Despite the fact that there are people who simply do not want to communicate with others, there are those who do not think or know that there are institutions that they can reach out to for help. In the novel Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, each character sees the world with a different perception of what life should be like, often a distorted perception, and their neurosis is caused by the isolation of the small town. Neurosis is the term for the distress of the mind causing a person to behave socially different from others; it is also seen as abnormal nature. Neurosis includes more specifically depression, mental confusion, dependency, perfectionism, negativity and obsessive thoughts .Usually, neurosis is caused by the common attributes of modernism such as isolation, search for truth, and gender consciousness; in general, modernism is the changes and reactions of the world. Due to lack of communication to the outside world, the people of Winesburg
struggle to overcome their unique difficulties by holding in grief and coping life with their own beliefs. Without communication there is no guidance, forcing the individual to form his own misleading truths; one then must cling onto his truths as means of life. However, one can choose to either confront their problems or allow himself to be helpless.
A common form of neurotic behavior is caused by isolation, the separation of one from one or more people. In the short story “Adventure”, the main character Alice Hindman expressed her insanity through actions: “Getting out of bed, she arranged a blanket so that in the darkness it looked like a form lying between the sheets and, kneeling beside the bed, she caressed it, whispering words repeatedly, like a refrain”(101). Alice’s former lover Ned Currie had left to work in the city, and while he was in the busyness he had come across many different people to fall in love with; Alice, on the other hand, was shy and reserved, and because she did not want to let go of her first love, she committed to only loving Ned Currie: “The outer crust of her life, all of her natural diffidence and reserve, was torn away and she gave herself over to the emotions of love”(95). At that rate, Alice continued to wait for Ned to return, only eventually finding her self longing for just someone to be with, and later discovering that she had completely wasted her life over the wait for Ned instead of looking for new love. After gradually realizing her loss of time, she had already grown old and could not fathom that time will not return. The thought of the impossibility drove her mad as she felt cheated of life and love. Nevertheless, everyday Alice was given the chance to find a friend who she could speak to, someone whom she would not have to be afraid of falling in love with.
Enoch Robinson was another who isolated himself from the outside world, but for the reason of self-doubt: “Then he began to doubt his own mind. He was afraid the things he felt were not getting expressed in the pictures he painted… he stopped inviting people… and presently got into the habit of locking the door”(154). Enoch was a painter who did not agree with others’ interpretations of his artwork; at the same time, he did not know how to express his own thoughts to the others about his artwork, selfishly believing that no one would ever understand him:
The mild, blue-eyed young Ohio
boy was a complete egotist, as all children are egotists. He did not want friends for the quite simple reason that no child wants friends. He wanted most of all the people of his own mind, people with whom he could really talk, people he could harangue and scold by the hour, servants, you see, to his fancy.(155)
This is an act of defiance which causes the separation and loneliness; he did not want people who do not have the same perceptions and he did, and it is quite unlikely that one can easily find someone of the same type. Enoch happened to be in that situation of lack of similar companions. Surprisingly, he later married because “He began to get lonely and wanted to touch actual flesh-and-bone people with his hands”(155). One may think that he has surpassed his childish stage, but later on, he found himself “choked and walled in by the life in the apartment, and to feel toward his wife and even toward his children as he had felt concerning the friends who once came to visit him”(156). Enoch’s incompetence to accept others as they are or to change his views prevent him from being in agreement with anyone; he felt that his wife and children did not understand him as the artists who visited did not understand him. This only aggravated his loneliness. His attempts to lead people into his life in hopes of similarities in thought was declined repeatedly, so soon he began to have imaginary friends who are very much like he is. “And Enoch was happy. Into the room he went and locked the door. With an absurd air of importance he talked aloud, giving instructions, making comments on life”(157). His fantasy ascertains his insanity; he finds companionship in a very abnormal manner, but because he expects too much of how others should be, this is his only choice to keep him content. In the end when Enoch was old, he invited the Winesburg’s news writer George Willard to his place, thinking that perhaps George is very well-rounded and would understand Enoch. George listened intently as Enoch hoped, but again Enoch became inundated with self-doubt and sent George out the door. Enoch concluded of his apartment that “it was warm and friendly in my room but now I’m all alone”(162). One grieves when he cannot achieve his fancy. This man could not find what he truly wants, but perhaps Enoch should grow up and learn to commit.
The short story “Hands” portrays Wing Biddlebaum’s sadness and confusion of his very own hands. He did not go crazy, however, as the two previously described characters had. Biddlebaum’s case was mild, for he did not mentally deteriorate. Biddlebaum was a school teacher who spoke with hand gestures and was very fond of his male students:
Here and there went his hands, caressing the shoulders of the boys, playing about the tousled heads… In a way the voice and the hands, the stroking of the shoulders and the touching of the hair were a part of the schoolmaster’s effort to carry a dream into the young minds… Under the caress of his hands doubt and disbelief went out of the minds of the young boys and they began also to dream.(13)
Accordingly he was only expressing hopes and dreams for the boys and he does that through his hands. The trouble arrived when “a half-witted boy of the school became enamored of the young master. In his bed at night he imagined unspeakable things and in the morning went forth to tell his dreams as facts. Strange, hideous accusations fell from his loose-hung lips”(13). In a society where homosexuality was not tolerated, the townspeople automatically saw Biddlebaum as someone who simply did not belong to this world. He was taunted by the boy’s father and felt like a grotesque. Biddlebaum did not intend to offend anyone sexually, so he was baffled:
Going into his house he cut slices of bread and spread honey upon them… in the darkness he could not see the hands and they became quiet. Although he still hungered for the presence of the boy, who was the medium through which he expressed his love of man, the hunger became a part of his loneliness and his waiting. Lighting a lamp, Wing Biddlebaum washed the few dishes soiled by his simple meal and, setting up a folding cot by the screen door that led to the porch, prepared to undress for the night.(15)
Biddlebaum’s hands contradict themselves as they are what completed tasks to carry him through his life, and yet the hands were what brought him the trouble of the accusation of homosexuality. At the end, Biddlebaum lived as a lonely man because society did not accept him for who he is, at the same time having misinterpreted his actions. Biddlebaum’s depression indicates a neurotic change in his mind. Although society is very controlling, Biddlebaum had allowed for the misinterpretation of his sexuality take over his life. Had he fought for righteousness he may have had the chance to break free from the prison he was sent to for the rest of his days.
All three of these characters experienced their neurosis from loneliness: Alice’s single-minded love, Enoch’s selfish perceptions, and Wing’s misunderstood actions. In small, undeveloped towns such as Winesburg, the residents are used to holding in their thoughts and feelings because the area is remote. In this world, some are like Alice; they simply do not know that they can reach out
for love and guidance until it is too late. Then there are those who are like Enoch; they are so caught up in their own minds that anyone else’s thoughts seem wrong to them. Lastly, there are many like Wing who are defeated of their reputation but do not clearly understand why; society’s conformity is a movement so big that the minority is swept away under the rug, tormented by the fact that they have no choice but to contemplate within their minds. It is the lack of communication that leads these characters to depression because they have no guidance of the right mind.