Hands Essay, Research Paper
Widely recognized as the most popular of Sherwood Anderson novels, Hands addresses the extent of alienation. Binding a clear message, Anderson shows Wing Biddlebaum to be self-alienated, alienated from society, and alienated by emotional and spiritual decrepitude.
Interweaving the subject of isolation, Anderson portrays Biddlebaum to isolate himself from other because of confusion and fear. Biddlebaum is confused and disoriented, when his hands naturally arise to caress a person. “Pausing in his speech, Wing Biddlebaum looked long and earnestly at George Willard. His eyes glowed. Again he raised his hands to caress the boy and then a look of horror swept over his face.” While Biddlebaum does not realize why he is struck with fear, Anderson tells the reader that he “was one of those rare little-understood men who rule by power so gentle that it passes as a lovable weakness.” Thus, the author shows that Biddlebaum is alienated through confusion because he is so “gentle” and “weak”. In further descriptions of Biddlebaum, the narrator states that Biddlebaum “did not understand what had happened” when he was disoriented by fear, but felt “that his hands were to blame” after he was driven from Pennsylvania.” Biddlebaum’s confusion and isolates him from his environment, to his detriment. Anderson also explores Biddlebaum’s fear of his hands. “For a moment he stood thus rubbing his hands together and looking up and down the road, and then fear overcoming him, ran back to walk again upon the porch of his house.” Biddlebaum “wanted to keep [his hands] hidden away” for reasons that he himself does not know. In other instances, the author shows that George Willard, his friend, knew that his hands were the cause of his fear. Willard was “touched by the memory of the terror he had seen in the man’s eyes.” “There’s something wrong his hands have something to do with his fear of me and everyone” Willard states. Thus, Anderson reveals that Biddlebaum is self-alienated by his disorientation regarding his hands, and his fear of the use of them.
On a different token, Anderson points out that society has alienated Biddlebaum through exclusion and violence. During his career as a teacher, Biddlebaum expressed himself “by the caress that was in his fingers.” Tragically, “a halfwitted boy of the school became enamored of the young master. In his bed at night he imagined unspeakable things and went forth to tell his dreams as facts. Trembling lads were jerked out of bed and questioned,” where the boys stated that “[Biddlebaum] put his arms about me,” and “his fingers were always playing in my hair.” Biddlebaum thus became ostracized when these accusations destroyed his career. Yet, other scenes produce more descriptive incidents of alienation when the narrator states that “among all the people in Winesburg but one had come close to him.” Biddlebaum’s experience with others, while partly at fault, again, expresses society’s exclusion of those who seem to be “quiet” or “peculiar.” The author further addresses alienation from society through violence inflicted on Biddlebaum. “Calling Adolph Myers (Wing Biddlebaum) into the school yard [Henry Bradford] began to beat him with his fists.” The narrator explores the horrible violence inflicted on Biddlebaum when he describes the angry mob throwing “balls of soft mud at the figure that screamed and ran faster and faster into the darkness.” Tragic as it is, the author shows Biddlebaum to be alienated from a small community not only through exclusion, but also through violence and mob attack.
Likewise, Anderson addresses Biddlebaum’s emotional and spiritual alienation through loneliness and helpless decrepitude. Wing Biddlebaum is emotionally forlorn when the narrator states that “for twenty years [he] had lived alone in Winesburg.” Furthermore, the narrator subtly suggests that he had been lonely during those years. “He was but forty but looked sixty-five,” the narrator says. Similarly, the author reveals that Biddlebaum is lonely when he waits for Willard. “Now as the old man walked up and down on the veranda he was hoping that George Willard would come and spend the evening with him,” the narrator says. Lastly, Anderson’s imagery of an “imprisoned bird” suggests that his “restless” hands imprison Biddlebaum in a state of innocuousness. The author shows this decrepitude in the story’s final scene.
When the rumble of the evening train that took away the express cars loaded with the day’s harvest of berries had passed and restored the silence of the summer night, he went again to walk upon the veranda. In the darkness he could not see the hands and they became quiet. Although he still hungered for the presence of the boy, who was the medium through which he expressed his love of man, the hunger became again part of his loneliness and his waiting. Lighting a lamp Wing Biddlebaum washed the few dishes soiled by his simple meal and, setting up a folding cot by the screen door that led to the porch prepared to undress for the night. A few stray white bread crumbs lay on the cleanly washed floor by the table; putting the lamp upon the a low stool he began to pick up the crumbs, carrying them to his mouth one by one with unbelievable rapidity. In the dense blotch of light beneath the table, the kneeling figure looked like a priest engaged in some service of his church. The nervous fingers flashing in and out of the light, might well have been mistaken for the fingers of the devotee going swiftly through decade after decade of his rosary.
The imagery of an old man by the candle light eating the crumbs off the floor “one by one with unbelievably rapidity” show similar images of the imprisoned bird who is innocuously flapping its wings to fly away. The authors exploration of the human emotional and spiritual alienation through loneliness and innocuous decrepitude seem to epitomize his discontent for societies’ indifference and violent actions.
Through the keen imagery in his work, the author expresses his discontent of Biddlebaum’s self-alienation, alienation from society, and emotional and spiritual alienation. As tragic as it is, Anderson shows in the final scene that man can cause insurmountable harm, which ultimately results in decrepit destitute in his work, Hands.
An analysis on “Hands”, by Sherwood Anderson