Sherwood Anderson published early versions of ‘‘Death in the Woods’’ as a sketch in A Story- Teller’s Story (1924) and as a chapter in his autobiographical Tar: A Midwest Childhood (1926). He worked on ‘‘Death in the Woods’’ periodically for nine years before publishing it in final form as the title story in his 1933 collection Death in the Woods and Other Stories.
According to many critics, Anderson’s artistic powers were waning at this point in his career; yet ‘‘Death in the Woods’’ stands out as a masterpiece, paralleling the brilliance of the stories collected in his best known work, Winesburg, Ohio.
‘‘Death in the Woods’’ chronicles the deceptively simple story of the life and death of a poor and downtrodden farm woman. The narrator, an adolescent boy at the time of these events, observes her dead body—a formative moment in his development as a man and an artist. He puts together the pieces of her story, which takes on mystery and mythic meaning as he reflects back on it years later.
‘‘Death in the Woods’’ exemplifies Anderson’s pared-down writing style and brooding, bittersweet tone. The story is most notable for the stark simplicity of its subject matter and the contrasting intricacy of its self-conscious narration.