What is Wing trying to tell George in their talks?

Expert Answers
vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Sherwood Anderson’s story “Hands,” a shy, eccentric, and elderly man nicknamed Wing Biddlebaum engages in conversations with a friendly teenager named George Willard. During these conversations, Wing tries to encourage George to be a free spirit – to be an independent personality who is not intimidated by society.  At one point, for instance, he actually shouts

at George Willard, condemning his tendency to be too much influenced by  the people about him, “You are destroying yourself,” he cried. “You have the inclination to be alone and to dream and you are afraid of dreams. You want to be like others in town here. You hear them talk and you try to imitate them.”

Wing, in other words, encourages George to be himself, to be willing to be unconventional.  A bit later, Wing again speaks to George:

“You must try to forget all you have learned,” said the old man. “You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices.”

Here again, then, Wing encourages George to be independent. He wants George to tune out the voices of those who would seek to make him a conformist.

Wing, however, recalls to himself how his own earlier independent spirit – in particular, his habit of touching boys while speaking enthusiastically to them as their teacher – ultimately caused him to lose his job and to be ostracized in the town where he had once taught.  In other words, Wing knows the suffering that can result if an independent spirit is misinterpreted by a larger group governed by conventional thoughts. His advice to George is partly a way of retaliating against the kind of conventional thinking from which he himself has suffered. Yet he can never openly tell George the full details of his past or of why he values unconventional lifestyles as much as he does. He does not want to be misinterpreted again -- either by George or by anyone else -- and so his advice is vaguely expressed.