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Essay on Hollow Words in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio

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Hollow Words in Winesburg, Ohio

 
    Sherwood Anderson, in his masterpiece Winesburg, Ohio was writing against the notion that stories have to have a plot which reveals a moral idea or conclusion. Like the "tales" that Doctor Parcival tells George Willard in "The Philosopher," Anderson's short stories also seem to "begin nowhere and end nowhere" (51). We as readers must, like George Willard, decide if such stories are little more than "a pack of lies" or if rather, "they contain the very essence of truth" (51). The ability (or lack thereof) of both his characters and his narrator to distinguish between "lies" and "truth" is one of Anderson's central preoccupations. The people who inhabit Winesburg, Ohio are acutely aware of the impotence of words in the face of expressing any form of truth or meaning. Words, instead, serve as obstacles in uncovering "truth." It is not only Anderson's characters, however, which comprehend the impotence of words. The narrator, as we shall see, also struggles to find words that can express "truth." It's not surprising then that "truth", in Winesburg, Ohio takes on a "vague" and amorphous shape that can be described using only the most vague and amorphous of words: "thing."

 

Present in nearly all the stories of Winesburg, Ohio is a form of what Lionel Trilling has called the "American Laconic," a kind of masculine refusal of words and language. Anderson's characters are intensely aware of the inability of words to capture, express and explain any form of truth or meaning. In "Mother," Elizabeth Willard prays that her son, George, will "be allowed to express something for us both" (40). She thinks to herself, "He is groping about, trying to find himself...He is not...


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...tears come into his eyes" (241). To attempt to analyze this passage would only kill the inherent truth that its words express.

 

Works Cited and Consulted

Anderson, David D. Critical Essays on Sherwood Anderson. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981.

 

Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1995.

Burbank, Rex J. Sherwood Anderson. New York: Twayne, 1964.

Campbell, Hilbert H., Ed. The Sherwood Anderson Diaries; 1936-194?. Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 1987.

Ferres, John H. Winesburg, Ohio. Text and Criticism. NY: Viking, 1966.

Howe, Irving. "The Book of the Grotesque." Sherwood Anderson. New York: William Sloan Associates, 1957.

Small, Judy Jo. A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Sherwood Anderson. NY: G. K. Hall, 1984.

White, Ray L. Winesburg, Ohio. An Exploration. NY: Twayne Publishers, 1990.


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