Sherwood Anderson was born September 13, 1876, in Camden, Ohio, to Irwin and Emma Anderson. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Clyde, Ohio, where Anderson spent his most impressionable years. In later life, Anderson remembered Clyde as an ideal place for a boy to grow up; it became a symbol of the lost innocence of an earlier America. Many of his best stories have a fictionalized Clyde as their setting, and his memory of it shaped his vision of the American past and became a measure of the inadequacies of the industrialized, increasingly mechanized America of city apartments and bloodless sophistication.
Anderson’s family was poor. Irwin Anderson, a harness maker, was thrown out of work by industrialization and periods of economic instability. Thus he was forced to work at various odd jobs, such as house painter and paper hanger. Anderson’s mother took in washing, while Sherwood and his brother did odd jobs to help support the family. In his autobiographical accounts of growing up, A Story Teller’s Story, Tar, and Memoirs, Anderson expresses his humiliation at his impoverished childhood and his resentment toward his father for the inability to support his family. Anderson was particularly bitter about the hardship inflicted on his mother, to whom he was deeply attached. He held his father accountable for his mother’s early death, and in Windy McPherson’s Son one may see in the portrait of the father Anderson’s view of his own father as a braggart and a fool whose drunkenness and irresponsibility caused the death of his wife. In time, Anderson’s attitude toward his father softened; he came to see that his own gifts as a storyteller were derived from his father, who was a gifted yarn spinner.
Even more important in Anderson’s development as a writer was the sympathy awakened in him by his father’s failures. A braggart and a liar, Irwin Anderson nevertheless had romantic aspirations to shine in the eyes of the world; his pathetic attempts to amount to something made him grotesque by the standards of the world. An underlying tenderness for his father grew stronger as Sherwood Anderson grew older, enabling him to sympathize with those people in life who become the victims of the wrong kinds of dreams and aspirations. The portrayal of the narrator’s father in “The Egg” is one example of Anderson’s eventual compassion for such individuals.
Anderson’s youth, however, was marked by a rejection of his father and a worship of progress and business success. He eagerly embraced the current version of the American Dream as exemplified in the Horatio Alger stories: the...
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