What is the central idea of the short story "Hands" by Sherwood Anderson?

Expert Answers
James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are no doubt a number of ways to answer your question about the story “Hands” from Sherwood Anderson’s book Winesberg, Ohio (1919). I'll give one answer, but I hope that you'll hear others and think of some of your own.

The story seems to me to revolve around the uneasy position of one man within a community. It may be “crudely stated,” to use a phrase from the story, but I see the man as having a strong physical attraction to the adolescent boys in his charge as a teacher. The story repeatedly uses the word “caress” to talk about how he likes to touch them, for example. He’s not actually sexually active with these boys, I don’t believe, but he’s accused of being that and, as a result, is nearly killed. Instead, he’s driven out of town. He changes his name and now lives apart from the main community, keeping his distance from nearly everyone, especially from the young men whom he now only watches from the porch of his house.

In a word or two, to me, the main idea might be intolerance or mob mentality (the Pennsylvania townsfolk become near hysterical and pursue him in a manner that resembles a witch hunt), or the main idea might be repression or internal conflict (the main character in the story both recognizes and is horrified by something that he sees in himself).