Sherwood Anderson 1876-1941
See also, "Death in the Woods" Criticism.
(Born Sherwood Berton Anderson) American short story writer, novelist, autobiographer, essayist, poet, journalism, and dramatist.
Considered one of the most original early twentieth-century writers, Anderson was among the first American authors to explore the influence of the unconscious on human behavior. A writer of brooding, introspective works, his “hunger to see beneath the surface of lives” was best expressed in the bittersweet stories that form the classic Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small Town Life (1919). This, his most important book, exhibits the author's characteristically simple prose style and his personal vision, which combines a sense of wonder at the potential beauty of life with despair over its tragic aspects.
Born in the small town of Camden, Ohio, Anderson was the son of an out-of-work harness maker and a washerwoman. He was raised in Clyde, Ohio—which later served as the model for Winesburg—where he grew to hate the irresponsible loafing and drinking of his father and the self-sacrificing drudgery to which his mother was reduced. His father, a Civil War veteran and an adept yarn-spinner, greatly influenced Anderson's own storytelling abilities. Through his readings, notably of Walt Whitman's poetry, Anderson came to believe that, due to the destructive effects of the Gilded Age, a period of prosperity enjoyed by an elite stratum of American society, the United States was in the twilight of an era of independent, wise, and fulfilled agrarian folk. Attending school infrequently, Anderson took a number of temporary jobs to help his impoverished, migrant family. He worked as a newsboy, a house painter, a field worker, and a stablehand, gaining experience that later provided subject matter for his fiction. After a stint in the United States Army during the Spanish-American War, he married, became an advertising copywriter in Chicago, then managed his own paint factory. During this period, Anderson began writing fiction in his spare time. Overworked and beset by various worries, Anderson suffered a mental breakdown in late 1912. As a result, he suddenly walked out of his office and was discovered four days later, and many miles away, incoherent and amnesiac. Shortly thereafter, following the failure of his business and his marriage, Anderson returned to Chicago, where he met such writers of the “Chicago Renaissance” as Floyd Dell, Carl Sandburg, and Theodore Dreiser, who read his early fiction and encouraged him in his literary endeavors. Anderson's first-published short stories appeared in The Little Review, The Seven Arts, and other small literary magazines. His first novel, the semi-autobiographical Windy McPherson's Son, was published in 1916 to moderate critical attention. Three years later, Winesburg, Ohio brought Anderson international acclaim as an important new voice in American literature. “Here is the goal that [Edgar Lee Masters's] The Spoon River Anthology aimed at, and missed by half a mile,” wrote H. L. Mencken. The “goal” that Anderson achieved was a fusion of simply stated fiction and complex psychological analysis that revealed the essential loneliness and beauty of Midwestern town life. Acknowledged as an authentic voice of the American Midwest, Anderson befriended many aspiring writers during the 1920s. He was largely responsible for arranging the publication of William Faulkner's first novel, Soldier's Pay, and for influencing the simple style of Ernest Hemingway's early Nick Adams stories. In 1927 Anderson settled in the town of Marion, Virginia, occasionally publishing collections of his newspaper columns and essays on American life. He leaned toward socialism during the Great Depression, but he ultimately concluded that the work of the artist and that of the reformer were incompatible. He wrote little during the 1930s, declaring that writing was a dead art in America and that the future for artistic achievement lay in motion pictures. While on a cruise in South America in 1941, Anderson died of peritonitis.
When asked by the editor of The Bookman to define his vision of life, Anderson referred to a story from Winesburg, Ohio titled “Paper Pills.” The story tells of Doctor Reefy, who spent most of his life driving about the Ohio countryside in his horse-drawn buggy. “Hours of quiet as he drove through the country long empty stretches of road passed over slowly. Thoughts came to him. He wrote the thoughts out on bits of paper and put them in his pocket.” The truths he conceives overwhelm Doctor Reefy's mind for a short time after their discovery, but eventually they are consigned to paper and drift to the bottom of his pocket, where they form round, hard balls. Soon, the paper pills and the thoughts written therein are fit only to be dismissed with deprecating laughter and thrown away. “If you cannot find what philosophy of life I have in that story,” concluded Anderson, “I am unable to give it to you.” Anderson's folksy, poignant tone and sense of wonder at the beauties of rural life lend a compelling quality to his works, which many critics feel tempers his nihilistic outlook. Critics agree that it was in his short stories, primarily those collected in Winesburg, Ohio, that Anderson was most successful in conveying his impressions of life. The stories in this collection constituted an original concept in American fiction that revolutionized the short story genre. Rejecting what he termed the “poison plot,” Anderson focused on the psychological lives of characters emotionally crippled by isolation, sexual repression, and lack of spiritual fulfillment. Anderson's frank yet tender depiction of these thwarted lives engages the imaginative participation of readers through techniques Burton Rascoe has described as “selective, indefinite, and provocative, instead of inclusive, precise, and explanatory.” Although some of the stories have been the objects of individual analysis, critics cite several connective devices that impart a more profound significance to the work when it is considered as a whole. Among the most frequently identified unifying elements are the common setting of the stories; the character of George Willard, whose maturation process is followed throughout the book; the recurrence of characters and images; and a preoccupation with loneliness and repressed self-expression. As a result of these connective devices, the stories in Winesburg, Ohio comprise a disturbingly insightful, yet at the same time compassionate, study of human life. Anderson's thought was shaped during the 1920s by the works of D. H. Lawrence; in such novels as Many Marriages (1923) and Dark Laughter (1925), Anderson attempted to develop the English author's beliefs concerning the psychologically crippling effects of sexual repression. In Dark Laughter, Anderson's most popular novel, amoral sexual experience is presented as a means for his characters to escape the strictures of modern society and return to a more natural existence. Continuing to explore the psychological undercurrents of American life, Anderson wrote some of his strongest works in the 1920s. In addition to Dark Laughter, he published what is considered his best novel, Poor White (1920), which forms an attack on the dehumanizing effects of mass production in industrial America; the acclaimed short stories collected in The Triumph of the Egg (1921) and Horses and Men (1923); and two partly fictional autobiographies, A Story-Teller's Story (1924) and Tar (1926).
The innovative structure of Winesburg, Ohio was disconcerting to many of Anderson's contemporaries, who challenged the work's validity as fiction. Foremost among the aspects they found unsettling were the stories' lack of plot and Anderson's disregard for temporal sequence. Anderson, calling for a new “looseness of form,” defended his method as an approximation of the chaotic, unselective movement of human thought and action, noting that there are “no plot stories in life.” Later assessments of Anderson's work have judged such stories as “Hands,” “The Untold Lie,” and “Sophistication” from Winesburg, Ohio, and “The Egg,” “I'm a Fool,” and “I Want to Know Why” from later collections to be among the greatest works of American short fiction. While the simple, impressionistic style and unconventional narrative technique of these stories at one time caused Anderson to be dismissed as a primitive minor talent, he has long since been recognized as one of the most important American authors of his time.
Windy McPherson's Son (novel) 1916
Marching Men (novel) 1917
Mid-American Chants (poetry) 1918
Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small Town Life (short stories) 1919
Poor White (novel) 1920
The Triumph of the Egg: A Book of Impressions from American Life in Tales and Poems (short stories and poetry) 1921
Horses and Men (short stories) 1923
Many Marriages (novel) 1923
A Story-Teller's Story: The Tale of an American Writer's Journey through the World of Facts, with Many of His Experiences and Impressions among Other Writers (autobiography) 1924
Dark Laughter (novel) 1925
The Modern Writer (essays) 1925
Sherwood Anderson's Notebook (sketches) 1926
Tar: A Midwest Childhood (novel) 1926
A New Testament (poetry) 1927
Perhaps Women (novel) 1931
Beyond Desire (novel) 1932
Death in the Woods, and Other Stories (short stories) 1933
Kit Brandon (novel) 1936
Plays: Winesburg and Others (drama) 1937
Sherwood Anderson's Memoirs (memoirs) 1942
The Letters of Sherwood...
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SOURCE: Chase, Cleveland B. “Anderson's Writings.” In Sherwood Anderson, pp. 46-73. New York: Robert M. McBride and Company, 1927.
[In the following essay, Chase provides an overview of Anderson's later novels, essays, and poetry.]
Anderson has so far published five novels; in addition to the two already discussed, there are Poor White, Many Marriages, and Dark Laughter. They are not good novels; not one of them, considered as a whole, compares with his better short stories. Yet they all contain episodes that are almost short stories in themselves and that, as episodes, hold their own with anything he has written.
Each of these novels wobbles annoyingly toward the end; in each one the hero's character, which is usually fairly convincing at the beginning, becomes more and more confused as the book progresses. In each of them there are several minor characters more convincing than those to whom the author devotes most of his attention. Each is at its worst when it deals with sex and idealism. Each contains to some degree what we have seen to have been the two outstanding weaknesses of his first novels: a preoccupation with “the meaning of life” that leads him to put his personal problems to characters in a book, and an inclination to tell himself fairy stories about life instead of going through the hard work of actually...
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SOURCE: Atlas, Marilyn Judith. “Sherwood Anderson and the Women of Winesburg.” In Critical Essays on Sherwood Anderson, edited by David D. Anderson, pp. 250-65. New York: G. K. Hall and Company, 1981.
[In the following essay, Atlas discusses Anderson's relationships with the women in his life and the effect they had on his characterizations of women in Winesburg, Ohio.]
Winesburg, Ohio has been studied biographically, geographically, historically, thematically, structurally, mystically, and mythically.1 However one enters the novel, attention is given to its characters. Edwin Fussel and Carlos Baker have seen the novel within the tradition of the Bildungsroman and have found George Willard's journey toward self and subsequent escape from Winesburg to be its center;2 David D. Anderson has demonstrated that George Willard's role is secondary to the people about whom each story centers and that one must understand the individual characters and their human experience in order to fully comprehend the novel.3 But serious critical attention has not been paid to all of the individuals in Winesburg. The women, although they appear in almost every story, have not been studied collectively. Such a study can illuminate Winesburg, Ohio as well as Sherwood Anderson's understanding of and relationship to women. One scholar, Chris Browning, has attempted to understand...
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SOURCE: Colquitt, Clare. “The Reader as Voyeur: Complicitous Transformations in ‘Death in the Woods.’” Modern Fiction Studies 32, no. 2 (summer 1986): 175-90.
[In the following essay, Colquitt observes the connection between Anderson's polarization of male and female and the narrative techniques of “Death in the Woods.”]
Like most writers, Sherwood Anderson was vitally concerned with the workings of the imagination and the creation of art. For Anderson, these concerns were also inextricably linked to questions of personal salvation. In letters to his son John, himself a painter, Anderson asserted that “The object of art … is to save yourself”: “Self is the grand disease. It is what we are all trying to lose” (The Letters of Sherwood Anderson 166, 167). Given Anderson's faith in the redemptive possibilities of art, it is not surprising that the writer frequently compared “literary [and nonliterary] composition to the experience of pregnancy and deliverance, and also to the poles of maleness and femaleness in life” (Letters XV). One letter composed three years before the author's death well illustrates Anderson's understanding of the problematic nature of such “deliverance”:
The trouble with the creative impulse … is that it tends to lift you up too high into a sort of drunkenness and then drop you down too low. There is an...
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SOURCE: Anderson, David D. “Sherwood Anderson's Poor White and the Grotesques Become Myth.” Midamerica 14 (1987): 89-100.
[In the following essay, Anderson describes the mythic qualities of Poor White.]
When the Modern Library edition of Sherwood Anderson's Poor White was published in 1926, Sherwood Anderson wrote—a rare occasion in the Modern Library series—his own introduction to the novel. He wrote not for a new generation of readers but for those who had not read the book in the more than five years since its original publication. In the introduction, he talked frankly about Poor White as he had seen it while writing it, as the critics understood it when it appeared, and as he saw it five years later.
Earlier, in 1920, he had summed up his view of what he thought he had done in the novel in a letter to Jerome and Lucile Blum. At that time he wrote “The new novel [Poor White], out in October, will, I hope, build up the country about Winesburg, sweep Winesburg into the modern industrial life, show what made it an Akron, Ohio.”
Five years later, however, he had undergone several major transitions in his life: he had abandoned Chicago, New York, and New Orleans for the hill country of western Virginia, divorced Tennessee Mitchell and married Elizabeth Prall, and rejected the spirit of liberation that a decade earlier he had...
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SOURCE: Bidney, Martin. “Anderson and the Androgyne: ‘Something More than Man or Woman.’” Studies in Short Fiction 25, no. 3 (summer 1988): 261-73.
[In the following essay, Bidney analyzes “the androgynous model of the psyche” as the unifying element to the stories in Winesburg, Ohio.]
No previous study of Sherwood Anderson has noted his use of the androgynous model of the psyche in Winesburg, Ohio.1 The present essay attempts to show that the androgyny myth is in fact the organizing principle of Anderson's complex book, the unifying vision tying together the remarkably varied stories. Anderson strategically places in his work three passages which metaphorically articulate his psychological and artistic ideal. The first of these orienting passages occurs in the prefatory “Book of the Grotesque”; the second is found in the visionary tale “Tandy,” at the exact center of the volume, with ten stories preceding and ten following (the preface excluded); the third appears in “Sophistication,” George's culminating epiphany, near the book's conclusion. We have in these three passages the beginning, middle, and end of a progress of vision: first an old writer sees the androgyne vision in quasi-scriptural figurations; then a drunkard sees it as potentially realizable in the future growth of Tandy; finally George and Helen experience it for the briefest of moments on earth....
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SOURCE: Wentworth, Michael. “‘Your Dear! You Dear! You Lovely Dear!’: Failure and Promise in Sherwood Anderson's ‘Death.’” Midamerica 15 (1988): 27-38.
[In the following essay, Wentworth discusses the meaning of personal tics and repeated phrases in Winesburg, Ohio.]
One of the most remarkable aspects of Sherwood Anderson's craftsmanship in Winesburg, Ohio is his frequently synecdochic evocation of the personal tragedy or the esential “grotesqueness” of the individual life depicted in terms of a single image, impression, mannerism, nervous tic, part of the body or, on occasion, even a character's name. An especially striking instance of this technique occurs in “Death,” one of the later stories in Winesburg. Ostensibly, the story deals with the death of George Willard's mother Elizabeth, though, within the larger framework of the novel as a whole, Elizabeth's death provides George with the necessary impetus and motivation to leave—and thus escape—a small-town environment that ultimately would have proven as enervating and self-defeating to him as it had to his mother. One of the most intriguing and curious features in the story is the recurrence, with minor variations, of the statement “You dear! You dear! You lovely dear!”
Spoken to or about Elizabeth Willard on three separate and unrelated occasions and by three different men in Elizabeth's...
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SOURCE: Badaracco, Claire. “The Influence of Publicity Typologies on Sherwood Anderson's News Values.” Journalism Quarterly 66, no. 4 (winter 1989): 979-86.
[In the following essay, Badaracco analyzes the influence of advertising and marketing techniques on Anderson's early-twentieth-century news columns in which he explored the development of the emerging American business class.]
The rise of journalistic mass markets and commercial language trades, as the advertising journal writer Sherwood Anderson predicted, would so saturate the future American Public's appetite for news that its understanding of publicity would become second nature.1 Advertisements, political propaganda, business pamphlets, brochures, catalogs and trade journals (what Frank Luther Mott2 classified as synonymous with “house organs”) were so abundant, according to Lawrence Romaine, that a catalogue of this type of printing in America between 1744-1900 would comprise 50 volumes.3 Mott's categorization bears re-examination: there is greater differentiation among this classification of commercial writing than has been suggested to date, and less distinction between “house organs” and “legitimate journalism” than might at first blush appear. Journalism historians will find ample evidence in the 1895-1920 trade journals of bona-fide news coverage.
Roland Marchand's recent...
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SOURCE: Anderson, David D. “Sherwood Anderson in Fiction.” Midamerica 16 (1989): 80-93.
[In the following essay, Anderson examines the self-portraits throughout Sherwood Anderson's fiction.]
That Sherwood Anderson was his own favorite fictional character is obvious to anyone familiar with the facts of his life and the substance of his fiction. So fascinated was he with the almost mythological unfolding of twin patterns of escape in his life—the first, in Horatio Alger, Jr. fashion, from a rustic poverty-ridden childhood to middle-class respectability and affluence, and the second from the service of Mammon to the service of Calliope—that the protagonists of many of his short fictions and almost all of his novels reflect, literally, symbolically, or both, Anderson's journey from Clyde, Ohio, newsboy to Elyria, Ohio, company president, respectable marriage, and membership in the country club. His early life was an American dream realized through practicing the virtue instilled in the American character by William Bradford and John Winthrop two hundred years earlier.
This is the Sherwood Anderson myth reflected in the rise of Sam McPherson, son of Windy, from youthful poverty and shame in Caxton, Iowa, to affluence, respectability, and power in Chicago; in the confidence with which young George Willard goes off to Chicago, west with the setting sun to find his fulfillment, in the...
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SOURCE: Tobin, Mary-Elisabeth Fowkes. “The Composition of Sherwood Anderson's Short Story ‘Not Sixteen.’” Studies in Bibliography 42 (1989): 293-300.
[In the following essay, Tobin traces Anderson's development of his short story “Not Sixteen.”]
Myths about Sherwood Anderson's life and art die hard. In recent years, critics have worked hard to dispel the notion that Anderson wrote little of value after the 1920s and that only Winesburg, Ohio and a handful of short stories are worthy of critical recognition.1 Another notion that needs correction concerns Anderson's method of composition. Some critics have argued that Anderson wrote only when “in the mood” and was not interested in revising and reworking half-formed material.2 Malcolm Cowley describes Anderson as “a writer who depended on inspiration. … He couldn't say to himself, ‘I shall produce such and such an effect in a book of such and such a length.’”3 James Schevill argues that “Anderson always had difficulty in disciplining himself to go over his work and improve poor passages.”4
Though there is, indeed, some evidence suggesting that Anderson despaired about and neglected revision of some of his longer works, it is also clear that he revised his late short stories very carefully. A demonstration of the care with which Anderson wrote and revised one of...
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SOURCE: Enniss, Stephen C. “Alienation and Affirmation: The Divided Self in Sherwood Anderson's Poor White.” South Atlantic Review 55, no. 2 (May 1990): 85-99.
[In the following essay, Enniss analyzes the notion of escape and, for Anderson, its consequent affirmation of self and community, in Poor White.]
It has become a critical cliché that Sherwood Anderson was a writer who tried to retell in his novels and stories his own mythic escape from his Elyria paint factory.1 In his first novel (Windy McPherson's Son, 1916) Sam McPherson leaves behind wealth and position in order to wander the countryside working as a common laborer. Like Anderson himself, John Webster (Many Marriages, 1923) gets up from his desk and walks away from his washing machine business and his family, while John Stockton (Dark Laughter, 1925) runs away to the South and takes the name Bruce Dudley. In the stories of these lives, Anderson expresses something of the discontent of his age, though these stories also testify to his persistent belief in a better life just out of reach. Too often, however, Anderson criticism has focused on the rejection inherent in such escapes and failed to recognize the life that he sought to affirm. Lionel Trilling, writing of Anderson's preoccupation with escape, has charged that “Anderson never understood that the moment of enlightenment and conversion—the...
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SOURCE: Bidney, Martin. “Refashioning Coleridge's Supernatural Trilogy: Sherwood Anderson's ‘A Man of Ideas’ and ‘Respectability.’” Studies in Short Fiction 27, no. 2 (spring 1990): 221-35.
[In the following essay, Bidney examines Anderson's retelling of the supernatural poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.]
The poet-philosopher Joe Welling, solipsistic yet inspired, and the monstrously ugly yet mysteriously attractive Wash Williams, courtly lover turned morose misogynist, are two of the most profoundly conceived visionary grotesques in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. They are almost antitypes of human nature: Joe, shielded in his private world of enthusiastic self-absorption from all disappointment or dismay; Wash, so vulnerable in his self-abasingly idealistic wife-worship that a sudden revelation of the facts of life induces a lifelong trauma. At a deeper level the antithesis between self-absorption and self-abasement is greatly qualified: Joe and Wash turn out to be alike in surprising ways. The two men are both inspired seers, for even Wash's love-turned-hate still invests him at moments with visionary power, though he and Joe are equally comic-grotesque in the fanaticism of their fixations. Deep down, Wash is irremovably attached to his tarnished ideal, and Joe is transfigured by his love for making discoveries about every detail in the surrounding world (though he can't get...
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SOURCE: White, Ray Lewis. “The Grotesques.” In Winesburg, Ohio: An Exploration, pp. 56-94. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1990.
[In the following essay, White examines Anderson's depiction of the grotesque in the physical, psychological, and sexual propensities of his characters.]
Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio presents an interesting description and dramatization of a typical midwestern American town in the 1890s, complete with the citizens and the institutions associated with such places. It can also be read pleasurably as the description and dramatization of a youth's initiation or growing toward adult understanding in a typical midwestern American town in the 1890s. But neither of these approaches sufficiently explains the greatness of Anderson's achievement in Winesburg, Ohio—why readers since 1919 have read the book with a new sense of the power of writing. For Anderson captures in words the most elusive and the most buried of human impulses and motivations; in short, he fulfills the aim of his dedication of his book to his mother, Emma Smith Anderson, “whose keen observations on the life about her first awoke in me the hunger to see beneath the surface of lives.” It is through Anderson's understanding and expression of the buried aspects of human character that he reaches genius in Winesburg, Ohio.
In the first of the Winesburg, Ohio...
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SOURCE: Wolfe, Margaret Ripley. “Sherwood Anderson and the Southern Highlands: A Sense of Place and the Sustenance of Women.” Southern Studies 3, no. 4 (winter 1992): 253-75.
[In the following essay, Wolfe discusses the influence of the women in Anderson's life on his writings.]
Sherwood Anderson hailed from the Buckeye State, and the Midwest claims him as one of its literary giants; Anderson himself, however, ultimately identified with the South and chose to be a Southerner. Although a native of Ohio and an aficionado of Chicago, he spent a critical portion of his later life, some sixteen years, in the Southern Appalachians. Well in advance of his premature demise in 1941, he had also selected a hillside cemetery in southwestern Virginia as his resting place for all eternity.1 During this phase of Anderson's life, he drew strength and support from women, four in particular: Caroline Greear of rural Troutdale, Virginia, first his landlady and then his friend; Laura Copenhaver, a prominent Marion, Virginia, matron, valued by Anderson for her intellect and her beauty; social activist Eleanor Copenhaver, Laura's daughter, a Virginian by birth and a New Yorker by choice, who became his fourth wife; and the widow Mary Emmett who replaced her dead husband, Burton Emmett, a New York advertising executive, as Sherwood's benefactor.
Ultimately, Eleanor Copenhaver Anderson exerted...
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SOURCE: MacGowan, Christopher. “The Heritage of the Fathers in Sherwood Anderson's ‘The Man Who Became a Woman.’” Journal of the Short Story in English 21 (autumn 1993): 29-37.
[In the following essay, MacGowan explores the significance of paternity and patriarchy to “The Man Who Became a Woman.”]
Sherwood Anderson's short story “The Man Who Became a Woman,” from his 1923 collection Horses and Men, is often acknowledged to be one of his finest successes in the form. However, analysis of the story has usually focused upon the themes—central to much of Anderson's earlier work—of adolescence, sexuality, and sexual roles. While these are important in the story, what has been missed is the degree to which these concerns are integrated into a tale that is a story about story-telling and story tellers, and the attenuated promise of both in an America oppressed by its patriarchal, religious, and industrial heritage.
In the tale, Anderson's narrator, Herman Dudley, claiming to be now a happily married adult, describes what he admits is still a very disturbing adolescent experience he had while working as a race-horse swipe. While working at the racetracks, Herman has for some weeks a close friendship with another young swipe, Tom Means, a would-be writer. With the help of Tom's “talking,” Herman comes to appreciate the joys of the nomadic, unconventional race-track...
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SOURCE: Kramer, David S. “Sherwood Anderson's Beyond Desire: Femininity and Masculinity in a Southern Mill Town.” Southern Studies 5, nos. 1-2 (spring-summer 1994): 73-79.
[In the following essay, Kramer examines the role of traditional Southern structures of masculinity and femininity and the changing industrial landscape in Beyond Desire.]
From 1927 to 1931 Sherwood Anderson was the publisher and editor of two newspapers in Marion, Georgia, a period of labor unrest in mining towns and textile mills following the southern industrialization of the previous decades. In his novel Beyond Desire (1932) Anderson took an old theme of his—the destructive impact of the machine age on men and women—and developed it within the context of the new South of his observations.
Changing conditions were precipitating a cultural crisis. In broadest terms, traditional ideologies glorifying the sanctity of white womanhood and the chivalry of the southern gentleman were collapsing in the wake of new economic forces. Anderson demonstrates this stress in the gender relationships between his characters, in both the bourgeosie and working class. His exploration of tawdriness and domination, reveals, if unwittingly, connections between ideology and sexuality, specifically how the failure of the former leads to the twisting of the latter. The tragedy of the novel is that for women this...
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SOURCE: Lindsay, Clarence B. “The Unrealized City in Sherwood Anderson's Windy McPherson's Son and Marching Men.” Midwestern Miscellany 23 (1995): 17-27.
[In the following essay, Lindsay argues that Anderson's “urban” fiction fails to realize its intended impact.]
My inquiry into the unrealized city in Sherwood Anderson's fiction stems from two separate sources. (In respect to Anderson's treatment of the city I will be limiting my remarks to Anderson's first two novels, Windy McPherson's Son published in 1916 and Marching Men published in 1917.) Some years ago when reviewing a collection of short fiction, I found myself nettled, unreasonably perhaps, by several dust jacket statements praising the stories' sense of place. Although I was convinced that these particular stories had little sense of anything, let alone place, I found it a difficult issue to engage. While it's easy enough to imagine elements that might be present in a successfully achieved sense of place, not one of those features necessarily has to be there. Even more problematic, at least in respect to contentious assertions, is that the presence of one or several of these constituent elements does not guarantee a feeling of place. So, feeling then that I could say little more than. “No they don't, for me these stories have no sense of place,” I abandoned the issue, spent my venom on other more...
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SOURCE: Wixson, Douglas. “Sherwood Anderson and the Midwestern Literary Radicalism in the 1930s.” Midwestern Miscellany 23 (1995): 28-39.
[In the following essay, Wixson explores Anderson's place in the literary political landscape of the 1930s in the United States.]
“We are in the new age. Welcome, men, women and children into the new age. Will you accept it? Will you go into the factories to work? Will you quit having contempt for those who work in the factories?”
—Sherwood Anderson, “Machine Song: Automobile”1
In the course of exploring a group of writers who contributed to little magazines published in Moberly, Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Peoria, and other Midwestern towns during the 1930s I discovered, not surprisingly, that Sherwood Anderson's name was invoked, sometimes deprecatingly but more often appreciatively. Critics and literary historians of the 1930s tend to gather the work of writers on the left whose subject-matter involved working-class people into a loosely-defined category called “proletarian literature.” It was a term the writers themselves frequently used without knowing for sure what it meant. “Proletarian” was a politically loaded term suggesting alignment with a Communist-oriented cultural movement in the 1930s that viewed society from a class perspective. To young radical writers like Joseph...
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SOURCE: Engel, Bernard F. “Sherwood Anderson's Chants of the Mississippi Valley.” Midamerica 25 (1998): 50-60.
[In the following essay, Engel examines Anderson's themes in Mid-American Chants.]
Sherwood Anderson once wrote that “the best way to kill the growth of a distinctive middle western literature is to talk about it” (“Chicago Culture”). But Anderson got it partially wrong. His prose survives the endless talk about it; the verse almost no one talks about has nearly disappeared. Aware of this, he defiantly continued to write poetry. In the representative collection MidAmerican Chants (1918), the speaker in his poem “Song of the Singer” declares that he will “dare to sing” no matter what, that he will not be crushed by “the machine.”1 Anderson's readers know that for him the machine stood for industrial civilization, the social pattern that he believed had often broken his fellow Americans. The singer, gifted with spiritual vision, will trust confidently to “the terrible strength of indomitable song.”
As with most of us, however, Anderson's ambitions exceeded his grasp. His “song” is too abstract, too removed from the particulars of experience that poetry, the art of the concrete, demands. Here and elsewhere, Chants gives a rhetoric of generalized loss, of baffled incomprehension too easily accepting the romantic-sentimental...
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White, Ray Lewis. Sherwood Anderson: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1977, 430 p.
Chronologically organized annotated bibliography of secondary sources.
Townsend, Kim. Sherwood Anderson. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1987, 370 p.
Biographical and critical study based on the premise that Anderson's “writings continually direct our attention back to the story of his life.”
Burbank, Rex. Sherwood Anderson. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964, 159 p.
Introductory critical and biographical study.
Crowley, John W. New Essays on Winesburg, Ohio. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, 133 p.
Original essays examining Winesburg, Ohio from various perspectives, including biographical, thematic, and comparative.
Miller, William V. “Sherwood Anderson's ‘Middletown’: A Sociology of the Midwestern Stories.” Old Northwest: A Journal of Regional Life and Letters 15, no. 4 (winter 1991-92): 245-59.
Examines the stories in Winesburg, Ohio for the sociological information they reveal about the American Midwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
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