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Sherwood Anderson’s book Winesburg, Ohio lacks a single or simple plot, since this work is a collection of interlocked short stories rather than being a novel per se. As the title suggests, the work achieves some of its unity from the fact that all the stories take place in a particular small Ohio town. Anderson based the imaginary town of Winesburg on Clyde, Ohio, the village in which he himself was raised. The book also achieves some unity because various characters recur in various stories, as do some of the same particular settings.
Most significant among the recurring characters is George Willard, a young newspaper reporter. Sometimes George is an observer in particular stories; in other cases he is himself a major participant. In some tales he doesn’t appear at all, and in others he is merely mentioned. If the work has any unified “plot” at all, that plot involves the gradual development of George himself. He is a more mature character at the end of the book than he was at the beginning, and, at the end of the work, he is ironically also better prepared than he was earlier to leave the town in which he was born and brought up.
Yet George’s experiences are not the only experiences that contribute to the book’s coherence. Four stories, for example, deal with experiences of the Bentley family. Nevertheless, because so much of the book does indeed focus on George Willard, much of it also focuses on Willard’s family and acquaintances. George’s interactions with these other characters also help give the book whatever unified “plot” it may possess. George’s mother figures prominently in several of the stories, and tensions between George’s parents are strongly emphasized. Thus, at one point, the feelings of George’s father toward George’s mother are described as follows:
He thought of the old house and the woman who lived there with him as things defeated and done for.
This sentence captures the sense of loneliness, alienation, defeat, limitation, and desperation that also helps unify the book. To George’s father, his wife is merely “the woman” with whom he happens to live. Their home is decayed, as is their marriage. Winesburg, Ohio may lack an over-all plot, but the plots of many of the individual stories are similar in their grim tones and dark conclusions.
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