Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The penultimate story of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919), “Sophistication” is one of the collection’s few stories that was not published separately before the book appeared. The central figure in the book is George Willard, who encounters, one by one, the various incomplete and lonely people of the town whom Anderson calls “grotesques.” Throughout these stories, George Willard is something of a constant; he seems young, healthy, and whole, and this is why the others are drawn to him to tell their stories.

As “Sophistication” opens, George is walking alone through crowds of laughing, excited people. In this initial image, Anderson presents his central theme, the lesson that George must learn: that the essential human condition is to be alone, and lonely. Throughout the rest of Winesburg, Ohio, George encounters one lonely figure after another, listening to them tell of their aloneness. George himself is often alone; he is not close to his parents, he seems to have no intimate friends his own age, and he feels different from everyone else. However, until this evening of the fair, he has never minded, never felt lonely.

At first he does not know what he is feeling. He is angry about Helen’s being with the instructor instead of him, but he is unwilling to go to her house himself. He is eager to get out into the wide world, but he is beginning to realize that he will be just a speck in it. As he...

(The entire section is 475 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

American Dream
George and Helen, both seeking to escape from the restrictions of small-town life, find in each other a moment of...

(The entire section is 616 words.)