Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The major themes in “The Man Who Became a Woman” are relationships—between species, between races, and between genders. Sherwood Anderson, known for exploring sexuality and the unconscious, lets this exploration have free play in Herman Dudley, the narrator, who holds fast to a belief that other species are superior because of their simplicity. As his disgust with humanity deepens, his belief in the superiority of other animals, particularly horses, heightens. As he leaves his early life behind him, it is Pick-it-boy that he kisses good-bye on the cheek.

The theme of racial relationships is more complex, influenced by views prevalent in the early twentieth century United States, when the story was published. Although the narrator believes black men and white men cannot be friends in such times, he likes Burt and ponders the differences in races. His observations seem unenlightened but well-meaning. Burt’s defense of the guileless Herman seems to be a hopeful note, a possibility even for that time and place in U.S. history. Anderson, through his narrator, clearly shows an unwillingness to ignore this area of human relationships.

As the title suggests, gender relationships are the focus of “The Man Who Became a Woman.” Setting the scene for the night Herman becomes a woman, Herman discusses Tom Means, whom he admits he loves. “Americans are shy and timid about saying things like that,” Herman adds. “A man here don’t dare own...

(The entire section is 454 words.)