What is the definition of "grotesque" in Winesburg, Ohio? How do you relate it to two characters in the book?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A "grotesque," as used by Sherwood Anderson in Winesburg, Ohio, is a character who "takes one of the many truths in life and pursues it obsessively." Some of these obsessions include "freedom, lost love, sex, innocence, age, power, money, or indecency." The character's fixation on one or more of these has the effect of isolating him or her from others in society. The grotesque is alone, unconnected, and ultimately unhappy and unfulfilled.

Wing Biddlebaum, the main character in the story "Hands," is a grotesque because of his hands. Biddlebaum uses his hands to an unusual degree in expressing himself; his hands are always in motion. When Biddlebaum, who is a teacher at a boys school in Pennsylvania, uses his hands to communicate his feelings to his students, he is branded a pervert, and run out of town. He ends up in Winesburg, Ohio, tormented by his own hands, which prevent him from connecting with others, and doom him to living life in isolation from those around him.

Elizabeth Willard, the mother of George, the central character in the book, is another example of a grotesque. Elizabeth's growth as an individual is stunted by her own unfulfilled dreams. She is an unhappy, bitter woman, and, unsatisfied with her own life, she tries to make sure her son's life is better. Elizabeth Willard really does have the best interests of her son at heart, but at times her own desires get in the way of what is best for him. Near the end of her life, she almost finds fulfillment in her own life when she develops a brief romantic relationship with Dr. Reefy. Their happiness is short-lived, however, bacause of her own obsessions;  soon afterwards, Elizabeth suffers a stroke and dies, never having told her son that she has saved a good amount of money for him to use in making a better life for himself. 

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A grotesque in literature in its broadest sense is a character who in some way is outside the norm, possessed of some sort of aberration. There are many ways to express the grotesque in literature, and in his introduction to the stories in Winesburg, Ohio, Anderson defines a grotesque as a person who tries to live by a single truth that eventually proves distorted. 

In the story "Queer," Anderson creates Elmer Cowley, a character with whom readers can empathize with because of his outsider status. A rustic who has moved to town from a farm, Elmer is poorly dressed, and since his father is unsuccessful as a shopkeeper, the whole family is seen as a failure as both members of the merchant class and their social milieu. 

In "The Teacher," Kate Swift is a grotesque. She is misunderstood by the people in town and ultimately rejected by the men with whom she tries to make a romantic connection. This is true of her behavior with George Willard when she makes a pass at him and then flees. 

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Winesburg, Ohio

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