Social Isolation In Winesburg, Ohio By Sherwood Anderson

People of all ages feel an immense desire to fit into the world around them. Outcasts are apart of every society. Outcasts in society do not choose their position, but instead, society itself chooses it for them. An outcast is usually the type of person who is considered usual, and because of heir oddity, they are rejected. Society tends to renounce them on the ground that they are not what society defines as normal. This is prevalent in the novel written by Sherwood Anderson, “Winesburg, Ohio” as it portrays a number of characters that are isolated from the community due to the perceived differences with the rest of the Winesburg population. They are then portrayed as “grotesques” or people who live their lives by one truth and live a life of falsehood. It is the way that every character hides a part of themselves from the eyes of others that results in loneliness and isolation. The characters in the novel suffer from the label of being a “grotesque” which ultimately attributes to their loneliness and isolation.

Anderson is able to represent the contrast between verbalization and isolation through the symbol of a door in which it acts as an external influence on relationships. Elizabeth Willard, the mother of George Willard, is an important character that embodies living a life that is deprived of a soul. She was once an eccentric girl with many dreams and aspirations. One of her most important goals was to become an actress and work in a company that traveled around the world. However, her life changes for the worse once she marries Tom Willard. It seems as if Tom has broken her once vibrant energy and she no longer pursues her dreams. This is then replaced with being a maid. The only joy that is left in her life is George. Elizabeth hoped George would follow his dreams to become a writer rather than be a financial success his father wanted him to be. She thinks, “there is a secret something that is striving to grow. It is the thing I let be killed in myself”. This is her only hope as she has become a failure to herself and could not express these feelings to her son. She instead forms a habit of sitting against the door of Geoge’s room to try and form a connection because she is closed within herself, just as the door is between the two. It is this self-perceived failure that prevents Elizabeth from wanting to speak. Tom is often seen talking to George and pressuring him to get a job and do something with his life. Tom’s interaction with George displays that expressing feelings to George is quite possible for others. The physical characteristics of Elizabeth and Tom mirror their internal states, who are both like “things defeated and done for”. Although Tom is able to connect with George, it does not seem plausible for Elizabeth, who remains trapped within herself. The symbolism of open and closed doors does not only apply to Elizabeth Willard's desirous connection with George but it also pervades through the whole story and becomes evident in Enoch Robinson. In the chapter “Loneliness”, Enoch Robinson is a grotesque and is seen disconnecting himself from the outside and becomes confined in his room. He chooses to abandon his friend whom he can never confide himself into. Within his locked room, Enoch proceeds to create an entire world for himself in which it is complete with people he formulated inside his mind. As said in the story, “His room began to be inhabited by the spirits of men and women among whom he went, in turn saying words. It was as though everyone Enoch Robinson had ever seen had left with him some essence of himself, something he could mould and change to suit his own fancy, something that understood all about such things as the wounded woman behind the elders in the pictures”. One of his neighbors begins to visit him one day. However, he did not want to let her come in when she's knocked. Eventually, Enoch did let her come into his room, which represents all he has in the world. When his neighbor leaves he goes on to hastily run and lock his room, attempting to maintain a connection with a human. This idea of a door that is open and closed emphasizes the idea of a comparison between connections made with others and isolation within a person. Enoch ultimately opens up to his neighbor but the fear of withdrawal causes him to become, once again, enclosed while he tries to maintain her within his own world. In the story, it says, “Out she went through the door and all the life there had been in the room followed her out. She took all of my people away. They all went out through the door after her. That’s the way it was”. When Enoch closes his door, he is conclusively cutting all ties with the relationship between the two and essentially everyone in Winesburg.

In addition to the symbolism of an open and closed door to represent social isolation in Elizabeth Willard and Enoch Robinson, Sherwood Anderson emphasizes the isolated relationships within one’s self to the same extent. This is represented in the chapter “Hands” where Wing Biddlebaum is forced into seclusion due to a traumatic event that happened earlier in his life. Wing was once a teacher and used his hands to communicate. A young student misinterpreted the encounter where Wing was attempting to encourage him. Wing was beaten for the communication of his dreams and desires for maintaining a distinguished bond with his students. The end result consists of a man living in an empty shell of his former self, afraid to connect with others and afraid to express his emotions. This is best seen in a conversation of dreams between Wing and George Willard, “he raised the hands…and then a look of horror swept over his face”. He has now been taught that communicating with his hands is only due to hi fearing to make any connection with others. Anderson comments on Wing’s hands, “In Winesburg the hands had attracted attention merely because of their activity. With them Wing Biddlebaum had picked as high as a hundred and forty quarts of strawberries in a day. They became his distinguishing feature, the source of his fame. And they made more grotesque an already grotesque and elusive individuality”. The unusual hands of Wing Biddlebaum lead people to associate him with being mentally unusual and being labeled as a grotesque, further contributing to him not being able to connect with others and living in solitude.

Sherwood Anderson also makes use of social relationships to highlight the difference in expression and the concealment of one’s self in regard to the isolation of the grotesques in Winesburg. Anderson portrays George Willard as the dominant force for this task. George is the one character in the story who is not seen as grotesque initially and is seen by the grotesques in the community as a person to communicate with. In the story, it says, “the key that will release them from their prisons and enable them to resume normal human forms”. George becomes the focal character as the grotesques use George to project what they desire for themselves and wish they can access. George himself is not as important as a character as is his ability to be a representation of the true nature within them. Wing Biddlebaum wishes for a person to convey his feelings. It is said, “hungers for the presence of the boy, who was the medium through which he expressed his love of man”. Wing starts to uncontrollably revert to his olf ways when in the presence of George. To Wing, George no longer has a name when referred and is simply called “the boy.” This is because George only represents innocence and the fact that he is not a grotesque. Kate Swift is another example of someone who is trying to get in touch with society once again through George. It mentions, “a great eagerness to open the door of life to the boy, who had been her pupil and whom she thought might possess a talent for the understanding of life”. George’s individuality is almost seen as inferior to his main purpose witnessed by the grotesques. The fact that George is a writer is important as he is able to express his ideas and establish a difference between him and the grotesques. The differences between the dispositions of George and the grotesques emphasizes just how truly isolated the grotesques are and their inability to help themselves.

Sherwood Anderson is able to illustrate the severity of the isolation conceived through the grotesques’ inadequacy of expressing their thoughts and feelings in Winesburh through their specific environments, physical deformities, and their relationship with George Willard. Winesburg, Ohio provides an extensive analysis of the lives of the grotesques and at the same time, Anderson suggests that this development addresses everyone in Winesburg but only offered the point of view of only a couple of characters. Anderson makes a claim in the story that all men and women he has ever known had become grotesque. A solution is offered in the shape of George Willard who embodies the fact that love is the thing that makes life mature in the modern world. 

16 August 2021
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