Winesburg, Ohio and Midwest American Life
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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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 […]