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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The Flawed Notion of the City and a Superior Alternative in Winesburg, Ohio

August 7, 2019 by Essay Writer

The final sentence of Winesburg, Ohio imprints the image of the town fading away as George Willard departs for the city. In fact, to view the novel in larger units, the final chapter is conspicuously named “Departure,” and for any reader who bothers to take in the table of contents page before starting the book it is fairly easy to deduce how Winesburg, Ohio will end before it even begins. The notion of escape from the town of Winesburg is common throughout the book, and the intended destination for escape is usually some undefined “city.” As a recurring element, however, it fits into a broader theme of the novel, that of a need for change in general. The two means through which change can occur can be classified as outburst and escape, with each occupying slightly different niches in the novel. Escape, being the culminating event of the novel, is clearly given prominence. But examination reveals that flight to the city is a largely flawed notion which is idealized by many but yields results which are actually embittering and not much better, empirically, than life in Winesburg. Outburst actually serves as a slightly more successful outlet for the anxieties of Winesburg’s citizens.Outburst in Winesburg, Ohio can be defined as any of the many actions which happen suddenly and often rather spontaneously, undertaken by the adults of Winesburg. Prime examples include Alice Hindman running naked through the streets in “Adventure,” Kate Swift passionately embracing George Willard and then bursting out of the room in “The Teacher,” and the explosive series of events on the final night in “The Strength of God.”Escape needs little explanation‹flight from Winesburg occurs at the end of the novel, at the end of the “Godliness” stories, and it occurs or is discussed in many of the other stories in Winesburg, Ohio. The notion of escape also carries with it a unique pairing with the related element of entry into Winesburg. Doctor Parcival in “The Philosopher” and Wing Biddlebaum in “Hands” are two characters who have come to Winesburg from other places. A third idea that is related to escape and entry is the idea of what transpires outside of Winesburg. These three ideas are linked in that they represent the three states of being in relation to the city that is so frequently referred to‹movement to the city, away from the city, and life inside the city. All three figure prominently in Winesburg, Ohio.The importance of the return from the city and the events which transpire in the city would not seem very important in analyzing escape to the city if not for the cult-like or mythical status that the city is given in the book. The final story in the book illuminates this, as George Willard leaves “to meet the adventure of life” (153). It is left ambiguous which city Willard is leaving for. This nonspecific terming of “the city” (or “some city”) appears frequently. Seth Richmond in “The Thinker,” Curtis Hartman in “The Strength of God,” and Alice Hindman in “Adventure” all use these vague words in their fairly vague plans to leave Winesburg.While this failure to name any specific cities as destinations might be attributed to the vagueness of their plans or their ambivalence, it seems rather to be a literary tool. First, it is unlikely that George Willard is without any formal destination, yet none is formally named in “Departure.” Second, the consistency with which Winesburg residents hoping to leave for a city neglect to name any actual city suggests that a deliberate decision in Anderson’s mind. This decision can probably be grouped with Anderson’s general tone of emphasizing the small-town bucolic worldview of Winesburg’s residents.Given this elevation of the concept of city, it is therefore necessary to examine the evidence that Anderson has provided regarding what actually happens in cities, and how much of that is known by the very people in Winesburg, Ohio who yearn to leave for them. There is actually a surprising amount of material here. Despite the alleged concept of the entire book as a chronicle of lives in Winesburg, many of the stories deal partially or entirely with events lived out in cities. “Loneliness” is one story which is framed in Winesburg but otherwise takes place in the city, as is “Hands,” to a lesser extent.Outside of Winesburg is actually where some of the worst actual events happen. The accusations of molestation and the threat of mob violence in “Hands” are two events that outpace anything within the limits of Winesburg in terms of sheer significance beyond the personal, psychological level. The city is where alcoholics live (“Tandy”), where affairs live to fruition (“Respectability”) as opposed to the adultery which blossoms but is never realized in Winesburg (“Death”), and where murder is a real event rather than a news item (“The Philosopher”).It seems, then, that Anderson utilizes the city for two distinct purposes. The first is as a means of writing about sensational or disastrous events that mar the lives of people without having to disrupt the superficial calm of little Winesburg. The second use of the city is as a somewhat undefined, hazy location that can nicely serve as an idealized “other place” for certain unfulfilled Winesburg residents.The aforementioned negatives that the city possesses should make it a less appealing and even unfavorable destination for the “thousand George Willards” who leave Winesburg for the city (152). The city is not completely written off, though, for two reasons. The first is that the people leaving Winesburg are not necessarily looking for a great, or even better, life. Their main desires are simply for change and freedom. When the Reverend Curtis Hartman muses about leaving for the city to “Œget into business,'” it is clear that he is only choosing such an alternative because of the concern that he will not be able to continue his preferred career and lifestyle (90). Similarly, Seth Richmond, in “The Thinker,” tells himself he will go “Œto some city and go to work'” only because he is “depressed by the thought that he was not a part of the life in his own town” (78). The city is not seen with any certainty as an paradise.The second reason why the city manages to exist as a destination of choice is because of the severe breach in communication in the town. Quite simply, it is possible that nobody knows about the bad things that happen in the city. The stories of Wash Williams, Wing Biddlebaum, Enoch Robinson, and other refugees from the city are untold. There is a distinct gap of contact between many groups, including the old and the young. And it is the young who want to leave for the city and the old who return from it. The only person who knows all of the stories of the city is George Willard, but the stories can be seen as an incentive for him, as a journalist, to go out to where they happened in search of more.Notable also is the fact that these stories are always specific in naming the exact city in which things happen. Clearly, the city loses its mystique once it has been reached. But not only is the city without a mystique, it is also fairly unreceptive to newcomers. Nobody who lives in the city either before or after living in Winesburg enjoys prosperity or much contentment at all. Ned Currie is one character who seems to carve a niche for himself in Chicago, but only as a reporter and only after a long spell of loneliness. The most financially successful character in Winesburg, Ohio is Jesse Bentley, who actually makes his fortune after coming to Winesburg from elsewhere.The pieces of evidence that reveal the city as a fairly inhospitable, non-ideal destination for those feeling stifled in Winesburg amount to an almost-moot point in any case, because few people leave for the city anyway. It is expensive. Based on the few cases when people who consider it actually do move to the city, the change is costly if it is intended to be permanent. Age also seems to be slightly prohibitive, as only the younger characters seem to consider it. Gender can also be assumed as a factor, with Helen White being the only female who leaves during the timeframe of the book.What remains, then, for the stifled citizens of Winesburg, Ohio (who amount to almost everybody)? What remains is the other type of drastic action that is taken by the characters in the novel‹outburst of some sort, ranging from smashing a window (The Strength of God”) to running naked through the street (“Adventure”) to getting drunk and making up stories (“Drink”).Empirically, better results seem to be had with outburst than with escape. This is partly due to the encapsulated nature of an outburst as opposed to the open-endedness of escape. A specific outburst like running naked has a predetermined end, and is seen as one event that begins and ends. Moving to the city, however, is an action with an uncertain future. While this is its appeal to George Willard, wonder and discovery do not seem to be part of the motivation for the other people who move to the city. They move distinctly for a better life or a new job or because they feel they have to. So it can be said that outbursts often yield a better end result because the results are known from the beginning. There is a feeling in the book that once these actions of outburst take place, the pressure has been released from within the person and things have become better for a time. The city, in its open-ended vagueness and lack of a definitive goal, suggests an endlessness that is a few steps away from hopelessness.This is supported if specific events of outburst are examined. Tom Foster, in “Drink,” is “Œglad'” to have gotten drunk, and he views it as a successful experiment in his life (134). Alice Hindman’s adventure, in which she runs naked in the rain, is by no means an unequivocal success. But during the episode, she feels “full of youth and courage” (67). Afterwards, she weeps in her bedroom, but a critical realization has been reached‹”the fact that many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg” (67). This is a kernel of wisdom that results directly from Alice’s drastic but short-lived outburst. Such wisdom is not seen in the young people who leave for the city. They are much more doe-eyed, as if they are naïvely leaving and that same naïveté will make rare the acquisition of wisdom. The awakening that happens to George Willard at the very end of “An Awakening” is similarly the result of a moment of outburst, a release of emotion that flares up and dies down quickly, of which he is the victim in this case. The impression given of Windpeter Winters’ wild and extraordinary death in “The Untold Lie” is that it is viewed with a sort of awe or at least respect by “most boys” who would prefer it to “humdrum lives” (124). While it resulted in Winters’ death, it also fulfills the implicit requirement of being a drastic, memorable, unique event in a town where staying static is the thing most dreaded. On the contrary, people who leave seem to be generally forgotten or simply lose touch.Certainly, the general impression given to a reader of Winesburg, Ohio is one of entrapment regardless of how one chooses to act upon his or her stifling situation. Things are never portrayed optimistically. But for the level with which the city is a quasi-mythical place, it is striking that Anderson gives it such a damning portrayal through the stories of those who have lived there. Outburst within the limits of Winesburg is not better by much, but it does possess certain superior qualities as a release than escape, and these advantages are, in fact, borne out for the characters in the book.

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The Impotence of Words and the Vagueness of Truth in Winesburg, Ohio

July 12, 2019 by Essay Writer

Sherwood Anderson, in his masterpiece Winesburg, Ohio was “writing against the notion that stories have to have a plot which reveals a moral idea or conclusion” (Prof. Fisher, lecture). Like the “tales” that Doctor Parcival tells George Willard in “The Philosopher,” Anderson’s short stories also seem to “begin nowhere and end nowhere” (51). We as readers must, like George Willard, decide if such stories are little more than “a pack of lies” or if rather, “they contain the very essence of truth” (51). The ability (or lack thereof) of both his characters and his narrator to distinguish between “lies” and “truth” is one of Anderson’s central preoccupations. The people who inhabit Winesburg, Ohio are acutely aware of the impotence of words in the face of expressing any form of truth or meaning. Words, instead, serve as obstacles in uncovering “truth.” It is not only Anderson’s characters, however, which comprehend the impotence of words. The narrator, as we shall see, also struggles to find words that can express “truth.” It’s not surprising then that “truth”, in Winesburg, Ohio takes on a “vague” and amorphous shape that can be described using only the most vague and amorphous of words: “thing.”Present in nearly all the stories of Winesburg, Ohio is a form of what Lionel Trilling has called the “American Laconic,” a kind of masculine refusal of words and language (Prof. Fisher, lecture). Anderson’s characters are intensely aware of the inability of words to capture, express and explain any form of truth or meaning. In “Mother,” Elizabeth Willard prays that her son, George, will “be allowed to express something for us both” (40). She thinks to herself, “He is groping about, trying to find himself…He is not a dull clod, all words and smartness. Within him there is a secret something that is striving to grow. It is the thing I let be killed in myself” (43). In this instance, “words” are portrayed as an obstacle in both finding oneself and expressing a vague “something,” a vague “truth” of some sort. Similarly, Kate Swift admonishes George to “not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say” (162). Again “words” are seen here as impotent, “mere”; it matters not what words people say, but the feelings and thoughts that are behind the words. Helen White realizes “that the world was full of meaningless people saying words” (239), George Willard decides not to use “speeches” as they “seemed utterly pointless” 237) and the artist Enoch comes to realize that “he knew what he wanted to say, but he knew also that he could never by any possibility say it” (169). Enoch’s case provides an apt example of Anderson’s belief in the impotence and uselessness of words in conveying truthful meaning. Enoch is an artist who hangs out with “talking artists” who “talked and talked” and believe that talking “matters much more than it does” (169). Not only are words portrayed as impotent, they are also viewed as irrelevant. No words could ever capture the truth of Enoch’s paintings; as he puts it “The picture you see doesn’t consist of the things you see and say words about” (169). Words don’t exist in the same realm as the “truths” of Enoch’s paintings, and as such, are not only utterly useless, but, given the context, completely absurd.But what exactly are these mysterious “truths” which Anderson’s characters are unable to name with “mere words?” Unlike words, which are fixed and unyielding, “truth” in Winesburg, Ohio never takes on a definite shape, and as such, is incapable of being captured by concrete words. In the “Book of the Grotesque” Anderson tells us:That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful…And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.It was the truths that made the people grotesques…It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood (24).”Truths” are composed of “many vague thoughts,” they’re essentially formless and “vague” without definite shape or definite meaning. “Truths” become “falsehoods” when Anderson’s characters try to possess them, like one would possess a solid, ownable object. In Anderson’s world, when persons try to “call” a truth their own, when they try to define it, to give it a name and a form, to use it as a “model” which can be explained and talked about, it is then that the truth becomes a “falsehood.” “Truths” resist naming, they resist labels and words and are constantly changing and reforming shape. For instance, in “Paper Pills,” Doctor Reefy erects “little pyramids of truth” and “after erecting knocked them down again that he might have the truths to erect other pyramids” (35). Later he forms a “truth that arose gigantic in his mind. The truth clouded the world. It became terrible and then faded away and the little thoughts began again” (37), thoughts which he eventually stuffs into his pocket to “become round hard balls” (38). “Truths,” therefore, resist definite shape, they are “pyramids” which are knocked down, they are “round hard balls,” and they resist singularity; which is to say, no single “gigantic” truth can ever take the place of the multitude of truths which exist. In essence, “truth,” as it functions in Winesburg, Ohio is shapeless, vague, un-nameable and multitudinous in nature. It is not only, however, Anderson’s characters which are unable to name “truth” or express it through words, but Anderson’s omnipotent narrator as well. In “Sophistication,” Anderson’s narrator repeatedly uses the intentionally vague word “thing” to describe (or at least hint at) the truth and meaning of what his characters are experiencing. For example, when Helen and George walk together in the night, Anderson writes, “In the mind of each was the same thought. ŒI have come to this place and here is this other,’ was the substance of the thing felt” (241)… “She took his arm and walked beside him in dignified silence. For some reason they could not have explained they had both got from their silent evening together the thing needed. Man or boy, woman or girl, they had for a moment taken a hold of the thing that makes the mature life of men and women in the modern world possible” (243). Notice first of all, as was pointed out before, that it is only in “silence,” (without words), that the characters can grasp this truthful “thing.” Words are again portrayed as an obstacle to truth. But this vague “truth” is not only un-nameable and indescribable for Anderson’s characters. Anderson’s narrator, similarly, is only able to describe it as a “thing.” What, then, is this “thing” to which the narrator continually refers? Put tritely, it is a form of truth that allows Anderson’s characters to survive and persist in the “modern world.” But as with any Andersonian form of “truth,” it must necessarily be without definite shape, name or form. Thus to attempt to describe such a truth in any more specific or concrete terms than as a “thing” would be, for Anderson’s narrator, to turn it into a “falsehood.” For example, in the “Book of the Grotesque” the old writer becomes “filled with words” which puts him in danger of “becoming a grotesque” (24). What ultimately saves him is “the young thing inside him” (24). The old writer doesn’t allow himself to become filled with a definite “truth,” a truth that would then, inevitably, become a falsehood. Ironically what allows him to survive, to find an Andersonian form of “truth” can only be described as a “thing.” We see again that to describe it otherwise would be to metaphorically “kill” it, would make it into a concrete, describable, singular falsehood. But how can we assert confidently that Anderson’s use of the word “thing” is meant to point to some form of “truth”? The old writer in “The Book of the Grotesque” has a dream where “He imagined the young indescribable thing within himself was driving a long procession of figures before his eyes…They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques” (22). The old man understands people for what, he believes, they are: persons clinging to falsehoods, living their lives by a single, concrete, nameable (and hence essentially un-truthful) truth. Conversely, in “Sophistication” the young writer, George Willard, “Looks out upon the world, seeing, as though they marched in a procession before him, the countless figures of men who before his time have come out of nothingness into the world, lived their lives and again disappeared into nothingness” (235). Both writers have a vision of “figures of men” who are living seemingly meaningless, pointless lives; they are people living falsehoods, people who come and go through “nothingness.” There is therefore a direct correlation between George Willard’s use of the word “nothingness” and the old writer’s use of the word “grotesqueness” (i.e., the “falseness” of men). “Nothingness” is an interesting word choice given that the two words which compose it are “no” and “thing.” Remember, moreover, that that which sustains the old writer, that which allows George Willard and Helen to have a night of shared truth and understanding, and that which, in general, “makes life possible in the modern world” is repeatedly described as that “thing.” Therefore a “no-thing” takes on a symbolic meaning here, representing the inherent falseness of men whom attempt to name and possess a single “truth.”Sherwood Anderson, by understanding the inherent impotence in words in describing and capturing the very nature of truth and what it means to be human, has created a powerful and deeply moving novel. Although Anderson understands the impossibility of ever fully capturing “truth” in words, I believe he comes closest when he writes, “One shudders at the thought of the meaningless of life while at the same instant, and if the people of the town are his people, one loves life so intensely that tears come into his eyes” (241). To attempt to analyze this passage would only kill the inherent truth that its words express.

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Hands Across Winesburg: Synecdochic Connections in Winesburg, Ohio

June 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

The sum of the parts‹the vignettes of townsfolk‹of Winesburg, Ohio is greater than the whole novel. Winesburg, too, is only one town in all of Ohio, which is one of a host of states in the U.S. This magnification is at the heart of the novel, in which synecdoche is the main lens through which Sherwood Anderson allows us to regard the grotesques. This narrow aperture of perception does not compromise full characterization, but instead forces the reader into searching for subtle connections within and across the sketches. The opening story, “Hands,” launches the titular synecdochic motif whose pairings Anderson systematically and symmetrically deploys. Discounting the final brief story, “Departure,” and the prologue-like “The Book of the Grotesque,” the opening story complements the final story. Within this diptych and throughout the other pieces, Anderson feeds the epitomized symbol of human connection, the hand, into a matrix of binaries and hidden connections. He outlines the hand’s numerous antithetical uses (for instance, as both a formal farewell handshake and a lover’s caress) and reveals the gesticulative associations between ostensibly disparate characters. Though we may glimpse only a character’s hand, by tracing its antitheses and parallels we can blow up that portion into a full-sized portrait, just as we come to understand a town by all its citizens, a state by all its towns, and a country by all its states. And just as the U.S. is comprised of neither solely Ohio nor solely Oregon, but of the whole union, so does the hand embody neither exclusively intimacy nor exclusively alienation, but the entire spectrum of human contact.I will begin by examining what I find the crux of the novel’s conflict, the paradoxical deployments of hands within the stories. The paradox features an impossible or illogical state of being for the hand, but one that exists nonetheless. Anderson cues us to the paradox’s importance by showing Wing Biddlebaum “rubbing his hands together and looking up and down the road” (5). The gesture has little to do with his vision at the moment, but suggests that the reader similarly look both ways when reading through the book and exercise his depth perception. We take note of the perplexing admixture of human emotion under the surface of a simple handshake: “He put out his hand as though to greet the younger man and then awkwardly drew it back again” (141). The relationship between the two men‹that of a doctor greeting a dead patient’s son‹is summed up by the handshake, a formalized mode of greeting in a situation that requires the tact of more informal tactility. The ambivalence that meets a person when thrust into society, of desiring intimacy but fearing the proximity, is the central motivation of the grotesques, as voiced by an eighteen-year-old George Willard, who later recants his vows with angry, forced aloofness: “With all his heart he wants to come close to some other human, touch someone with his hands, be touched by the hand of anotherŠHe wants, most of all, understanding” (145).But such an understanding is difficult when the paradoxes reveal their irreconcilable and incomprehensible origins. Insecure about his baldness, Wing’s hands futilely play about his “bare white forehead as though arranging a mass of tangled locks” (5). The anxiety over the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” is indicative of Wing’s attempts to create connections or proclaim presence where none exists. Similarly confounding is his means of articulation: “The slender expressive fingers, forever active, forever striving to conceal themselves in his pockets or behind his back, came forth and became the piston rods of his machinery of expression” (6). Though his words are emphasized through gesticulation, the hands visually divert attention from the verbal meaning. His humanity may be revealed more clearly through his gestures, but it is also reduced by the robotic associations of “piston rods.”Moving beyond the paradox, contradictions play a key role in defining strictly alternative operations of the hand. Created through juxtaposition of two opposing uses of the hand, they showcase the multidimensionality of the hand that might evade notice if viewed as isolated instances. Wing, as schoolmaster Adolph Myers, touches his students with communicative love:In a way the voice and the hands, the stroking of the shoulders and the touching of the hair was a part of the schoolmaster’s efforts to carry a dream into the young minds. By the caress that was in his fingers he expressed himself. He was one of those men in whom the force that creates life is diffused, not centralized. (8)Three paragraphs later, the father of one of the students inverts Myers’s soft touch with his “hard knuckles” as he beats him. While his force is also one of diffusion, it is a dissipation of destruction: “Screaming with dismay, the children ran here and there like disturbed insects” (8). The violent is again paired with the nurturant in the modifying operations of utilitarian objects. An angry mob of men with “lanterns in their hands” carries the banal objects with venom, as does the man with a “rope in his hands” (9). Back in present time, Wing uses a knife, not even named in the passage, to “cut slices of bread and spread honey upon them” (9). Lanterns and rope as instruments of death and a knife as an aid for sustenance, each made so by the intent of the controlling hands, encapsulates the contradictory range of the hand as inevitably seeking both life and death, contact and alienation.How does the hand figure as an agent of these conflicting aims between characters? We are told that “[T]he story of Wing Biddlebaum’s hands is worth a book in itself” and, indeed, comparable details of supposedly unique gestures abound throughout Winesburg, Ohio. The laying of a hand upon a shoulder recurs among the characters, but with different intentions. In “The Thinker,” Helen puts “her hand upon Seth’s shoulder” in an “actŠof pure affection and cutting regret” (82). In “Sophistication,” George takes the touch of Helen’s shoulder as an advanced state of hand-holding: “In the darkness he took hold of her hand and when she crept close put a hand on her shoulder” (149). But his and Helen’s affection is borne not from pure affection, but from an insecurity of anonymous alienation, where neither lover nor the emotion is named: “‘I have come to this lonely place and here is this other,’ was the substance of the thing felt” (149). Wing is the progenitor of the shoulder motif, “caressing the shoulders of the boys” as schoolmaster in his “effort to carry a dream into the young minds” (9). In a moment of blissful oblivion from his manual torment, he repeats the verbal and accompanying physical lesson with George: “For once he forgot the hands. Slowly they stole forth and lay upon George Willard’s shouldersŠ’You must try to forget all you have learned,’ said the old man. ŒYou must begin to dream'” (8).Though Wing is a pariah by any account, his shared tendencies with others implies that either he is not as alone as he believes, or that other, more socially fluent members of Winesburg are equally alone. He recoils from touching George, remembering his past: “With a convulsive movement of his body, Wing Biddlebaum sprang to his feet and thrust his hands deep into his trousers pockets” (7). In “The Thinker,” Seth Richmond fantasizes about an idyllic summer scene with Helen White, “her hand lying in his hand” (81). Then, when he returns to the somewhat starker reality with her, he echoes Wing’s actions nearly to the word: “Releasing the hand of the girl, he thrust his hands into the trouser pockets” (81). Wing’s closest ties remain with George, his only friend, and the unofficial bookends of “Hands” and “Sophistication” unveil their links of loneliness through the closeness of events. In “Hands,” we are told that “Winesburg was proud of the hands of Wing Biddlebaum in the same spirit in which it was proud of Banker White’s new stone house and Wesley Moyer’s bay stallion, Tony Tip, that had won the two-fifteen trot at the fall races in Cleveland” (6). In “Sophistication,” George feels “so utterly lonely and dejected” after the Winesburg Country Fair, but is spurred on by pride, “swinging his arms” much as Wing would (147). This is nothing extraordinary, but the gathering he happens upon is too similar to the communal pride described in “Hands”: “He came to Westley Moyer’s livery barn and stopped in the shadows to listen to a group of men who talked of a race Westley’s stallion, Tony Tip, had won at the Fair during the afternoon” (147). Though different horse races (the discrepancy in the spelling of Moyer’s first name seems to be a printing or authorial error), the related set of circumstances and the resulting emotion‹desolate isolation within a communal celebration (if we infer that Wing does not share the same pride with the town over his hands)‹bonds Wing and George in ways neither comprehends on his own. While Wing beats his fists in frustration on the “walls of his house,” George puts his “hand against the wall to support himself” after seeing his dead mother (6, 142). The image of walls is not coincidental; the physical and invisible structures of the community keep its members apart, but Wing and George try, perhaps in vain, to break through those boundaries in their shared movements.The distanced endpoints of holding and touch extend towards the infinitudes of origin and end for Elizabeth Willard in “Death,” in the two “moments when her lovers Death and Doctor Reefy held her in her arms” (143). The touch of the doctor, preserver of life, is equated with that of death, which “like a living thing put out his hand” to Elizabeth (140). The hand, then, is the possessor of every possible form of contact, and it is fitting that the novel’s final moment of contact serves as a synecdochic farewell from the town to George: “Getrude WilmotŠhad never before paid any attention to George. Now she stopped and put out her hand. In two words she voiced what everyone felt” (152).

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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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