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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Solitary And The Submerged: The Grotesques In Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg By Abraham Panavelil Abraham

The Solitary And The Submerged: The Grotesques In Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg By Abraham Panavelil Abraham

It was the truths that made the people grotesques----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 falsehood.
─Winesburg, Ohio


The beginning of the development of the American short story of the 1920s is commonly associated with the publication of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio in 1919. [The abbreviation WO will be used in parenthesis for further references in the paper]. The work captured the attention of the literary world because of Anderson’s acute insight into some of the basic issues of life like alienation, loss of individuality and a desperate need for a sense of community. Anderson calls the characters in this book “grotesques” as they are victims of some psychic deformity which is the consequence of some terrible failure in their lives or unfulfilled desires. The paper will try to look into the factors that are responsible for the grotesqueness of Anderson’s characters. The paper will also show how Anderson overturned the conventions to liberate the short story from the determinants of time and incident by using a loose structure in order to tell his story with greater effect.

Key words: Winesburg, Ohio, grotesque, alienation, loneliness, psychic deformity, loose structure


1.1 Introduction

The nineteen twenties was a remarkable period in the field of American art and literature. A renaissance was clearly taking place in the field of the short story also. It is no exaggeration to say that there has never been a time in the history of American literature when the short story writers have shown more interest in their craft. These writers moved away from the traditional plot line and introduced a flexible form which could accommodate any situation. It is not that the short stories during this period are formless, episodic, or casual. On the contrary, they do have a distinct structure, though not one as tightly organized as in the traditional story. In fact,the writers during this period wove their material into a symbolic design. Instead of rounding off an action definitively, they revealed its meaning through a casual glance, gesture or remark. Such a form of the short story works through indirection rather than explicit statements. The innate and ultimate value of these stories lies in their chaste compactness and inclusiveness. Words in these stories are not used as self-contained units. They are not even a means to convey information. In fact, they only create amplitude, where everything is, and nothing is explained. This characteristic of purity in the narrative prose is the hallmark of the American short story of the twenties.

Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio was a landmark in the development of the American short story of the twenties. Here, Anderson challenged the formula or standardized stories which became a model and inspiration for many of the young writers of the nineteen twenties, especially Hemingway and Faulkner. The short story became more poetic and psychologically suggestive than anything that had gone before it in American fiction. As Philip Stevick has pointed out:
The effect is that of Joycean epiphany in which a single gesture, a perception or a bit of dialogue is caught, rendered permanent, and although never interpreted, dissolves into a myriad of implications for the reader. Fundamental to this form is that it shows a life not in process, but revealed by a moment's flickering light in the quintessential meaning. [62]
Later, Anderson wrote in The Teller's Tales, "I have come to think that the true history of life is but a history of moments. It is only at rare moments that we live. [309]. To quote Philip Stevick again, "Anderson is the first writer to articulate this vision in the American short story, allowing the 'moment' to reveal a hidden and not altogether a flattering element in American experience. [62]


1.2 Personal experiences

Anderson's own personal experiences provided the raw material for much of his work. He learned that the problems he had seen and experienced around were manifestations of universal problems. They were made more intense by the forces that had come to dominate the American culture during his life time. He had experienced it all, as a laborer, soldier and business executive. He also had seen it as a boy in a quiet, tradition bound Ohio town, and as a man in the huge complex metropolis of Chicago. He witnessed the rapid and extraordinary shift in the American ethos and the sudden displacement in sensibility it created. He saw the adverse effect of urbanization and technology, the degradation of religious values and its usurpation by the money-god with the result that there was a drift towards confusion, frustration and alienation.

Anderson was forty when he published his first work of fiction. He struggled hard for the next twenty five years to express the problem of 'dehumanization' in America and to search for the 'common passion' by which Americans might be drawn close together. This quest became a central issue in both his work and his life. In the words of Welford Dungway Taylor:
He [Anderson] believed that life was not measured by the birth and death of individual people; it was rather a broad sweep of human history, forever ongoing, forever changing. Having spent a life time experiencing and interpreting contemporary life he died in the process of exploring it still further-life for Sherwood Anderson remained to the end a limitless source of fascination and constant challenge for intense participation as an artist. [18]

1.3 Influences

Perhaps the most important influence on Anderson was his father, Irve Anderson, who used to entertain people in the bar room with tales of his adventures in the Civil war. Many stories of Anderson too were first told in saloons. In fact, Anderson's earlier impulse had been to speak, not write his stories. It is probably from him that Anderson first learned the technique of oral narration of stories. Anderson was also inspired by the rhythms and imagery of the Bible. As William A. Sutton has pointed out, "He was a man who did not belong to a Church, but had continuing and deep concern over the idea that we are all Christ and we are all crucified [306]. Anderson was also fond of the language of the Old Testament writers. Its influence, found in phrases and expressions of the book, is to be seen most strongly in "The Book of the Grotesques". The narrator sounds like the narrator of Genesis when he describes grotesqueness with the words, "That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as truth. [WO 23]. Anderson liked the simple, lofty language of the King James Bible that was familiar to most American writers.


2.1. Victims of sychic deformity-grotesques

The atmosphere in which these people live is tense and claustrophobic. The stories in Winesburg, Ohio focus on crucial moments in the lives of men and women living in the small town of Winesburg. These people live in a world of loneliness and isolation from which they attempt to break away. There is a communication gap between the characters which they long to bridge, but in vain. "Loneliness" is indeed the key word of Winesburg, Ohio. Almost everyone in the book experiences loneliness in one way or the other. One of the stories is entitled "Loneliness" and the word 'lonely' occurs frequently throughout Winesburg, Ohio. The psychic deformity of the characters may be the consequence of some terrible failures in their lives or unfulfilled desires. They become inarticulate, frustrated and alienated. As an alternative, sometimes they find gratification in their obsession with inanimate objects, as with the unloved Alice Hindman in the story "Adventure" who because it was her own, could not bear to have anyone touch the furniture room' [WO 115].
In one sense, 'nothing happens' in Winesburg, Ohio. For most of its figures, it is too late for anything to happen. They simply brood over the trauma which has so harshly blocked their spontaneity. They are indeed what Anderson has called them – "Grotesques". About the fictional use of the grotesques Ihab Hassan says:
 It permits him [the writer] to question torpid habits and vapid norms, and shocks us through creative distortion into some recognition of truths we dare not face. The grotesque as a clown or scapegoat is comic or elegiac, revolting and pathetic. He is a born outsider. [78]
In order to survive in Winesburg, these grotesques have had to suppress their wish to love. Wash Williams ("Respectability") becomes a misogynist when his mother-in-law in order to bring about a reconciliation between him and his faithless wife thrusts her completely naked before him. Wing Biddlebaum ("Hands") becomes a recluse because his wish to blend learning with affection is terribly misunderstood. Grotesqueness, then, is not only the shield of deformity; it is also a remnant of misshapen feeling. Dr. Reefy in the story "Paper Pills" rightly calls it 'the sweetness of the twisted apples' [WO 38].


2.3. Instances of human isolation

Anderson examines various instances of human isolation in his stories. In fact, the first three stories set the tone for the remaining ones. The first story "Hands" projects the loss of creativity in the use of human body. Here, Wing Biddlebaum is unable to convey his real feelings. He is introduced as old, haggard, and far beyond his years. He has arrived in Winesburg twenty years earlier under circumstances never revealed to the people of the town. The reader knows about it only through the words of the narrator who retells the events. Biddlebaum has lived in a town in Pennsylvania where he has been a good teacher. His extraordinary ability in handling the young boys is reinforced by the expressiveness of his hand: "here and there went his hands caressing the shoulders of the boys playing about the tousled heads." [WO 31]. As the teacher speaks, his voice becomes soft and musical. It is as though through his tender touch and voice the school master tries to carry a dream into the young minds. A half witted boy misunderstood the school teacher's gesture, his erotic dreams, and reported them to his elders as 'real things'! The townspeople brutalize the school teacher publicly and hound him out of town. Biddlebaum spends the rest of his years in Winesburg as a laborer. He is completely confused about his predicament. In a vague way, he realizes that his hands must be to blame. As Wing Biddlebaum prepares himself for bed, he sees some bread crumbs from his evening meal still on the table:
Putting the lamp upon the low stool he began to pick up the crumbs, carrying them to his mouth one by one with unbelievable rapidity [WO 34].
In the dim light of the single lamp,
---the kneeling figure looked like a priest engaged in some service of his church. The nervous expressive fingers fishing in and out of the light, might well have been mistaken for the fingers of the devotee going through decade after decade of his rosary" [WO 34].
The second story 'Paper Pills" depicts the inability to communicate human thoughts, pocketed in paper pellets that no one reads. Here, Anderson describes the apples of the Winesburg orchards, those left after the pickers removed the more perfect fruits:
On the trees are only a few gnarled apples that the pickers have nibble at them and they are delicious. Into a little round place at the side of the apple has been gathered all of its sweetness. One runs from tree to tree over the frosted ground picking the gnarled, twisted apples and filling his pockets with them. [WO 36]
The image of the ‘twisted apple’ with its spot of sweetness reverberates throughout the stories, acting as a metaphor for all the lives within. The third story “Mother” relates the themes of the first two stories to a larger variant: the inability of Elizabeth Willard to communicate her love to her son. Anderson uses the first two stories to explore what he feels, are the major aspects of the problem of human isolation- the inability to communicate feelings, thoughts and love. According to him these three are the real sources of grotesqueness in human beings. In the story “The Philosopher”, it is fear of persecution that makes Dr. Parcival a grotesque. His inability to save himself convinces him that ‘everyone one in the world is Christ and they are all crucified’ [WO 57].


2.4. Human isolation that stems from lack of sexual and loving relations

Alice Hindman in “Adventure” is an example of a character whose frustration and loneliness are of a specifically sexual nature. She has waited many years for the return of her younger lover, rejecting other suitors, but all in vain with the result that she becomes lonely, frustrated and withdrawn. As years pass, silence and loneliness accumulate in her life and she becomes a ‘grotesque’. She gets attached to inanimate objects, creating ‘fantasy lovers’ in her bed room so that they resemble human forms lying between her sheets. In moments of great agony, she whispers again and again, “Why doesn’t something happen? Why am I left here alone?” [WO119]. Finally one cold and rainy night, half mad with the desire to find some other ‘lonely human and embrace him’, she rushes naked into the streets.

There are other characters whose loneliness and frustration stem from the absence of love; from the unfulfilled yearning for sexual experience. Kate Swift (“The Teacher”) is considered by her students as cold, forbidding and unapproachable. The townspeople look at her as one who lacks all human feelings. In fact, ‘she is the most eagerly passionate soul among them’ [ WO119]. She often walks the streets of Winesburg at night, tormented by memory and desire. Once at the office of the ‘Winesburg Eagle’, she meets George Willard and she gets drawn to the boy. Her eagerness to reach the boy and the appeal of his quiet charm combine to arouse her sexually.
As she looked at George Willard, the passionate desire to be loved by a man that had a thousand times before swept like a storm over her body took possession of her. In the lamp light George Willard looked no longer a boy, but a man ready to play the part of a man. [WO 165]
For a moment she yields, the strength goes out of her body and she tends to embrace him. Then just as quickly, she repels him, beating him on the face with her fists. Kate Swift runs out of the office, and the confused George Willard is left to pace up and down, “swearing furiously”. In the story, George functions to illuminate the complex character of Kate Swift, whereas in “The Strength of God”, it is Kate Swift who serves to reveal the complex behavior of Reverend Curtis Hartman. He is quiet, unpretentious, refined and admired by the townspeople. But, Curtis Hartman was haunted by two problems: he feels the absence of God’s spirit within him. And he is obsessed by the physical loveliness of Kate Swift whose bed room is opposite to the bell tower of his church. Eventually, the desire for Kate Swift supersedes the desire for spiritual faith. Then, he makes an opening in the leaded window that allows him to see her lying on her bed:
I will besiege the school teacher. I will fly in the face of all men and if I am a creature of carnal lust, I will live then for my lust. [WO 154]
For a time, the distracted man trembles from head to foot and comes “never dying from the effects of waiting” and watching. But as he gazes at the naked woman, she begins to weep, to beat upon he pillow, and then to pray. In the softly lit room, her body suggests to him not that of a sexually desirable woman, but that of a young boy attendant upon Christ. Reverend Curtis Hartman is confused and cries aloud and runs out of the church and down to the newspaper office where he announces to the startled George Willard:
The ways of God are beyond human understanding. I have found the light. After ten years in this town God had manifested himself to me in the person of Kate Swift, the school teacher, kneeling naked on a bed. [WO 155]
In some cases the turbulent inner lives of the grotesques find expression in awkward fitful action. Such acts defeat their end. A typical case is that Elmer Cowley in the story ”Queer”. He is obsessed with the notion that people regard him as queer, and isolates him for the same reason. He wants to prove that he is not queer. In fact, he is so very queer that he is unpredictable and incapable of communicating his feelings like a normal human being. The result is that he becomes all the more lonely and a grotesque.


2.5. A moment of revelation

In the story, “The Untold Lie”, breaking the barriers of isolation, the two characters reach out suddenly through walls of inarticulateness and misunderstanding. Malcolm Cowley considers this story as one of the ‘best moments’ in Winesburg, Ohio. Ray Pearson is small, serious and middle aged, the father of half a dozen thin-legged children. Hal Winters is big and young, with the reputation of being a bad one. Suddenly, he says to his friend, ‘I’ve got Neil Gunther in trouble. I’m telling you, but keep your mouth shut. (WO 205). He puts his two hands on Ray’s shoulders and looks down into his eyes and says:
 Well, old daddy, come on, advise me. Perhaps you've been in the same fix yourself. I know, what everyone would say is the right thing to do, but what do you say? [WO 205].
Then the narrator comments:
There they stood, in the big empty field with the quiet corn shocks standing in rows behind them and the red and yellow hills in the distance and from being just two indifferent workmen they had become all alive to each other. [WO 206]
Malcolm Cowley has rightly pointed out in the "Introduction" to Winesburg, Ohio:
---That single moment of aliveness-that epiphany, as Joyce would have called it-is the effect that Anderson is trying to create for his readers…. ["Introduction", WO 7)
Ray Pearson thinks of his marriage to a girl he has got into trouble. And he turns away from Hal without being able to say the expected words about duty. Later on, he has an impulse to warn the younger man against being tricked into bondage. He runs awkwardly across the fields, crying out that children are only accidents of life. Then, he meets Hal and stops. He is unable to repeat the words again. It is Hal who break s the silence: "I've already made up my mind- Neil isn't no fool. - --I want to marry her. I want to settle down and have kids [WO 208]. Both men laugh, as if they have forgotten the early incident in the cornfield. Ray walks away into the darkness thinking pleasantly now of his children and saying to himself, "it's just as well. Whatever I told him would have been a lie' [WO 208]. In this story, there is a moment of "briefly stablished communion" and though that communion has broken down, as Malcolm Cowley has pointed out,
We feel that each man has revealed his essential being. It is as if a gulf had opened in the level Ohio cornfield and as if, for one moment, a light had shone from the depths, illuminating everything that happened or would ever happen to both of them. [WO 7]

2.6. The initiation of George Willard

George Willard emerges as the central figure of Winesburg, Ohio. He appears and reappears in almost all the stories, either as the leading character or as a casual observer. His presence gives a unity to the book. He is the means through which the book acquires thematic development. Other characters are drawn to him because of his moral freshness, his innocence, responsiveness and openness to experiences. One can observe the growth of George Willard from adolescence to manhood in a friendly town full of solitary persons. George is too young to understand these grotesques full well. But in the process, he is initiated into adult life. "Nobody knows" is about George's sexual initiation. This is his first sexual encounter and hence a turning point in his life. Here, the sex act and the overtures preceding it are a fumbling search for understanding on the part of Louis Trunnion. But George misinterprets it with the result that he is unsatisfied and afraid and he goes on his way leaving Louise alone. Kate swift ("The Teacher") plays an important role in George's initiation. According to Christ Browning,
"Kate tries to make her students aware of the creative elements in life through an intimate knowledge of arts." [147-148]. She wants to open the door of life to her former pupil. George, however, misunderstands her eagerness, as sexual desire. After the encounter with Kate Swift, George is confused about her intention. In bewilderment he tells himself, "I have missed something Kate swift was trying to tell me [WO 166].
With the story "Drink", George Willard's education is complete. Here, George learns for himself the ambiguous nature of experience and the attendant difficulties it presents. Tom Foster is an outsider, both by birth and by nature. He is too innocent to be condemned just because he is possessed by an impossible dream of understanding. One spring, he falls in love with Helen White, the banker's daughter with whom all the youth of Winesburg dally in their fantasies. He resolves his emotional dilemma in a very strange way. He neither represses nor physically indulges his emotions, but allows himself to "think of Helen White whenever the figure came into his mind and only concerned himself with the manner of his thoughts" [WO 215].

But the manner of his thoughts takes a mystical turn. One night, Tom goes off to drink for the first (and he insists the last) time. In his intoxication he has fantasies of loving Helen White. This act of drinking and his fantasy show his loneliness which he does not understand fully and cannot explain to others. It is all over in one night. George condemns Tom Foster's drunken dream of Helen White. Nevertheless, George is drawn to the boy who wants to experience everything. Tom himself feels better after the incident. He says to George Willard later, "It was like making love- I wanted to learn things, you see. That's why I did it. [WO 219].

Now, there is nothing more that the people of Winesburg can teach him and hence George must go into the world and learn for himself. In "Death", the means of release are provided by his mother's death, which breaks the tie that has held him. It is also revealed that she and Doctor Reefy had loved each other because they had shared moments of understanding. George, however, does not know this. He is overwhelmed by his knowledge that eventually everyone is destined to be isolated by death. "Sophistication" provides the final lesson that leads George into complete manhood. In his first and last quiet meeting with Helen White, he sees her as a symbol of spiritual fulfillment rather than as an object of physical love. He realizes that a moment of shared understanding transcends anything that might be found in a physical union. Based on his new understanding, he realizes that pure love even when uncomplicated by society's imposed pressures, or its misguided interpretations, can easily lead to misinterpretation and isolation. For a moment, however, each of them has come close to knowing and understanding the other. He has learned that man's grotesqueness can only be cured by searching out moments of compassion and of love. After the final revelation in "Sophistication", George is ready for the departure. In the microcosm of human nature that is Winesburg, he has learned the fundamental secrets of human life: in order to live happily one must reach out people and accept love.


2.7 The grotesques attitude towards George Willard

The attitude of the grotesques towards George Willard varies from story to story. To some like Doctor Reefy ("Paper Pills"), and Doctor Parcival ("The Philosopher") he is the lost son returned. They believe that his apparent innocence and capacity for feeling will redeem Winesburg. To others like Tom Foster ("Drink") and Elmer Cowley ("Queer") he is a reporter and messenger who can bring news of a dispensation which will allow them to re enter the world of men. To Louise Trunnion, ("Nobody Knows") he will bring a love that he has never written and in which he will tell all men that they are all crucified. Reverend Curtis Hartman ("The strength of God") expects George Willard to have the willingness to understand a vision of God as revealed in the flesh of a naked woman. Wash Williams ("Respectability") wants from him the promise of peace that will ease his sense of isolation.

The grotesques want to have the release of their suppressed feelings somehow or the other. Indeed, they want to establish a relation with each other that may restore them to collective harmony. There is no doubt that they heed each other and want each other. But their estrangement is too extreme to allow them to come closer. Throughout the book, this tension between the need to meet and the need to be aloof is evident. Eventually, they try to find solace in George Willard who will soon leave the place for good.

Only in one story "Death" the grotesques seem to meet. Elizabeth and Doctor Reefy embrace in a moment of confusion but they are interrupted by a stray noise on the stairs. Both are disturbed and soon Elizabeth leaves. "The thing that had come to life in her as she talked to her one friend, died suddenly" [WO 228]. Later, at her death bed, Dr. Reefy meets George Willard and puts out "his hand as though to greet the young man and then awkwardly draws again [WO
George Willard has not yet become a grotesque himself mainly because he has not experienced deeply. In his difference from them, the grotesques see the possibility of saving themselves. But, in reality it is a barrier to reunion and relationship. George's adolescent receptivity to the grotesques can only give him the momentary emotional enlightenment as described in "Sophistication". On the eve of his departure from Winesburg, George Willard reaches the point:
When, he for the first time takes the backward view of life---. With a little gasp he sees himself as merely a leaf blown by the wind through the streets of his village. He knows that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must live and die in uncertainty, a thing blown by the winds- Already he hears death calling. With all his heart he wants to come close to some other human, touch someone with all his hands---- [WO 234-235]
In fact, the thematic development of Winesburg, Ohio is possible through the evolution of George's experiences from unawareness through increasing awareness to a state of understanding even if temporary.


3.1 Narrative style

In Winesburg, Ohio, Anderson has replaced the earlier imitative and artificial rhetoric style with a simple, colloquial one. Conversations have a particular Midwestern tone and they sound very natural. The stories have an underlying oral pattern with the result that they digress, slacken and sometimes appear to have unnecessary details. However, eventually they acquire a compactness and unity. One can notice Anderson's oral tone when he begins the story "Hands". "Upon the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up and down" [WO 27]. About Anderson's style of writing, David D. Anderson remarks in his book Sherwood Anderson: An introduction and interpretation
--the experimentation with the natural rhythms of American speech that he had conducted in Mid American chants has in Winesburg becomes his major stylistic characteristic, pointing towards his mastery of the reproduction of the oral story telling tradition that halts, digresses, becomes seemingly irrelevant at times, and yet proceeds towards a carefully defined climax and impact. [30]
The stories are held together by a central figure, George Willard and they revolve around him. The stories can be read individually and collectively. When read collectively, one gets the feeling of reading a novel. In fact, Anderson’s book has served as a model for Hemingway’s first collection of stories In Our Time. Like Winesburg, Ohio, several of the stories of In Our Time revolve around a central character- Nick Adams and follow a rough chronological order from youthful innocence to mature disillusionment.


3.2 Characterization

Each character in the book is primarily defined by a controlling characteristic that provides the key to his individuality and the nature of his grotesqueness. This method of characterization is also a unifying factor in the book. For instance, Anderson combines the stories in which George Willard does not appear ("Godliness" "Tandy" "The Untold Lie") with the others in the book by using the same background and also the same technique.


3.3. Use of dramatic technique and inference

A story by definition is a narration. The presence of a narrator distinguishes a story from a play. But the narrator is free to use the technique of drama in various ways, in order to achieve vividness. Of course, Anderson hardly uses any dramatic scenes in his stories. However, his stories carry a strongly dramatic impact. In order to achieve this effect, he has used the technique of inference. In other words, Anderson suggests or implies certain things rather than analyses or describes them. Such a form which relies on inference rather than explicit statements often invites the reader to make certain conjectures. The grotesques in Winesburg believe that George Willard will one day help them out. This is not directly mentioned in any stories. But, it seems to be the promise that after leaving Winesburg, George will become the voice of inarticulate men and women. Similarly, Anderson resorts to inference in characterization also. In "Hands", Anderson describes Wing Biddlebaum as
…one of those rare, little understood men who rule by a power so gentle that it passes as a lovable weakness. In their feelings for the boys under their charge, such men are ot unlike the finer sort of women in their love of men. [WO 31]
In the story "Godliness", Anderson says, "Louise was from childhood a neurotic" [WO 87]. In "The Strength of God", Reverent Curtis Hartman is described as a person who is 'silent and reticent' [WO 147]. In all these stories something important about a character is told. But they tend to omit something else of greater importance- something which usually can only be gathered through inference from the story as a whole. The gentleness indicated in "Hands" is only part of what is important in Wing Biddlebaum. Equally important are his exceptional naiveté, his fear of society and his disastrous inability to understand the strain of homosexuality in himself. In "Godliness" the characterization of Louise does not disclose her peculiar combination of innocence and cynical despair. Many aspects of the characters are left to the inference of the reader. More noteworthy is the fact that George Willard's state of mind is not directly described in any of the stories. The true state of mind which is left for the readers to infer is a delicate mixture of feelings. Anderson is more concerned with 'what lies beneath the surface'. For him the hidden knowledge remains hidden even from the writer. Anderson's stories tell that the implications and inferences lie beyond language's power of containment. Like the central character in the story "Loneliness" who says when he hears his work being praised: "You don't get the point---the picture you see doesn't consist of things you see and say words about--- [WO 169]. He gets irritated at the admiration of the people as they have misunderstood the real meaning of his art. Similarly, the implications and inferences of Andeson's stories lie beyond language's power of containment.


3.4 Anderson's use of language

Anderson's language has the power to convey feelings directly as they are conveyed in a lyric. According to T.K. Whipple,
At best Anderson conveys precisely that sense of constriction about the heart and that difficulty of breathing which one gets from the finest lyrics [118].
Anderson himself defined his technique as follows:
There was a kind of poetry I was seeking in my prose, word to be laid against word in just a certain way, a kind of word color, a march of word and sentences, and the color to be squeezed out of simple words, simple sentences construction. (Memories, 243)
Sentences in Anderson's stories are loosely constructed, allowing for quick shifts and turns of thought. A passage in "Paper Pills" in which Doctor Reefy's wife is described, serves well as an illustration:
The death of her (Mrs. Reefy's) father and mother and the rich acres of land that had come down to her set a train of suitors on her heels. For two years she saw suitors almost every evening. Except two they were alike. [WO 37]
Anderson was fond of using poetic language as he believed that poetry could allow more freedom in the positioning of words and it could generate more emotional involvement with the subject matter. When Anderson writes that Doctor Reefy's story is 'delicious like the twisted apples that grow in the orchards of Winesburg' (WO 36), he is sharing with the reader a personal savor of the subject. One can easily notice a sense of gloom, melancholy, "diffused emotion" and despair that hangs on the lives of the Winesburg characters. The core of Anderson's poetic style lies in the suggestive, implicit nature of his language. Talking about Anderson's work, Jarvis Thurston says:
---the charged atmosphere of adolescence with its diffused emotion, uncertain yearning, idealization and emotional explosiveness- and with its alternating cruelty and tenderness is the atmosphere of Winesburg, Ohio. [113]

3.4 Use of images and symbols

Anderson used effective imagery and symbols in order to evoke a variety of feelings and emotions. For example, the twisted apples are a key image in Winesburg, Ohio. Doctor Reefy's knuckles are described in terms of the misshapen fruit:
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- only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples. [WO 36]
Many of the stories have the image of dim light which partly relieves the darkness around. In "Hands", "Mother" and "Loneliness", for example, the light is that of a single lamp. In "The Untold Lie", the last scene is faintly lit by the twilight. In "Sophistication", George Willard and Helen White look at each other "in dim light". All these images also act as a link between the stories and they add to the unity of the book. Walter B. Rideout points out:
Winesburg, Ohio is primarily a book about the 'night world' of human personality. The dim light equates with as well as literally illuminates the limited glimpse into an individual soul- and the briefness of the insight is emphasized by the shutting down of the dark. [24-25]
Yet another image that frequently occurs in Winesburg, Ohio is 'hand', either in the singular or plural. It stands for the potential or actual communication of one personality with another. The hands of Wing Biddlebaum and Doctor Reefy are quite familiar to the readers. A few other instances can also be cited. George Willard takes hold of Louise Trunnion's "rough" but "delightfully small" hand in anticipation of his sexual initiation. Helen White keeps her hand in Seth Richmond's until Seth breaks the clasp through over concern with self. In "the Untold Lie" Hal winter puts 'his two hands' on Ray Pearson's shoulders and they "become all alive to each other" [WO 205]. Kate Swift, the teacher puts her hands on George Willard while telling him what being a writer means. Of course, the physical contact may not produce mutual understanding. In Winesburg, 'hands' may stand for aggression also. One of the men who wanted to catch Wing Biddlebaum 'had a rope in his hands'. Elizabeth Willard imagines herself stealing towards he husband 'holding the long wicked scissors in her hand'. Elmer Cowley on the station platform strikes George Willard with his fists.
The most important symbol used by Anderson is that of a room, frequently used to suggest isolation and confinement. Kate Swift is alone in her bed room, doctor Reefy in his office, the Reverent Curtis Hartman in his church Tower, Enoch Robinson in his crowded room. The tactful use of the symbols gives a claustrophobic atmosphere appropriate to the themes.


3.5. Loose form

The book does not fall neatly into any of the fictional modes: naturalistic or realistic. Anderson defended his style in his Memoirs where he emphasized that a short story has a loose form that has no fixed pattern, just as life has no arranged pattern. To quote him"
I am not the one who pecks away at a story. It writes itself, as though it used me merely as amedium- The short story is the result of a sudden passion. It is an idea grasped whole as one would pick an apple in an orchard---. What is wanted is a new looseness: and in Winesburg, Ohio, I have made my own form- life is a loose flowing thing--- (Memoirs, 286& 341).

4. Conclusion

Winesburg, Ohio provides a sound introduction to the art and tradition of American short story. Through this book, Anderson has left an indelible mark on the style and vision of the generation that followed. Hemingway and Faulkner owe an unmistakable debt to Anderson. Anderson pioneered many changes in the art of the American short story- in theme, technique, form and structure. He introduced 'a new looseness' in the structure of the short story. He believed that no segment of life can be said to begin or end, or resolve itself and that life does not contain plots. In the place of plot, Anderson brought back the tradition of the story teller with his colloquial speech and loose rambling narrative, which is informal. He made the short story an instrument for serious, moral and psychological examination; not merely light escapist entertainment. In Winesburg, Ohio, Anderson has delineated the desperate need of every person to make human contact and to move beyond the narrow limits of the self. What Anderson catches and dramatizes with great economy of words in the stories is the profound paradox of human existence that we all live alone, while living in a world crowded with others. Winesburg, Ohio, which is written in the bland accents of the American story teller, is indeed an enrichment of the American imagination. Though it is deeply related to the native speech rhythms, it is also the result of literary cultivation. Through these stories, Anderson could interpret the inner compulsions of the human psyche. To him what is important is 'to see beneath the surface of lives'. The characters are familiar even when they are grotesques. Their problems are 'intimate', intricate, pressing and pertinent. In fact, reading Winesburg, Ohio is like participating in the grotesqueness of life. In the best of these stories, Anderson has achieved nothing less than the literary metaphor by which the people of a radically changing culture could know themselves.


Works Cited

  1. Anderson, David D. Sherwood Anderson: An introduction and interpretation. New York: Holt. Rinehart Winston Inc. 1967.
  2. Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio. 1919. New York: Penguin Books, 1983.
  3. Anderson, Sherwood. Memoirs. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1952.
  4. Cowley, Malcolm. “Introduction". Sherwood Anderson: A collection of critical essays. Ed. Walter.
  5. B. Rideout.Englewood Cliffs. NJ: Prentice Hall, 1974.
  6. Hassan, Ihab. The Radical Innocence. The Princeton University Press, 1961.
  7. Stevick, Philip. The American short story 1900-1945: a Critical History. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1984.
  8. Sutton, William A. The Road to Winesburg: A mosaic of the imaginative life of Sherwood Anderson. NJ. The Scarecrow Press, 1972.
  9. Taylor, Welford Dunaway. Sherwood Anderson. New York: Frederick Unger Publishing Company, 1977.
  10. Thurston, Jarvis, “Anderson and Winesburg: Mysticism and Craft”. Accent XVI (Spring 1956):
  11. Whipple, T.K. “Sherwood Anderson: Spokesman” Modern Writers and America. New York: D. Appleton and Co. 1928.
Abraham Panavelil Abraham is a Professor of Literature at the University of Nizwa, Sultanate of Oman. His areas of interest include teaching of language through literature, American literature, Post-colonial literature, and Arab Writings in English.

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