Student Question

What is the irony at the end of Sherwood Anderson's "Hands"?

Quick answer:

The end of the story is ironic because the protagonist Wing Biddlebaum is described as has having "nervous, expressive fingers" as he picks up the crumbs from beneath the table. Wing has also lived in fear of his hands since he was driven out of his hometown over an accusation of child abuse. The comparison of Wing's fingers with those of a religious devotee going through rosary beads adds to the irony.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ever since he was run out of his hometown, Wing Biddlebaum has been living in fear. He fears other people and his own hands. Wing doesn't understand the accusations that caused him to be run out of town; all he knows is that it was something to do with his hands.

In actual fact, a boy in his class—in a former life Wing was a teacher called Adolph Myers—made a false accusation of child abuse against him. This was due largely to Wing's habit of expressing himself through his hands, which was misinterpreted by some of his students and by the townsfolk in general.

Now living in another town in another state, Wing is still deeply traumatized by what happened back in Pennsylvania. As this unpleasant incident was related to his hands, he has come to fear them, seeing them as dangerous instruments. And yet, as we see from the ending of the story, there's nothing dangerous about Wing's hands at all.

Observe the way he gently picks up the crumbs from underneath the table with his "nervous, expressive" fingers. Note also how the motion of Wing's fingers is likened to a religious devotee going through rosary beads. This religious imagery further highlights the irony of the situation: here is a completely innocent man who's never done anyone any harm, and yet he lives in fear of his own hands and what they might do.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial