(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On a warm autumn evening in Winesburg, Ohio, throngs of county fair-goers laugh and shout, but a young man in his late teens or early twenties walks through the streets silent and withdrawn. He is George Willard, who has made up his mind to leave this small town and find a newspaper job in a big city, where life will not pass him by.

As he walks down Main Street, he is sad and angry, but does not know why. The omniscient narrator, who speaks from the attitude of an older, wiser man (who at times can only guess at what women are feeling), describes the moment when a young man becomes aware for the first time of his small place in the universe and of his approaching death. He calls this moment and this awareness “sophistication” and makes it clear that this kind of sophistication brings underlying sadness. George Willard is experiencing his first adult feelings.

As George the new adult walks along in his sorrow and loneliness, he thinks of his sweetheart, Helen White. A banker’s daughter, she is the same age as George but attends college in Cleveland. She dresses well, goes to the theater, and is expected to marry a man from her own social class. On this day, however, she is tired of her social class and its expectations. She has spent the day with a young instructor from her college—this is the reason for George’s anger—taking in the county fair and sitting with him on the porch, listening to him talk about himself. Helen is bored...

(The entire section is 563 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

It is important to note that although the plot of ‘‘Sophistication’’ is self-contained, it also relies heavily on the events that...

(The entire section is 592 words.)