Winesburg, Ohio

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The central character, insofar as the book has one, is George Willard. This young reporter for the Winesburg Eagle draws the confidences of many of the lost souls who, misunderstood or ignored by their fellow townspeople, are mostly silent and invisible. When George leaves town at the end of the book, he plans to become a writer--to give voice to the voiceless, as Anderson does here.

Of the twenty-five stories in WINESBURG, OHIO, among the most striking are “HANDS,” “ADVENTURE,” and “THE UNTOLD LIE.” Each is also typical: Anderson’s stories are plotless, depending for their effects not on action but on moments of revelation. In “Hands,” for example, hardly anything happens. A man named Wing Biddlebaum tells George Willard that he must not waste his life--he must “begin to dream"--and George is struck by the expressiveness of Wing’s hands. Then the reader learns that Wing had been an inspired teacher who was fired for innocently putting his hands on his pupils. A wasted life is poignantly revealed in a few pages.

All that happens in “ADVENTURE” is that a young woman named Alice Hindman, abandoned by her lover years earlier, runs naked out of her house into the rain. This small event, the culmination of a long period of growing restlessness, leads her to try “to face bravely the fact that many people must live and die alone.”

In “THE UNTOLD LIE,” a farm hand named Hal Winters confesses to Ray Pearson, a fellow worker, that he has gotten his girlfriend pregnant and asks if he should marry her. Ray, who knows Hal’s duty but feels trapped by his own marriage, remains silent. “Whatever I told him would have been a lie.” Anderson’s stories, simply and sympathetically told, are timeless in their revelation of secret lives.

Bibliography:

Burbank, Rex. Sherwood Anderson. Boston: Twayne, 1964. This accessible study of Anderson’s life and work provides a fine introduction to his first novel.

Crowley, John W., ed. New Essays on Winesburg, Ohio. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Presents a variety of critical points of view and provides a forum of interpretative methods about Winesburg, Ohio.

Dewey, Joseph. “No God in the Sky and No God in Myself: ‘Godliness’ and Anderson’s Winesburg.” Modern Fiction Studies 35, no. 2 (Summer, 1989): 251-259. Dewey’s essay searches the novel for its religious implications by focusing on the character of Jessie Bentley and shows how George Willard, as an artist, reshapes her search for spiritual communion.

Reist, John S., Jr. “An Ellipse Becomes a Circle: The Developing Unity of Winesburg, Ohio.” CEA Critic 55, No. 3 (Spring-Summer, 1993): 26-38. This general study highlights the way the reader’s experience can grow through a close examination of the text.

Rigsbee, Sally Adair. “The Feminine in Winesburg, Ohio.” Studies in American Fiction 9, no. 2 (Autumn, 1981): 233-244. Argues that the meaning given to the women characters in Winesburg, Ohio provides the novel with an important source of its artistic unity.

White, Ray Lewis. Winesburg, Ohio: An Exploration. Boston: Twayne, 1990. This book-length study examines the novel’s historical context, the general importance of the work, and its critical reception. Provides a close reading of the text and a selected bibliography.

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