Characteristics of Life in Winesburg, Ohio

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Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio deals with the understanding of human nature and its faults. In each short story the character is increasingly oppressed by his inability to express himself to those in his society. They are all desperately trying to make contact with someone outside themselves and in attempting to do so gain a greater understanding of themselves. The opening chapter "The Book of the Grotesque," explains how each character in Winesburg lives by one or more truths, escaping from reality in these truths. The stories are unified by the symbolic use of hands. In each story when the character reaches a point of immense frustration due to the fact that they will never be able to convey his truth to another, he throws up his hands in frustration and inevitably has a moment of pure uncontrolled passion.

Anderson threads together the stories with the unifying element of hands. The first story of the novel is titled "Hands." In this story a middle-aged man named Wing Biddlebaum is a school teacher to young boys. In order to convey his passion for the subjects he obliviously caresses their heads and shoulders. Wing uses his hands to express his enthusiasm for teaching.

References to the hands of the main characters of the stories are made throughout the novel. In the next story, "Paper Pills," the doctor's knuckles are described as being "…extraordinarily large. When the hands were closed they looked like clusters of unpainted wooden balls as large as walnuts fastened together by steel rods" (Anderson 35). Yet another reference is made to hands in "The Philosopher." Tom Willy's hands were said to have, "That flaming kind of birthmark that sometimes paints with red the faces of men and women had touched with red Tom Willy's fingers and the backs of his hands" (Anderson 49). In "Respectability," the only clean thing about Wash Williams is his hands. He is otherwise a grotesque, filthy man. The hands that are described as "sensitive and shapely" in no...
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