What is the symbolism in "The Egg" by Sherwood Anderson?

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The egg in Sherwood Anderson's story is the object on which much of the symbolism in the story rests.

Eggs have a binary nature; they either produce a chick or are consumed as food by people. Anderson develops many binary oppositions in the story: success and failure, man and wife, farm and restaurant, country and town, the mother working days, the father working nights. The potential that an egg represents is symbolic of the potential of the various business models with which the father and mother pursue success. And the fundamental question is embraced by the whole family: chicken, or egg? Which will bring the family its fortune?

When they have found no success on their chicken farm, the family's move to their restaurant in town still revolves around eggs. They are cooked and consumed in the restaurant, and when that fails to impress their customers, the father turns to attempting to entertain with them.

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The short story, “The Egg” by Sherwood Anderson is a humorous look at the life of a man who desperately wants to be a success but cannot separate himself from failure.  His ventures indicate that like his egg trick which involves making an egg stand up without breaking the shell, he is incapable of  making either his life or the trick work.

The egg represents several things in the story. First, it symbolizes the man’s life and his failures.  Everything on his chicken farm dies.  He so desparately wants it to be successful; however,  everything he tries does not work.

Like the oyster, the egg holds possibilities:  Is there a pearl inside? Is there an edible egg? The egg represents the death of hope for the once happy farm worker. 

The author writes: “Grotesques are born out of eggs as out of people.” The grotesques that the character in the story describes, collects, and keeps in jars come from the egg.  The chicken makes not only regular eggs, but the disgusting ones which hold the quirks of chicken life. 

When the man moves to the restaurant, he lines the front of the fountain bar with the jars of the grotesque chickens as a reminder of why they are in the restaurant business and not on the chicken farm. He practices several tricks all involving eggs.   Even when he tries a new occupation, the egg still becomes a part of his life.

The most embarrassing event in the story occurs in the new café that the family opens.  A man comes in, and the father decides that he must entertain the man.  He tries several tricks all involving eggs. None of the tricks work when he tries to entertain his customer; then, he shows him his collection of the grotesque chickens which does nothing for the appetite.  Finally, the customer leaves thinking that the owner is crazy.   It is so embarrassing that the man goes upstairs where the family lives with an egg in his hand. 

I imagine he had some idea of destroying it, of destroying all eggs, and that he intended to let mother and me see him begin.  When he got into the presence of mother, something happened to him.  He laid the egg gently on the table and dropped on his knees by the bed.  He later decided to close the restaurant for the evening…

The theme of the story dwells on the disappointments in the father’s life.  The cycle of the egg becomes a vicious representation of the family’s life.  The father worked on a chicken farm for much of his life.  When he owned his own, the father realizes that the problems far outweigh the successes.  One of the things he does is to collect all of the atrocities that the eggs bring forth and places them in jars---two headed chickens with four legs and other grotesques.


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