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Two characters in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio who contrast with each other are George Willard and Elmer Cowley, in the story titled “Queer.” Both characters are young men whose fathers frustrate them, but whereas George is relatively well adjusted and outgoing, Elmer is bitter, withdrawn, and “queer” (that is, unusual and eccentric).
Evidence of the contrasts between the two characters appears throughout the story and includes the following:
- Elmer seems easily angered and bitter, especially toward George, whereas George seems more even-tempered and easy-going.
- Elmer seems potentially violent, whereas George threatens no one in any way.
- Elmer regards George as an antagonist, as when he exclaims,
"I'll be like other people. I'll show that George Willard. He'll find out. I'll show him!"
Ironically, Elmer doesn’t really know George; he merely sees him as a symbol of the town in which they live, a town from which he feels estranged. Elmer doesn’t dislike George so much as he dislikes what he thinks George represents. In contrast, George never seems antagonistic at all toward Elmer, for any reason.
- Elmer considers himself a failure and a social misfit, whereas George seems relatively successful in his young life.
- Elmer is bitterly unhappy. Although George has moments of unhappiness as well, he is much more content with his existence than Elmer, as when Elmer sees George “whistling and laughing through Main Street.”
- Elmer is friendless, whereas George is generally well liked.
- George, ironically, is interested in making friends with Elmer, but Elmer seems incapable of true friendship, with George or with anyone else.
- George is intellectually curious and open-minded, whereas Elmer seems closed-minded and set in his ways.
- Ultimately, just before he hops on a train to leave town, Elmer pummels George physically. George, stunned by the attack, apparently offers no resistance.
In short, “Queer” presents two very different characters, although many of the differences are imagined –or at least over-emphasized – in the mind of just one of them.
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