A Story Teller's Story Critical Essays

Sherwood Anderson

Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

During his career Sherwood Anderson wrote three semi-autobiographical studies, of which A STORY TELLER’S STORY is the first and in some ways the most revealing of the man to whom the life of fancy was always as real as the world of fact. As in his fiction, he showed in his account of personal experience the same interest in troubled inward states and psychological depths that he presented in his short stories and novels, compassionate insights into the twisted, distorted lives of the world’s misfits. In this respect he was a pioneer in American literature, interested in uncovering the frustrations, anxieties, fears, and desires of people. He did not present characters; he gave us live, moving human beings. Anderson called his figures “grotesques.” This grotesqueness was a guard against a deformity, but it was also a projection of misshapen emotion. A STORY TELLER’S STORY is presented on at least two levels: on one a series of enjoyable loose-jointed stories—true in one sense, fiction in the manner in which they are expanded—and on another a study of grotesques.

The book is filled with Anderson’s memories, beginning with his recollections of his early boyhood in Ohio. The first and one of the most interesting sections tells of the Anderson family. Sherwood Anderson’s father, an American dreamer who could tell a marvelous story but could not be a practical man, dominates this section. Anderson often compares himself to his father on the grounds that both were meant to be dreamers, not practical men. There is a tale told by his father while he is traveling with a half-baked actor about the time he escaped from Confederate soldiers escorting a number of prisoners to a prison camp. The tale is dramatized to the fullest extent and Anderson’s relating of this tale, along with the reactions of the people listening to it, is amusing and interesting. His father told the story with perfect timing in order to get the proper reactions from his audience. The fact that Anderson can reproduce the same feelings that his father produced by using all of his senses is a great attribute to his talent and skill as a writer. The idea that none of this may have happened is further proof of Anderson’s skill.

Dreamers, artists, and craftsmen are the salt of Anderson’s earth—the heroes. The villains of America are the money-makers. When Anderson was running a moderately successful paint factory, he decided to become a free agent. While dictating a letter to his secretary praising the qualities of his product, he decided to walk out. As an excuse, he feigned insanity and simply walked into the world and became a writer of fiction.

A STORY TELLER’S STORY contains some of the real models for the sympathetic failures, misfits, and the frustrated artists found in Winesburg, Ohio. Old “Judge” Turner is one of these misfits. He is now a respected citizen in a town in Northern Ohio. In his youth he had attended a college in the East. While there he had become attached, from a distance, to one of the college heroes. This student had the attributes the judge desired. If he had been content to admire from a distance, the judge’s life would have been different, but unwisely, even innocently, he had chosen to write a note to the student describing the relationship they could have together. This foolish move caused the ruination of the judge’s promising life. The student showed the letter around and the judge was tagged with the word pervert. The judge stayed at the college and was graduated, but his life had been radically changed by this incident.

Alonzo Berners, another of Anderson’s Ohio friends, is an invalid who lives in constant pain and drinks himself into oblivion twice a year. He leaves the town to do so; when he...

(The entire section is 1552 words.)