“Hands” is the first of some two dozen stories that Sherwood Anderson brought together in Winesburg, Ohio (1919) and one of the most realistic and powerful in that collection. Like many of the stories in Winesburg, Ohio, “Hands” is about a character estranged from society, “grotesques,” as Anderson called them in the preface to the story cycle, misfits forced to live lives of quiet desperation outside the circle of the human community.
The stories in Winesburg, Ohio are in fact linked by theme, geography, and a central character (George Willard) who wanders through them connecting different characters. Part of the New Realism that sprang up in the United States after World War I and that included other essentially Midwestern writers such as Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Hemingway, Anderson’s short stories often focus on the estrangement and disillusionment of their protagonists.
Although a story of little action, “Hands” has multiple meanings. On one level, the story is a psychosexual portrait of a man driven out of society by his odd behavior, or by behavior that society can neither understand nor tolerate. Clearly there is a sexual element to the accusations against Adolph/Wing, for he was earlier driven out of town by people who misinterpreted his behavior. As a number of critics have pointed out, however, the real conflict is not sexual but the clash of the spiritual with the physical. The tragedy...
(The entire section is 499 words.)