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“Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small Town Life” by Sherwood Anderson Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jun 13th, 2022

Current essay provides the analysis of loneliness and alienation in Anderson’s work which is described by many critiques as being one of the most successful attempts to describe these characteristics of modern people life using literary expressive means.

Anderson’s approach to depicting the phenomena of alienation and loneliness is extraordinary which often results in disjointed narration and using raw emotions of Winesburg’s inhabitants. To understand the greater idea of his novel the symbolism and grotesque of his writing style should be taken into consideration. The author often avoids presenting his idea of alienation straightforwardly. In contrast he uses a wide spectrum of images and symbols which ‘estrange’ it and make it look even more articulated. This is realized even through peculiar to Winesburg’s citizens strange behavior and inability to express ones feelings. Therefore, the main purpose of current essay is to analyze some of these images in terms of their mission to reveal the signs of loneliness and alienations in Anderson’s novel.

First of all, in chapter ‘Paper Pills, concerning Doctor Reefy’ Anderson presents the image of the apples which is in fact a grotesque of orchard which are constantly ignored and left on the apple tree where they ripen. This metaphor is connected with the symbolical signification of Doctor Reefy’s hands which the author describes as follows: “The knuckles of the doctor’s hands were extraordinarily large. When the hands were closed they looked like clusters of unpainted wooden balls as large as walnuts fastened together by steel rods. He smoked a cob pipe and after his wife’s death sat all day in his empty office close by a window that was covered with cobwebs’.

Doctor’s hands resemble this ripen apples nobody care about. They are strong and persuasive but they can talk and express their feelings. Doctor Reefy is described as silent and calm man whose wife died. This makes him suffer much and deeply transforms his behavior. He leads a secluded way of life but this routine is often broken by his eccentric habit of throwing paper scraps into his interlocutors. The purpose of these scraps is initially unknown and Anderson only describes the process of their accumulation: ‘It was frayed at the sleeves and little holes had appeared at the knees and elbows. In the office he wore also a linen duster with huge pockets into which he continually stuffed scraps of paper. After some weeks the scraps of paper became little hard round balls, and when the pockets were filled he dumped them out upon the floor’.

Further on we find out that these twisted scraps of paper that he throws into the people contain his thought that he collects during his life, some of them even register his emotional state and deeper feelings. There is no denying the importance of the fact that these scraps are a beautiful metaphor of alienation: people such as Doctor Reefy can not express his thought in normal communication with other people since some firm and irresistible line was drawn between him and other world (Conner, 2001, p. 233).

The same is true of the other people which didn’t however met this challenge in a similar vein. Warm relations between people, the desire to share other problems and suffering lost their ground and paper scraps became the only way in expressing one thoughts.

As the ripen apples they can be read by any volunteer but the story shows that they are few: ‘Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples’. In this way it may be claimed that the metaphor of ripen apples that fall and paper scraps accumulated by Doctor Reefy signify qualitatively the same, deep alienation which makes emotional outpourings ridiculous to the others, nobody can understand nobody, everybody is in his castle with a formal channels of communication with the outside world.

Another example of expressive imagery used to estrange the phenomena of alienation in American small-town life is presented in the chapter named ‘Hands’ the main character thereof Wing Biddlebaum gives George a crucial advice which claims that Wing feels help George to avoid his sufferings: “You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices”. This advice may be described as a medicine from longstanding alienation and depression suffered by George for a long period which made him completely ruined as a personality. George couldn’t find the way in his life and was unsuccessful in finding a common language with other people which resulted in the enclosure of his personality in the castle of loneliness and constant sufferings (Whalan, 2002, p. 232).

But as the unfolding of this story shows this advice proved to become the terrible burden on son: it made George incapable of explaining his inner feelings and problems not only to the members of town community but even to himself and his father. Hence, it may be said that this advice can be described as a strong marker of alienation which is amplified by misunderstanding or better say the absence of the desire to understand and help (Dunne, 1998, p. 301).

The same pattern further is repeated in the other chapter named “Philosopher”, where Doctor Parcival finds himself “intent upon convincing the boy of the advisability of adopting a line of conduct that he was himself unable to define”. The desire to give authoritative advice to George transforms into urge to make George to outpour all his feelings to Parcival: “You must pay attention to me,” the doctor cries, “If something happens perhaps you will be able to write the book that I may never get written”.

To sum it up, Anderson gives a wide range of images, metaphors and symbols which are important in estranging the greater idea of the whole cycle of stories which is alienation and loneliness. In my view the image of ripen apples is the most successful of all used by Anderson to this end.

References

  1. Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life. New York: Modern Library, 1919.
  2. Conner, Marc C. “Fathers and Sons: Winesburg, Ohio and the Revision of Modernism.” Studies in American Fiction (2001): 209-234.
  3. Dunne, Robert. “The Book of the Grotesque: Textual Theory and the Editing of Winesburg, Ohio.” Studies in Short Fiction 35.3 (1998): 287-307.
  4. Whalan, Mark. “Dreams of Manhood: Narrative, Gender, and History in Winesburg, Ohio.” Studies in American Fiction 30.2 (2002): 229-267.
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