Before we reflect directly on “Hands” by Sherwood Anderson, let's take a minute to talk about the “revolt from the village” motif. This refers to the attempt by some writers to look beneath the surface of the idealized life of the American small town and see what might be going on in the deep, dark recesses of village life. The purpose of such a motif is to show that people are people no matter where they live and that small communities can have corruption and secrets of their own that would shock and horrify people if they were discovered.
In “Hands,” we certainly catch a glimpse of a darker side of small-town life as symbolized by the character Wing Biddlebaum. Wing is a recluse who stands outside the normal structures of the community. He is harmless, yet deep down he despises himself. As the story goes on, we learn why.
Wing was once called by his given name, Adolph Myers, and he was a teacher. His students loved him, and he inspired them to learn and to dream. Adolph was an expressive man, and he “talked” with his hands as much as with his words. He would often touch the students' shoulders or ruffle their hair as a sign of affection. There is no indication that he meant anything more than an innocent kindness and encouragement, yet the townspeople wondered.
Herein we begin to see the revolt from the village motif. There was a dark space in the minds of Adolph's neighbors. They were a suspicious lot, and apparently they wanted to think the worst of people. Therefore, it didn't surprise them all that much when one of Adolph's students accused him of unspeakable things. The people didn't bother to find out the truth. They didn't consider that the boy in question was “half-witted.” They didn't ask Adolph for his side of the story. Instead, they beat him and drove him out of town. The ideal small town was proven not to be so ideal after all.
Adolph was a broken man after the incident, and now, as Wing, he is scared to get close to anyone lest he be accused once again.