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.)

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Anderson’s Midwest
When Anderson wrote ‘‘Death in the Woods,’’ the modernist literary movement was raging;...

(The entire section is 607 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
Point of view is probably the most striking and significant stylistic feature of ‘‘Death in the...

(The entire section is 606 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1930s: American women have a life expectancy of sixty-five years, five years longer than their male counterparts.


(The entire section is 267 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Do you find Mrs. Grimes a sympathetic character? Why or why not? Cite specific passages from the text to support your point of view.


(The entire section is 164 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Winesburg, Ohio (1919), Anderson’s collection of interlocking short stories set in a fictionalized...

(The entire section is 145 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Anderson, Sherwood, Sherwood Anderson’s Memoirs, edited by Ray Lewis White. New York: Harcourt,...

(The entire section is 208 words.)