By Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941)
A Study Guide
Cummings Guides Home..|..Contact This Site
Type of Work, Setting, Characters, Tone
Point of View, Flashback, Plot Summary, Climax
Theme, Today's Biddlebaums, Figures of Speech, Study Questions Writing Topics, Biography of Anderson, Complete Free Text, Index of Study Guides .
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2012
Type of Work and Publication Year
......."Hands" is a short story centering on the psychological trauma a teacher suffers after parents falsely accuse him of fondling male students. It was first published in 1916 in The Masses, a Chicago literary magazine. The New York firm of B. W. Huebsch published the story in 1919 as part of Winesburg, Ohio, a collection of related short stories by Sherwood Anderson. Setting
.......The action takes place in the 1890s on the outskirts of the fictional town of Winesburg, Ohio. A flashback recounts an episode that takes place in a Pennsylvania community. Characters
Wing Biddlebaum: A middle-aged former schoolteacher who lives on the outskirts of Winesburg, Ohio. His real name is Adolph Myers. However, he changed his surname to hide his identity after people in a Pennsylvania community falsely accused him of fondling male students while he was teaching school there. They drove him out of town, and he settled in Winesburg. George Willard: A newspaper reporter for the Winesburg Eagle. He is Biddlebaum's only friend. Berry Pickers: Boisterous young people who pass by Biddlebaum's house in a wagon carrying their cherry pickings. Angry Parent: Man who severely beat Biddlebaum in the yard of the Pennsylvania school where Biddlebaum, then known as Adolph Myers, was teaching. Tone
The tone is serious. It exhibits sympathy and compassion for Biddlebaum, a victim of gross injustice. Point of View
Anderson tells the story in omniscient third-person point of view. Flashback
A flashback occurs when the narrator recounts an incident that explains why Wing Biddlebaum is so preoccupied with the movement of his hands. Plot Summary
While pacing on the decaying porch of his small house near a ravine on the outskirts of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat man watches young adults passing in a wagon on a highway beyond an expanse of weeds. They are boisterous berry pickers returning from the fields. One fellow jumps out and tries to pull a girl after him. She screams in mock protest. Then, seeing the man on the porch across the weed field, calls out to him, "Oh, you Wing Biddlebaum, comb your hair, it's falling into your eyes." The man is bald.
Wing Biddlebaum, who is full of self-doubts, has only one real friend in town, George Willard. George, a reporter for the Winesburg Eagle, is the son of Tom Willard, operator of the New Willard House. Sometimes Tom could be seen on the highway walking to Biddlebaum's house. Biddlebaum wishes that Willard would visit him on this evening. Wing walks across the field of weeds and looks toward town for a moment and then, afraid, hurries back to the porch and resumes pacing.
Whenever he is with Willard, Biddlebaum's shyness eases, and he talks animatedly on his porch with his friend or sometimes goes into town with him. Biddlebaum talks with his hands. In fact, says the narrator, "The story of Wing Biddlebaum is a story of hands." His hands move like the wings of a captive bird--hence, his nickname, Wing. Not that he wants to gesticulate. He would rather hide his hands, and he looks with envy upon those who have them under control.
Sometimes, when talking with George, Wing beats his fists on a wall or table--or even on a stump or a fence if they are outdoors. Doing so makes him feel more at ease. And they are fast hands. He can pick as many as one hundred forty quarts of strawberries in one day. The townsfolk are proud of his hands. They are legendary in Winesburg, where Wing has lived for the last twenty years.
George had often wanted to question him...