Winesburg, Ohio was part of the revolt against the romanticized stories of virtuous and idyllic country village life. Although the book is a series of individual short stories, Anderson manages a consistency of moods from one story to another that provides unity. According to one critic, the folktale simplicity, the appearance of "light and air" between his sentences, his penchant for "seeming to wander away from his story," and his relaxed "artlessness" recreate a sense of the lives and characters in small-town America.
Rite of Passage
The overall arc of this book is George Willard's maturation; the climax is when he finally leaves town. Unlike a novel that is driven along by external events and situations, this book has no specific occurrence that prompts him to leave. As a matter of fact, George appears to be the ideal citizen for Winesburg. as much as the various citizens seem to rely upon him as someone that they can tell then: stories to, he seems to need them equally, to feed his curiosity.
The way that he outgrows the town is developed indirectly, through the positive and negative responses that readers have toward each character. "Hands," for instance, might be about Wing's determination to outrun his past, but a sub-theme is the small-mindedness and anger that can boil up in a small town. When George has a sexual encounter in "Nobody Knows," his main concern is that no one finds out about it. The King bullies accept Joe Welling in "A Man of Ideas" exactly because he is oblivious to the dangers that surround him in Winesburg. "The Untold Lie," which does not mention George, still raises the reader's awareness that the miseries suffered by Ray Pearson are unavoidable in a town like Winesburg.
Even as the town seems more and more like a trap for someone like George, the decision to leave does not become comfortable to him until the moment in "Sophistication" when he turns the clock back on his maturation process and for once, instead of trying to act older, he breaks from a kiss with Helen White and they both laugh, becoming "not man and woman, not boy and girl, but excited little animals." The drive toward experience and understanding leaves them, and as they run down the hill they have climbed "they played like two splendid young things in a young world." The struggle with "the young thing within" that has pulled at George in every story, through his association with disappointed older Winesburg citizens who had or had not won the struggle, is settled for him, and then it becomes time for him to leave.
Loneliness and Alienation
The main source of dramatic tension in this book is that Winesburg is a small town. This means that the citizens are familiar with one another...