desires, even though these desires are natural and human. The main character of “Hands” is haunted by the claims of pedophilia that ended his life as a teacher, and is now living in constant fear that touching other people will have him beaten and brutalized again. The doctor of “Paper Pills” struggles to express himself emotionally after the death of his wife and closest confidant. In “Drink,” the reader follows a young man traumatized by his experiences of prostitutes growing up in an inner-city slum, and how his perception of women and sexuality changes after falling for a girl who is unlike the women he knew as a teenager.

Wing Biddlebaum, the main character of “Hands,” is terrified by human touch after the friendly, innocent touching between him and his students was construed into accusations of pedophilia and molestation. After he was forced to flee twenty years before the events of the story, Wing begins to constantly flap and move his hands to avoid touching other people. Despite this forcing a permanent outcast status upon him, Wing is so deeply traumatized that he does not stop moving his hands. This causes him to have just one friend, who is the young George Willard. Wing’s fear at human contact is shown after he touches George in a moment of passion and introspection. Anderson says, “Again he raised the hands to caress the boy and then a look of horror swept over his face. With a convulsive movement of his body, Wing Biddlebaum sprang to his feet and thrust his hands deep into his trousers pockets. Tears came to his eyes.” Wing’s visceral panic with physical contact serves to show and emphasize the feelings of emotional disconnect suffered by other characters in other stories. Considering that Wing’s is the first story in the anthology, “Hands” provides a lens through which all other stories can be seen through.

Dr. Reefy of “Paper Pills” lives an extremely isolated life after his young, beautiful wife dies. His “paper pills” were little bits and ends of thoughts he collected, and after they were married, he shared these thoughts with his wife. Despite the fact that they were married for less than a year and many found the pairing of a young wealthy girl and an old, jaded doctor strange, his wife still fell in love with him. This is because after having many suitors whom she did not love, she found him, who had been kind and sweet, much like the gnarled but delicious apples that grow in the Winesburg orchards. Anderson directly makes this analogy between Dr. Reefy and the hideous but exquisite apples by stating, “On the trees are only a few gnarled apples that the pickers have rejected. They look like the knuckles of Doctor Reefy’s hands. One nibbles at them and they are delicious.” While they were together, his wife had been his close confidant, the person to whom he could share his deepest thoughts with. After her death, Dr, Reefy found himself once again alone and isolated from others, with no close friend to share his ideas with. Dr. Reefy’s emotional loneliness shows how American society at large has difficulty expressing deep, meaningful, or intimate thoughts and emotions to others.

The protagonist in “Drink,” Tom Foster, thought of women as pure, gentle beings due to his close relationship with his grandmother. However, his feelings change after he loses his virginity to a prostitute in his native Cincinnati slum. He is traumatized by this experience of having sex with a woman who is so unlike his naive and childlike vision of womanhood and sexuality, and so for years he completely closes himself off to the idea of ever being with another woman, even after he leaves the slums of Cincinnati for the cleaner town of Winesburg. Eventually, the sight of other young people around him falling in love gets to him and he begins falling for Helen White, and despite his feelings, he never pursues her and finds himself attempting to put all thoughts of her out of his head. Anderson describes his struggle as “a fight, a quiet determined little fight of his own, to keep his desires in the channel where he thought they belonged, but on the whole he was victorious.” Tom’s internal conflict to keep his longing at bay and avoid connection with another person illustrates Anderson’s message of emotional and sexual repression.

These three short stories all demonstrate, to some extent, characters aversion to human connection. In the story “Hands,” Wing Bibblebaum’s aversion to human touch stems from him being accused of pedophilia, and he can not connect to others even decades later. Dr. Reefy’s isolation after he loses his wife means that he suddenly has no outlet for his deepest and most personal thoughts. Tom Foster isolates himself from the idea of love with a woman due to his troubled and complicated past with the prostitutes of his hometown. The thread that binds all of these characters is that they all feel extremely isolated and repressed in their emotional and sexual desires, much like American society at large.

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Too Much Commitment: The Paradox of Marriage in Adventure

April 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

In “Adventure” from Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, the protagonist, Alice Hindman, embodies the truth of marriage. As Alice’s story demonstrates, however, marriage leads to two seemingly contradictory traits when it is taken as a personal truth to be lived. On the one hand, marriage means that Alice is committed, because she is loyal to Ned Currie, even though he is not interested in her anymore, and she refuses to forget about him. On the other hand, her insistence on marriage also leads Alice to isolation, as she ages all alone, not allowing anyone to enter her life. Thus, Alice is a grotesque, according to Anderson’s definition of the term, because in trying to embrace marriage, Alice becomes both committed and isolated, portraying the paradox at the heart of marriage and showing that no truth is simple once it is lived.

In insisting on marriage, Alice embodies commitment in her approach to love and sexuality. At the beginning of the story, when Alice and Ned Currie become sexually intimate, Ned told her he loved her and that they would live happily together. Having that idea stuck in her head, Alice waits for Ned, feeling she is committed to him and never losing faith in being with him, even though he is far away. At first, Alice did not feel she was important to Ned, but once they become intimate she feels loved by him because he says, ‘“Now, we will have to stick to each other, whatever happens, we will have to do that”’ (Anderson, 99). Because Ned makes this promise, she has faith that Ned will come back for her; therefore, she waits for him. Feeling she has that commitment to Ned, Alice does not talk to other men, for she feels as if she would be betraying Ned. She tells herself, “‘I am Ned’s wife and shall remain his wife whether he comes back or not’” (Anderson,100). Even though she is not Ned’s wife, she thinks if she dates other men Ned will be hurt and that is not the right thing to do if you are married to someone. Throughout “Adventure”, there is no evidence of Alice talking to anyone other than herself. Alice goes to work every day, but she saves all her money for her and Ned. She wants to save it because she wants it for Ned rather than for herself: ‘“Ned always wanted to travel, I’ll give him a chance. Some day when we are married and I can save both his money and my own, we will be rich. Then we can travel together all over the world.”’ (Anderson, 101). Because Alice is very committed to Ned and does not see beyond him, she has no other attachments; we do not encounter Alice having any afternoon activities or family commitments. All Alice sees in her future is her life with Ned, remaining married to him in both her actions and her emotions.

However, Alice’s commitment leads paradoxically to its reverse as well, for Alice also becomes entirely isolated by her refusal to give up on Ned. Because she waits for Ned for a very long time, she does not focus on her own life, only concentrating on her imagined and anticipated marriage with Ned. Therefore, one day she realizes she has never been married to Ned and she has been all alone since he left; thus, she tells herself, ‘“It is not going to come to me. I will never find happiness. Why do I tell myself lies?”’ (Anderson, 102). Becoming aware of the reality Alice has been living on, she realizes how long she has been waiting for Ned and how she was never happy while waiting for him. Seeing that Alice does not talk to any men, men start losing interest in her and stop talking to her. She then begins feeling the absence of men being she pushed them away because she thought she would be betraying Ned if she talked to them, but Ned had already forgotten her. However, if she were to date other men, she would do it because Ned will want her and like her better; she tells herself, ‘“I am becoming old and queer. If Ned comes he will not want me”’ (Anderson, 103). Therefore, she tries to go out with a drug clerk, but later realizes she is governed made by the fear of being solitary than by true desire to be with Ned: “‘It is not him that I want, I want to avoid being so much alone. If I am not careful I will grow unaccustomed to being with people’” (Anderson, 103).

Alice, becoming aware that she is “becoming old and queer” (Anderson, 103), is frightened by the loneliness of her position in life. Therefore, at age twenty-five, she becomes a member of the Winesburg Methodist Church, so that she does something else other than thinking of Ned. Time passes by very quickly and Alice becomes conscious of how in the past years she has been an isolated woman who has not accomplished anything in her life. She has no friends because she does not see beyond Ned, thus, has no life on her own because she has more interest in Ned returning and being with him than in her own personal life and goals. When Alice saves all her money for her and Ned, she is not fully aware that saving all that money affects her because she is not thinking on herself and on her necessities. Because Alice is extremely isolated and has no experience at socializing with other people; one cold, dark, rainy night; she runs outside, she runs towards a man who is unable to hear and shouts, for she wants the attention she had not received since Ned had left her. But before reaching the man, she becomes aware of what she is about to do, and feeling ashamed of herself, drops to the cold grass and crawls back home feeling penitent. She then thinks: ‘“What is the matter with me? I will do something dreadful if I am not careful’, and began trying to force herself to face bravely the fact that many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg” (Anderson, 105). Because Ned left Alice, she did nothing other than wait for him; hence, she grew all alone becoming old and queer.

Thus, Anderson’s “Adventure” portrays the paradox at the heart of marriage. Anderson shows that to be married is to be both committed and isolated because to be committed requires you to abandon some things for others, and if you leave all your priorities for someone else, you will become isolated and be left with nothing. Alice is thus a grotesque because Alice cannot be simply committed; Alice must also be just the reverse, becoming isolated in her efforts to assert the truth of marriage as her own personal truth.

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Capitalism in Sherwood Anderson’s “Mother”

March 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Sherwood Anderson’s “Mother,” Tom Willard takes centre stage as the role of the obnoxious, vain husband who shamelessly blames his wife, Elizabeth Willard, for his own unhappiness. He views her with blatant contempt and finds her existence unbearable to the extent that her very presence is regarded as “a reproach to himself.” But for what reason does Tom vehemently loathe his own wife? It is not simply because of the illness that had taken away her spirit and beauty. The only explanation provided to readers to justify his animosity is the superstitious conviction that Elizabeth’s illness is somehow linked to the hotel’s financial decline.

Tom may, indeed, have been a fortune hunter. He had been one of the many “traveling men” who were “guests at her father’s hotel” whom Elizabeth “paraded through the streets with.” It was always evident that Elizabeth would one day inherit her father’s hotel, and on top of that, she had been a beautiful young woman, full of ambition and vivacity. Thus, in addition to marrying a woman of her passion and charm, Elizabeth’s husband would obviously be blessed with the added bonus of inheriting her parent’s business. So it is implied that Tom’s marriage to Elizabeth had not only been explained by some “wild emotions” driven by physical intimacy, but also by his interest in her wealth.

Unfortunately, now that the business is “forever on the edge of failure,” Tom detests the hotel and selfishly holds his wife accountable for its fate. Anderson states how hopeful Tom had been to begin life with the hotel business, and yet now it has disappointingly turned into “a mere ghost of what a hotel should be.” Similarly, Tom sees his wife as a “tall ghostly figure,” as she is no longer the lovely wife he had married. Elizabeth’s appearance therefore reflects the state of the hotel. She is no longer a beauty, but has become so frail and lifeless that she is compared to a ghost. Age has taken its toll on her, just as the hotel is now “disorderly” and “old,” with “faded wall-paper” and “ragged carpets.”

Due to poor health, Elizabeth has been unable to do any exacting work for the hotel. The business probably deteriorated as a consequence of her lack of contribution. Tom therefore sees her as the cause of the hotel’s financial failure. Now he despises his wife and the hotel alike, both of which are “things defeated and done for” as both marriage and business had once made him hopeful of satisfying his ambitions.

The fact that Tom objectifies his wife, seeing her as a “thing” which is useless unless generating some income, has affected Elizabeth’s self-esteem tremendously. From a tall young woman who had once been brazen enough to cycle down “Main Street” clad in men’s clothing, Elizabeth Willard has been depreciated to such an extent that her confidence has been extinguished along with her health and youth. She has grown to feel unwanted and unneeded. Her low self-esteem is emphasized through elements of the narrative such as her room, which is “tucked away in a corner of the Old Willard House,” and her “chambermaid” work, such as cleaning the “beds soiled by the slumbers of fat travelling men.” These descriptions prove Elizabeth’s tendency to isolate herself and hide from the eyes of others by doing work that removes her from the presence of other people.

Tom’s behavior only encourages the depths of Elizabeth’s lack of confidence, with his “slender, graceful,” and well-dressed figure coupled with the brazen condemnation of his wife. Besides that, his passion for politics and his strong desire to achieve a prominent status of leadership have caused him to develop a sense of capitalism. This ideology is the foundation of the American Dream: the notion that every man must work for himself to achieve greatness – and that such greatness is plausible regardless of circumstances. It also inspires Tom to find Elizabeth worthless, as the idea constitutes to the belief that unless she works, she is useless to him. His outlook therefore reflects capitalism. Hence, Tom believes that Elizabeth’s illness is the illness of the hotel. Getting rid of his wife may eliminate his business problems. He may perceive his wife as the useless cog in the wheel, getting in the way of success. However, ideally, he mentions his desire to be rid of both burdens and to start fresh, as the hotel and his wife are markedly linked in his mind.

From Tom’s point of view, capitalism is what will aid him in achieving his goals. However, Anderson has conspicuously presented this idea in an unpleasant and repulsive manner, thus challenging the notion of capitalism by portraying its supporter and activist as a pompous husband with idealistic ambitions. Tom harbors the hope of turning “the tide of things political” by changing the “strongly Republican community” into a Democratic one. His dream of changing the minds of an entire society reflects the magnitude of his aspirations. Capitalism is therefore illustrated in a negative light in this story, since it drives a man to selfishness and greed. After all, if Tom had truly married Elizabeth for her inheritance, then this action only proves his persistence in achieving the American Dream, and shows how little he values emotional sincerity in attaining his goals.

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An Examination of the Nature and Perception of Success in Sherwood Anderson’s “Paper Pills”

February 20, 2019 by Essay Writer

Through “Paper Pills,” Sherwood Anderson illustrates the importance appearances play in society when measuring success. The opening paragraphs introduce the two main characters, the doctor and his wife, not by name or even personality, but predominantly by appearance. The narrator recalls the physician as “an old man with a white beard and huge nose and hands” (Anderson 293). Again, as if preoccupied with physical characteristics, the narrator later comments, “the knuckles of the doctor’s hands were extraordinarily large. When the hands were closed they looked like clusters of unpainted wooden balls as large as walnuts fastened together by steel rods” (294). The reference to the sheer size of the doctor’s nose, hands, and knuckles insinuates physical deformity. The word “unpainted” implies the knuckles are unpolished blemishes, the hands rendered hard and unyielding by the metaphorical “steel rods.” The comparison of the doctor’s knuckles to the “gnarled apples” (294) in the orchards of Winesburg, the town in which he lives, suggests that his physical imperfections could, like the substandard apples, lead to repudiation. “On the trees are only a few gnarled apples that the pickers have rejected. They look like the knuckles of Doctor Reefy’s hands” (294). It appeared an anomaly therefore, to the residents of Winesburg, when so unattractive a man should secure a wife of such a pleasing presence. “The girl was quiet, tall and dark, and to many people she seemed very beautiful. Everyone in Winesburg wondered why she married the doctor” (294). The impressions cast by the couple imply different levels of success: the girl seems perfect, the doctor less so. In “Paper Pills,” the metaphor of the unblemished apples symbolizes perfection. The apples, like the doctor and his wife, have been assessed on their outward façade rather than the quality of what lies within: “The apples have been taken from the trees by the pickers. They have been put in barrels and shipped to the cities where they will be eaten in apartments that are filled with books, magazines, furniture, and people” (294). The placement of the word “people” at the end of the sentence signifies that material possessions seem of greater importance than the people themselves. The possessions embody their success, rendering it unnecessary to identify the people. As a doctor, the main character of the story also had the potential to lead a successful life in terms of material comforts: “Winesburg had forgotten the old man, but in Doctor Reefy there were the seeds of something very fine” (294). The character only receives an identity through his role as a doctor. Without it he seems anonymous, almost irrelevant to society. Left “a large fertile farm” (293) on the death of her father, the girl the doctor will marry also had the potential for a successful life. The agricultural image of “seeds” and fertility encapsulates the idea of potential growth and a successful yield. The girl’s inheritance attracts numerous suitors eager to share her wealth and the accompanying feeling of success: “The death of her father and mother and the rich acres of land that had come down to her had set a train of suitors on her heels” (295). The word “train,” whether it refers to the vehicle or a long attachment, emphasizes the quantity of the suitors, and together with the phrase “on her heels” implies their dogged pursuit much like hounds in search of a kill. The image of hungry beasts continues. The girl dreams that one suitor has “bitten” (295) into her body, his jaws “dripping” (295). Another suitor, in his moment of passion, does actually bite her leaving “the marks of his teeth (295)” in her shoulder. The violent imagery emphasizes not just physical lost for the girl but an almost inhuman appetite to own her and her wealth.In contrast, the doctor does not desire the material symbols of success. Although he had the financial means to dress well, the doctor chose to wear the same suit for ten years, indifferent to its shabbiness or the negative opinions it drew from others. Aspiring to live not in a city apartment but “alone in his musty office (294),” even after he inherits his wife’s wealth, Doctor Reefy does not share his society’s greed for these hallmarks of success. The description of his removal of a patient’s tooth reminds the reader of the teeth marks left on the girl’s shoulder by the greedy suitor. By removing the tooth, Doctor Reefy symbolically counters the insatiable appetite of society to possess and own. When the doctor and the girl marry, they do so willingly with genuine affection and respect for each other. In choosing to marry, the doctor becomes her “twisted apple” (294) and she his (her loss of virginity renders her incomplete and therefore imperfect). Each looks past the imperfections of the other and acknowledges those virtues that have gone undetected by others: “Only a few know the sweetness of the twisted apples” (294). They achieve fulfillment in the beauty of genuine affection.Rejecting the shallow values of society, the doctor looks elsewhere for a sense of fulfillment. Prior to his marriage, he had already begun the routine of jotting down thoughts on scraps of paper. “The habit had been formed as he sat in his buggy behind the jaded white horse and went slowly along country roads. On the papers were written thoughts, ends of thoughts, beginnings of thoughts” (294). The description of Doctor Reefy traveling “slowly” behind his “jaded” horse to conduct house calls suggests a weariness or disinterest in his job as a medical doctor. He distracts himself by writing scraps of thoughts onto pieces of paper as he travels. The syntax of the line, “on the papers were written thoughts, ends of thoughts, beginnings of thoughts,” suggests that the ideas as yet lack clear formation. When the scraps of paper form “hard balls” (294) in his pocket, they literally resemble paper pills. Yet the title of the story works on a deeper level as well. The description “Paper Pills” refers not just to the round appearance of the scrunched up paper, but infers that the thoughts themselves serve as medicine to benefit others. Doctor Reefy, dissatisfied with the mindset of his world, struggles to form and communicate new ideas to improve its well-being. He “worked ceaselessly, building up something that he himself destroyed. Little pyramids of truth he erected and after erecting knocked then down again that he might have the truths to erect other pyramids” (294). The triangular shape of a pyramid suggests that the doctor’s search for an absolute truth symbolizes a search the meaning of life. The fact that he keeps destroying and rebuilding the pyramids implies either a lack of success or rather that the truth, too dynamic or potent, intensifies his disillusionment of the world and its need for change. The passing of Reefy’s wife supports this notion – the doctor had shared his ideas with her and her unexplained death implies that the thoughts themselves destroyed her. Doctor Reefy’s ideas result in his own isolation. The narrator describes how “he smoked a cob pipe and after his wife’s death sat all day in his empty office close by a window that was covered in cobwebs. He never opened the window” (294). The fire from the “cob pipe” symbolizes the doctor’s desire for truth and the smoke his swirling thoughts. The cobwebbed window blocks his vision, literally and metaphorically, while the locked window separates Reefy from the rest of his world. Alone and unable to communicate, his perception of success cannot be realized.Anderson presents opposing perceptions of success in his text “Paper Pills.” For the majority, appearances alone signify success or failure. Doctor Reefy’s physical abnormalities deem him less than perfect, irrespective of the virtues that may lie within. Personal assets, in the form of material possessions, indicate achievement for some, like the residents of the city apartments. Through their pursuit of the girl’s wealth, the greedy suitors demonstrate that the pursuit of success exhibits selfishness at the expense of others. The Doctor rejects materialism and seeks his own fulfillment through thought and the quest for truth. Perceiving his society as unhealthy, the doctor does not want to cure people’s physical ailments but heal their misguided beliefs. At the end of his life, Doctor Reefy stands alone, imprisoned in a cell, both literally and metaphorically. Trapped with his own irrepressible ideas, he remains unable or unwilling to be part of a society whose values he cannot share.

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