"The book is, of course, in no sense a burlesque, but it is an effort to treat the lives of simply ordinary people in an American middle western town with sympathy and understanding... These people are all like Wing Biddlebaum, people who had not succeeded in life, but decent people nevertheless."(22)
Sherwood Anderson, 1932
Winesburg, Ohio is the title and the setting for Sherwood Anderson’s book. The book has a unique setup where the story centers around a number of themes, but lacks a general plot. The characters in the book are vivid, rich individuals who are all linked together through their unsatisfied lives in Winesburg. The characters' untraditional connections to each other are what make this book so interesting. Every single one of the characters seems to have gone through a very hard time in their lives and just about all of those characters attribute their failures to living in this small town. Throughout the novel, there are references to the city and its life style which hint to the notion that the city is where everything happens and there are more opportunities and people's lives are generally better. A lot of these characters stress that if they were to leave to the city, their dreams and lives would not be failures as they are now in small town Winesburg.
The setting of the story is very similar to that of Anderson’s hometown of Clyde, Ohio because many of the stories that are in the book are taken from Anderson's childhood memories from that town. Although Anderson has said that he liked growing up in Clyde, Sherwood felt that living in the town made him feel isolated. Peope were not going anywhere, just living their lives day after day in the same routine. He grew up around a sense of hopelessness, that what is, just is. (23)
Not only were many of the settings the taken from Clyde, but so were the characters. Although, most of the characters were created to represent a certain type of person rather than a particular person. Anderson shows charcters that have lost their loves, failed in life, the hopelessly lost, and even the oversexed youth.
A key aspect to the novel is how Anderson is able to revela the secrets of a small town, by presenting the reality of nothing being what it seems to be. That is one of the most interesting aspects of living in a small town. When the reader listens to the details of the setting and the true beauty of this town, it would be imaged that the townspeople live happily in such serenity. The country life is supposed to be this simple small town life where everyone knows their neighbor and they have town picnics together. But instead, this place seems to make the people go crazy. Throughout the book, there is this longing for something better and richer than what the characters have in the town that they live in. They all see themselves stuck in a hole with nowhere to go. Anderson does a really good job of looking deeper into the lives of these small town folk and examining how desperate their lives really are in this town. Reverend Hartman is a good example of this. When people think of a Reverend, it is common to think that this man of God is at peace with himself and has a very happy stable family life. This is certainly what the town’s people think of Reverend. But in reality, Hartman is going through what appears to be a mid-life crisis and peeps on the schoolteacher that lives across the bell tower. This behavior is certainly not what the reader would expect from a man of the cloak.
interesting aspect that Anderson adds to the book is the common assumption
that the grass is always greener on the other side. Almost all the characters
believe that none of the terrible stuff happens in the city and the city is
this wonderful place to be. But that is certainly not true at all. All the
failures that occur in this town could have happened in the city as well.
It seems to be easier for every character to blame the town, rather than themselves
for their failures.
As the book journeys through the secret lives of the towns people, it is very interesting to see how George Willard is the only character that seems to be untouched by the town’s curse. It has been said that Anderson wrote George in the image of himself as a young boy. (25)George is still relatively young compared to the rest of the characters and seems to be the only one who is capable of leaving Winesburg, which is what Anderson does in real life. It appears that his admired career aspirations are what will lead him out to the city. Another interesting aspect of his character is that he is to be linked to almost all the characters in the book. It looks like the town’s people have a high regard for him perhaps because like his mother, they can see him succeeding in things that they were unable to accomplish in this town. George seems to be the sounding board for lost hope and dreams that the townspeople had in life. It seems as though the characters want George to go to the city and make their dreams happen for them. But George is also not what he seems, who would think that a young, handsome, admiral man like himself would sleep with the town whore. But this is another interesting connection that the character George has with Sherwood Anderson. Anderson had four wives and was never faithful to any of them. The book was quite controversial even though it was simply Anderson's personal reality of what life was like in small town middle America. But perhaps that was all it took; simply the reality of his words were what shook up small towns everywhere.
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