Sherwood Anderson Essay, Research Paper
Sherwood Anderson is identified as the “Father of Realism”, the master of characterization, and the creator of the epiphany. He broke through the barriers of Classic American Literature and introduced a style that is focused on distinct moments. Although remarkable, many of his stories lack the traditional structure of plot. Instead Anderson states that these single bursts of inspiration are the stories of people, and are therefore to be left untouched upon completion. His crowning achievement, Winesburg, Ohio, is a collection of anecdotes focusing on a town of “grotesques”. These tragically hopeless people cannot convey their passion to others. Each has centered his or her life around a profound truth that only he or she is able to recognize; the response the grotesque receives concerning this understanding inevitably leads to their tribulation. Lonely recluses, they continuously struggle with their contained feelings. Anderson portrays moments in which the passion tries to resurface, but no longer has the strength to do so. In essence, these “adventures” are tiny glimpses of failure. The grotesques each represent “a moment, a mood, or a secret that lay deep in Anderson’s life and for which he was finding the right words for at last.” (4)
The book is Anderson’s form of expression, not unlike the hands of the main character in his most acclaimed piece: “Hands”. In this story, a little man, Wing Biddlebaum, lives isolated from the town of Winesburg. His solitude is a result of a tragic experience years before. He had been a gifted schoolteacher who motivated young boys with his hands until one young student spread wild rumors about him. The Pennsylvanian town was quick to accept the rumors as truth, and Wing was violently assaulted. Many years later, the compassionate Wing endures the tremulous life of a recluse in Winesburg.
In response to his life-altering experience, Wing becomes tremulous; he is a fearful, nervous, and timid soul. Upon introduction to this anxious character, one cannot help but feel sorry for him. The opening scene portrays this pitiful elder in the very essence of bleak solitude, sitting alone on his dilapidated porch as innocent children play in the road. He is described as “a fat little old man [who] walked nervously up and down…a man who was bald, and whose nervous little hands fiddled about a bare white forehead as though arranging a mass of tangled locks.” (Hands 1) One’s focus is immediately thrown to the fidgeting hands, apparent indications of Wing’s anguish and constant apprehension. However, Wing seems to resurrect in the presence of George Willard, revealing an empathetic and vivacious personality. For this reason, he often finds himself anticipating George’s occasional visit. He sometimes becomes so anxious that he stands at the fence, “rubbing his hands together and looking up and down the road, and then, fear overcoming him, runs back to walk again upon the porch of his house.” (Hands 1) Not even able to walk across his front lawn at ease, Wing’s tremulous behavior controls every aspect of his life. His uneasiness is again displayed after the focal “moment” of the story. Anderson depicts a scenario of a field with tall, windblown grasses surrounding a calm riverbed. It is in this tranquil environment that Wing gives George inspirational advice to follow his dreams. In doing so,
he raised the hands to caress the boy and then a look of
horror swept over his face. With a compulsive movement
of his body Wing Biddlebaum sprang to his feet and thrust
his hands deep into his trouser pockets. Tears came to his
eyes. ‘I must be getting along home. I can talk no more
with you,’ he said nervously. (Hands1)
In an attempt to express the burning force within him he reveals the hands that he works so hard to keep hidden. Realization of this fact leads to painful memories and a hasty retreat to his isolated home.
Perhaps the most accurate adjective that describes Wing as a whole is compassionate. With a voice infused with care he implores George to “begin to dream…[and to] shut [his] ears to the roaring of the voices.” (Hands 1) Wing is trying to caution George, as well as all young people, that they must not let the will of others influence their individuality. A very gifted teacher, “he was one of those men in whom the force that creates life is diffused, not centralized.” (Hands 2) His purpose in life is to influence the new generations to follow their visions and to live-up to their goals. In preceding decades, Wing, as Adolph Meyers, was an exceptional educator in a school for young men. He thrived on inspiring the budding adolescents to embrace their creativity. This insight was conveyed through the comforting, affectionate movements of his expressive hands.
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. (Hands 2)
His hands are the paintbrushes on the canvas of youthful aspiration. Wing Biddlebaum “[is] one of those rare, little-understood men who rule by a power so gentle that it passes as a lovable weakness.” (Hands 2) His true nature had an exceptional impact on many schoolboys, and his defeat proved to be a great loss for countless others.
Wing Biddlebaum subsists in Winesburg as an object of sheer recluse. One of his Pennsylvanian pupils had “become enamored of the young master. In his bed at night he imagined unspeakable things and in the morning went forth to tell his dreams as facts.” (Hands 2) The ignorant fathers were enraged, and they beat Wing without mercy. He barely escaped, only to immerse himself into a voluntary exile that is the cause of his chronic loneliness and the magnification of his internal suffering. “For twenty years [Wing] lived alone in Winesburg, … but forty [he] looked sixty-five.” (Hands 2) The reclusive Wing is pre-maturely aged, perhaps because his features died along with his pride, passion, and vitality. He chose Winesburg only because he had an aunt there, but he never became a participant of its society. “Wing Biddlebaum, forever frightened and beset by a ghostly band of doubts…” does not associate himself with the town in any way. (Hands 1) He ostracizes himself in order to conceal his hands, which he blames for the brutal beating he received. However, in his efforts to suppress his anatomy, he inhibits the fundamental nature of his self-expression. At the end of the story, this longing is signified by hunger as “he began to pick up the crumbs, carrying them into his mouth one by one with unbelievable rapidity.” (Hands 2) His estrangement from the world, an attempt to abolish his creativity, only serves to swell his need for that very thing.
Wing’s tremulous, reclusive life is a direct result of his deep compassion, which was mistaken for homosexuality. It is important to recognize that “Hands” and the rest of the Winesburg compilation is “far from the pessimistic or destructive or morbidly sexual work it was once attacked for being. Instead it is a work of love, an attempt to break down the walls that divide one person from another.” (14) Each of the grotesques depicted follow a unanimous theme of being gifted, creative dreamers. Unable to satisfy their hunger for life and expression, their desolation is multiplied. The most critical theme found throughout Anderson’s stories is the clear reflection of real life. The problems faced by the people are actual troubles faced by society at large. The only difference is that these tribulations, as well as their effects, are exaggerated to make a point. Everyone lies to himself or herself at one time or another, and living outside one’s heart is not uncommon. All individuals have some way of uniquely expressing themselves, some passion to focus their lives on. Perhaps Anderson is trying to warn us that the decision to establish all of one’s existence on an absolute truth transforms people into grotesques, and thus their truths into lies.