Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio

Winesburg, Ohio
by Sherwood Anderson

(10: 6/50)

"The son shook his head. 'I suppose I can't make you understand, but oh, I wish I could,'"

The entry below will openly analyse Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio and address specifically its possible themes, symbols and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

There is something fascinating, unnerving, and somehow emotionless in reading themes and ideas that you yourself have expressed in writing. In Winesburg, Anderson tackles a half dozen subjects I've written about in the past such as judgement paranoia in "Queer" to the importance of experience in Drink. Yet somehow, because these subjects are so personal to me, it lacks the resonance you'd expect the work of fellow mind to have. I do believe it's all in the pitch.

Winesburg, Ohio, characterized as a short-story cycle is almost novel-like in its treatment of theme. Winesburg speaks specifically to how the importance of leaving home and experiencing the world is necessary to growth. The citizen's that populate Winesburg lack the ability to communicate with one another. Just as many of them have never left the surrounding area, so too are they bound to themselves. Expressing anything to another human being is Herculean effort rarely, if ever, achieved in the cycle. The result is an undeniable connection between experience and understanding.

The overarching narrative, if you deem it to be described as such, of ubiquitous "protagonist" George Willard serves to illustrate these ideas. Through Mother, Loneliness, Drink, Sophistication and the rest of the cycle, it becomes clear that Anderson is insisting on leaving home's importance to the road to adulthood.

Anderson doesn't, however, attack his subject. There is an almost refreshing sense of non-judgement throughout. Their stories are regarded as stories to illustrate a greater point. Of course, many stand on their own (though a few require the entire cycle) to present specific ideas but I believe they generally serve a larger whole.

Winesburg, Ohio isn't quite an American masterpiece. It glimmers in parts, recedes in others. Despite literary critic Malcolm Crowley's efforts, Anderson, like many significant writers, will eventually, within a century or two, be sandblasted from literary history; known only to Ivy League period specialists, and assuredly out of print entirely. Already, despite being of direct literary importance in both the establishment of Hemingway and Faulkner, Anderson's writing is already reduced to four or five in-print novels/collections. I've expressed on numerous occasions in the past how pitiable I find this reality.

Anderson may not be the strongest voice of his generation, but stories such as The Untold Lie are of beautiful quality. Anderson is so completely unlike his characters in that way. Winesburg, Ohio, if it is nothing else, is an impressive examination of the psyche of mid-America in the early 20th century. Anderson communicates on their behalf, and he does it lovingly. Though perhaps not well enough to convince a small-town, bad tempered misanthrope.

Up Next: Jonathan Tropper's How To Talk To a Widower

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