Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Man Who Became a Woman” was originally published in Anderson’s collection Horses and Men (1923), in which the racetrack provides the general setting. The tragicomic style of reminiscence resonates through Anderson’s works, earning him the nickname “The Ohio Pagan,” taken from the title of one of the stories in the 1923 collection. Critics of Anderson’s short stories believe he conceals the seriousness of his stories behind the style of high-spirited recollections, turning dramatic monologue into a story.

Virginia Woolf said that in Anderson’s stories the “senses flourish,” that the stories are “dominated by instincts rather than by ideas,” and that Anderson leaves his characters “exposed, defenseless, naked to scorn and laughter.” Her observations are supported by Herman Dudley’s experiences in “The Man Who Became a Woman,” first, when he sees in his own reflection the face of a terrified girl and hears the scornful laughter of the miners in the bar, suspecting wrongly that the laughter is directed at him; and later, when he is forced to flee from the stables and return naked for his clothing. In the final scenes, Herman is literally exposed, defenseless, naked to scorn and laughter.

Anderson’s style appeals to the senses, with sketches of the racetracks and stables, a sketch of the narrator’s father exchanging greetings with a beautiful woman at a railroad station, a depiction of the deserted slaughterhouse with its stench and skeletons, and the vivid images of the suspenseful flight at the climax of the story. His story is bound together more by this increasing emotional tension than by the plot. Anderson leaves readers with the final intense image of Burt, swinging his pitchfork at men and trees, swearing, and defending Herman’s innocence, as Herman slinks away from the scene of his shame.

“The Man Who Became a Woman” goes beyond sketching to expose the psychology of Anderson’s narrator, the mature man examining the psychology of his younger self. The suspenseful final scene blends sketching and psychological realism.