George’s Steps to Maturation
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson, is a novel put together by a collection of short stories. Each story focuses on various inhabitants of Winesburg, a small town at the beginning of the 20th century. The accounts are intertwined within each other, and one by one, the character’s role in society is revealed through their narrative. Every short story concerns at least one inhabitant as the main character of that story; however, there is one character that emerges in the majority of the accounts—George Willard. Winesburg, Ohio is a novel about his development from a youth to the threshold of adulthood. George Willard is a young man who lives in his mother’s hotel. He writes for the local newspaper and dreams of becoming a writer. At the beginning of the book, he is a youth who had new ideas and fancies and sexual adventures with “strange wild emotions” (46). George’s journey takes place in the background of the novel; the characters seek George to talk to and to tell their stories. For the most part, he is a listener. By the end of the book, however, especially after his mother’s death, George enters manhood and becomes prepared to leave the town of Winesburg to become a writer in the big city. What encourages George to mature is the fact that he is the listener of the other inhabitants’ stories. Because he hears each character’s stories, George realizes that when people strictly adhere to their ideas, they become unhealthy and stuck in their self-discovered “truths.” This realization is what keeps George from becoming a grotesque and is what ultimately urges him to move away from this small town. The “grotesqueness” in the citizens of Winesburg, Ohio seems to stem mostly from two sources—alienation and loneliness. Some inhabitants completely cut themselves off from societal interactions like Wing Biddlebaum and Enoch Robinson. From the first story, we can see these characters’ influence on George Willard. Wing Biddlebaum, in “Hands,” opens the door for the young boy to dream. Wing sees in George, like in most children, the “want to be like others” and how he tries to imitate the other people in the town. Wing recognizes that it is best for the boy to “forget all [he has] learned” and to dream, he recognizes that if the boy follows suite and becomes like the rest of the town folk, George will also only become a grotesque (30). In the story “Loneliness,” Enoch Robinson “was always a child and that was a handicap to his worldly development” (167). He was a man who, consumed by imaginary life, estranged himself from people because he became annoyed at their interpretations of his paintings. When he became lonely, he married the girl who sat next to him in school; however he soon felt trapped in his new family engagements and left them to preserve his imaginations. Then, one day Enoch became mad and she left “through the door and all the life there had been in the room followed her out. She took all my people away” (177). Enoch tells George this story because he sympathized with George’s despondency; “the sadness was in the heart of George Willard and was without meaning, but it appealed to Enoch Robinson” (173). Through the story of Enoch Robinson, George sees the result of never growing up. Unable to hold on to relationships because of his desire for imagination, Enoch Robinson becomes an inept old man “whimpering and complaining, ‘I’m alone, all alone here’” (178). The stories of Wing Biddlebaum and Enoch Robinson demonstrate to George the middle ground required in dreaming and imagination. In his development, George sees the two extremes. One is Wing who encourages dreaming because he himself has given up on dreaming. Wing is trapped in isolation because he is not longer able to dream of the possibilities of the future, and thus, he withholds encouraging his pupils to dream. The other extremity is Enoch who was fixed in his dreams and, as a result, lived his life...
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