Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As is so often the case in a work by Sherwood Anderson, the means of telling the story can be as compelling as the story itself. Such is the case with “Death in the Woods.” Anderson wrote several versions of the tale before he felt that he had come close to telling it adequately, and one of the most obvious narrative devices employed in the story is the narrator’s apparent difficulty in saying exactly what he means, in capturing in words the truth of the event. The “story” is simple, but the feelings evoked by it are very complex.

It may be argued, in fact, that the story is concerned more with the narrator than with the old woman whose death serves as inspiration, or catalyst, for the narrator. The unnamed narrator is a grown man looking back to his childhood, and there is considerable ambiguity concerning the actual events that he recounts. At one point he wonders how he could know some of the details that he is relating, and clearly there are many aspects of the story that he could not know. Later he tells the reader that he is drawing on events in his own life to help make sense of, give structure to, and fill the gaps in the old woman’s life. For example, he remembers having himself worked on the farm of a German who abused the hired girl. He also had “a half-uncanny, mystical adventure with dogs in an Illinois forest on a clear, moonlit winter night.” In addition, he had once stumbled onto the woman’s old, run-down farmhouse,...

(The entire section is 477 words.)