The Egg Questions and Answers
by Sherwood Anderson

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What does the egg symbolize?

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The egg symbolizes the frustrated dreams of the narrator's parents, but also the general inscrutability of life. The parents are "ambitious"—they feel an urge to somehow be more than what they are, which leads them first to become chicken farmers and then, later, restaurant owners. But in each endeavor they are frustrated—it is as if they cannot understand how to be successful, or as if success eludes them somehow. Anderson sees the chicken, in particular, as symbolic of a kind of "con" at the center of the American dream: raising chickens may seem like a good idea, and many books have been written about it, but "do not be lead astray by it," the narrator warns. "It is not for you." The chicken farm fails because chickens themselves are creatures that die easily and whose products (eggs) simply serve to start the same process over again. The father's sudden desire to make his restaurant successful by entertaining customers is akin to the egg-laying process, in that his "act" of squeezing an egg into a bottle is likely to fail and, even if it does work, will only lead to more customers and more awkward performances. The father, in his desperation for success and his need for acceptance, finally breaks the egg trying to force it into the bottle, grows furious, and starts throwing eggs at his audience (usually it is the audience that throws eggs at poor performers). The father has, ironically enough, laid his own egg!

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In Sherwood Anderson's 1920 short story "The Egg," the egg symbolizes a family's hopes and dreams. An egg represents a potential new life, and Anderson observes that hopes and dreams can come to fruition, be dashed, or be imperfectly realized.

The narrator's family struggles along as chicken farmers for a decade before giving it up to embark on a new dream. The father keeps "grotesques," malformed chicks, in jars in hopes of making money by showing them to other people. He opens a restaurant, and his attention turns to making eggs for diners, who fail to materialize. Again, the dream that the egg symbolizes fails to deliver the successful business he has envisioned.

Ultimately, the father tries to captivate his customers by performing tricks with eggs, such as standing them on end or forcing them through the neck of a bottle. In the end, he is defeated, and the narrator observes that the egg has triumphed over his family instead of fulfilling their aspirations.

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