Essay on The Synecdochic Motif in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio

Essay on The Synecdochic Motif in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio

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The Synecdochic Motif in Winesburg, Ohio

 
    The sum of the parts of the vignettes of townsfolk of Winesburg, Ohio is greater than the whole novel. Winesburg, too, is only one town in all of Ohio, which is one of a host of states in the U.S. This magnification is at the heart of the novel, in which synecdoche is the main lens through which Sherwood Anderson allows us to regard the grotesques. This narrow aperture of perception does not compromise full characterization, but instead forces the reader into searching for subtle connections within and across the sketches. The opening story, "Hands," launches the titular synecdochic motif whose pairings Anderson systematically and symmetrically deploys. Discounting the final brief story, "Departure," and the prologue-like "The Book of the Grotesque," the opening story complements the final story. Within this diptych and throughout the other pieces, Anderson feeds the epitomized symbol of human connection, the hand, into a matrix of binaries and hidden connections. He outlines the hand's numerous antithetical uses (for instance, as both a formal farewell handshake and a lover's caress) and reveals the gesticulative associations between ostensibly disparate characters. Though we may glimpse only a character's hand, by tracing its antitheses and parallels we can blow up that portion into a full-sized portrait, just as we come to understand a town by all its citizens, a state by all its towns, and a country by all its states. And just as the U.S. is comprised of neither solely Ohio nor solely Oregon, but of the whole union, so does the hand embody neither exclusively intimacy nor exclusively alienation, but the entire spectrum of human contact.

 

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...every possible form of contact, and it is fitting that the novel's final moment of contact serves as a synecdochic farewell from the town to George: "Getrude WilmotŠhad never before paid any attention to George. Now she stopped and put out her hand. In two words she voiced what everyone felt" (152).

 

Works Cited and Consulted

Anderson, David D. "Sherwood Anderson's Moments of Insight." Critical Essays on Sherwood Anderson. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1981. 155-170.

Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio. New York: Norton, 1996.

Burbank, Rex. Sherwood Anderson. New Haven: Twayne, 1964.

Walcutt, Charles Child. "Sherwood Anderson: Impressionism and the Buried Life." The Achievement of Sherwood Anderson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966. 158-170.

White, Ray Lewis. Winesburg, Ohio: An Exploration. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

 

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