George Willard is a young reporter on the Winesburg Eagle to whom, one by one, the inhabitants of Winesburg, Ohio, confide their hopes, their dreams, and their fears. This town of friendly but solitary people comes to life as Anderson's special talent exposes the emotional undercurrents that bind its people together. In this timeless cycle of short stories, he lays bare the life of a small town in the American Midwest.
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To use the Define Feature in Curriculet, simply right-click and hold on any word to bring up a dictionary definition for most words. Some words may not have a definition and will instead by linked to a Google search. Use this define feature when you come across unfamiliar words. There will be questions throughout this Curriculet that ask you to define words and explain meanings of unfamiliar terms. It is expected that you utilize this feature.
Define this word, and then answer the following question. Why does the author most likely say this old man is "ludicrous"?
Grotesques are fantastic or disgusting images. This section of the text, although seemingly strange, is simply explaining how this writer finds inspiration for his characters in his stories. Writers, like painters, notice details that most people don't see. What we are reading here is how one artist derives inspiration.
Which word best describes the tone the author has towards human nature?
The writer character in this chapter believes that people never live up to their strong beliefs about reality.
The author of this book may not have written the remaining chapters about grotesque characters, or he may have. We don't know. What we will find out, though, is that each of the chapters describes a different character who in some way, shape, or form, has "snatched up one of the truths...and tried to live his life by it." The strong philosophical statement made at the beginning of this book is that many people live incomplete lives because they never really live up to what they say they believe in. This borders the theme of hypocrisy, but it's much more sensitive and sympathetic to the human condition in which we are are subject to not living up to our own standards. As you read consider the ways in which characters idealize themselves and the reality that surrounds them.
Prepare to meet the first grotesque character, Wing Biddlebaum. Recall that each character will have a truth (or more) that they use to define themselves. Let's take a look at what Wing's is.
What do Wing's hands represent?
Have you pinpointed the "truth" that Wing seems to be holding onto? Based on the way he comes to life, so to speak, when George is around, we can tell that he has deep insecurities about himself. He has general anxiety, is shy, and lives introspectively. He is alone and just wants someone to talk to.
Although one might be alarmed by the physical way Wing touched the boys, his hands were meant to help young men forget their own troubles and begin to dream. His efforts were meant to push the young men of the isolated town out into the world. Ironically, for all the doubts he dispelled, he is now swamped in his own. And so the grotesque lives true--men fail to live up to their own standards they believe in.
Why was Adolph Myers (Wing Biddlebaum) so afraid of people? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
And so we conclude the first story of twenty-some characters we will meet in this novel. Notice the way in which the tone conveys pity for Wing and helps the reader sense the overwhelming theme of isolation that this character feels.
Sherwood Anderson, the author, uses extraordinary descriptions of these characters. Although this book would not be categorized as surreal or post-modern, it contains surrealist-like descriptions and imagery. This highlighted simile as an example of the unique style of imagery Anderson used.
What can you infer about Doctor Reefy based upon this description?
Although Anderson spends time providing physical descriptions of each character, he focuses more on their idiosyncrasies, especially their habits of thought. This novel portrays characters psychological states more than it does their actions. As you read, you will feel more exposed to characters than you will any kind of plot. Pay attention to the psychological uniqueness of each character as you read.
What do the round hard balls of paper symbolize?
What are two reasons Tom Willard has such a contempt for life? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
Characters are the major focus of this novel. Watch the video below to learn about how authors develop their characters. (This annotation contains a video)
Smallpox is a virus that plagued humanity for hundreds of years. It caused many fatalities at one point in history, but has since become almost extinct. It produces much larger blisters than the ones seen here, and leaves behind scars on many of its victims faces. (This annotation contains an image)
George's mother knows that she is a failure. She is trapped (at least in her own mind) in her ineffectual approach towards life. Her greatest desire, which is somewhat of an obsession, is that her son not end up the way she does. Many parents, believe it or not, actually feel in some way like this--they hate for their children to repeat their mistakes.
In what way are Elizabeth Willard and the hotel similar?
One theme that we see in Elizabeth Willard is the theme of regret. Although she has a physical illness, her mental state doesn't seem to make her quality of life any better. When people feel hopeless or live in the past, it's hard to enjoy the present. This could be her main conflict.
Can you pinpoint Elizabeth's tragic flaw? It seems she made some wild assumptions about how happy she would be as an actress and married to a stage man, that when these dreams were shown to be really not that great after all, she sunk into a deep depression. A common theme in literature is the disillusionment many people go through when dreams don't match reality. Some characters persevere and grow stronger; others fade into sadness and regret.
Which of the following statements about George's mother is most true?
This analogy again draws upon surreal imagery. The painting below, by Igor Morski, demonstrates the way in which unusual images are displayed inside the context of the real. (This annotation contains an image)
What seems to be Doctor Parcival's primary concern with George Willard?
Doctor Percival's rambling stories seem to be lacking any real philosophical advice except for his cynical view about life. He tells George that the best way to live life is to have contempt for everyone. Although Doctor Parcival says this as if it's a strength or wisdom, it's easy to sense that his attitude is a mask for deep insecurity and loneliness. Doctor Parcival--welcome to Winesburg where many other lonely people live.
In what ways is Doctor Parcival an example of a hypocrite? Use evidence from the text construct a response in which you explain your answer to this question.
This idea unveils the deep insecurity that makes Doctor Parcival grotesque. As a reporter, minister, doctor, and writer he had a grand sense of self-importance and achievement. However, we come to learn that he is a contradiction and never really does what he says.
What is George's mission?
George is trembling because he is afraid. He is afraid because, as you might recall, he has been extremely sheltered by his mother. He doesn't have much experience with girls and dating, but he is trying to make this change in himself.
If you haven't figured it out yet, this chapter deals with the sexuality of young George. It is implied that he has sex with Louise and takes advantage of her willingness to engage with him this way. Instead of this act being a part of love, though, we learn that it was more about the conquest of an object than a romantic endeavour. George's comments here reveal that he has no intentions of being committed to her.
Prior to the ban of alcohol in America, many people across the United States frequented bars and pubs to drink. In these days, though, mostly men drank. Some women did, but men were much more likely to develop alcoholism. Between the long hours at work and the long hours spent being drunk, many families suffered the lack of a male presence. Anderson touches lightly upon this history that affected many American families, especially those from farm towns.
Why made the townspeople smile when they learned that Jesse would take over the family farm?
Why does Jesse most likely make everyone afraid of him?
This highlights a very important theme within this novel--many people can be good at what they do but pay no attention to who they are. Jesse is good at what he does but not good at who he is. What other characters in literature can you think of who spend their efforts being successful but not on being a good person?
Jesse's story is ironic. He wants so badly for his life to be important that he is becoming unimportant by neglecting his family. This is the tragedy of many men. Being an important human means doing something that makes the life of others better. The way he lives his life, though, seems to be making everyone else's life worse.
From the outside, it's easy to see that Jesse is delusional. His belief that he has been appointed by God to do something this grandiose relates to the concept of divine inheritance--the notion that God blesses certain people to take possession of land and wealth.
Jesse is the father of David, the most famous King of Israel. Jesse had eight sons, and David was the youngest, least qualified in the eyes of others to be king, but God appointed him to be ruler because of his character and religious dedication. The phrase "son of Jesse" became a metaphor used in the Bible to denote a blessed descendant. The line of Jesse through David became associated with the rule of Israel for hundreds of years. Below is a picture of all of Jesse's sons. David is the shortest one on the right. (This annotation contains an image)
Define this word. Which of the following words is a synonym for how it is used in this sentence?
What does Jesse hope to accomplish on the farm? Provide at least three citations from the text to support your response.
What does Jesse hope to accomplish on the farm? Provide at least three citations from the text to support your response.
Watch the following video on dramatic irony. Although this novel is not considered a dramatic play, the technique of dramatic irony will still play an important role in how we read this story. Because many of the characters in this story are oblivious to the consequences of their actions, it's easy for the reader to predict and figure out what characters cannot. We read knowing in many cases what will happen before it happens. Think about how this helps us interact with the text? (This annotation contains a video)
Louise Hardy had to have a designated driver, so to speak, because she was always intoxicated.
People thought that he had a mental disability or was intellectually slow.
What caused David's mother to behave in such an endearing way when he returned?
What event in Jesse's life most influenced his belief in his later years that God might not bless him?
What did David seem to lack the most at his old house that he gets plenty of at his new house?
A phaeton is a type of horse-drawn carriage. It's light frame and slender wheels made it more like a sports car than a leisure ride. It was named after Phaeton, son of Helios the sun-god, who asked his father to drive the chariots that pulled the Sun. Phaeton almost crashed the chariot into the Earth and destroyed it. (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Jesse still feel that God has not blessed him even though he now has his "David"?
The theme of greed is obvious here. However, this chapter seems to portray the effects greed takes on a person. Jesse appears almost insane--his one obsession has made him crazy enough to scream at God and do mean things to his child. The underlying emotion behind greed is portrayed in all of this, too. Can you guess what emotion makes Jesse so angry at God? (Hint it is mentioned in the highlighted quote).
A neurotic is one who is overly anxious about everything. The author suggests that industrialism is to blame for so many women of his generation ended up like this because of industrialism--a historical movement that kept dads away from home in factories and moms left to do everything. Many farms disappeared and the principal means of living became blue-collar jobs. What do you think would happen to a farm family if the dad suddenly had to drive miles to work everyday and work longer , more dangerous hours?
The Hardy girls are most likely ______ of Louise.
Here we learn about Louise's deep isolation and insecurity. She is aware of her social awkwardness, but she is more aware of how she feels so different from everyone else. She sees how easily other people make friends, and yet she knows she has a hard time doing this. A universal theme in literature is that of the outsider--someone on the outside looking in always wants what he doesn't have. Many characters learn, though, that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Do you think Louise will ever gain favor with the other girls?
Compare and contrast this courting, or dating, ritual with what dating couples do today. Do you think there is a big difference?
What did Louise lack from her entire childhood that drove her to find the first boy she could get?
Louise displays signs of postpartum depression, a condition that many new mothers experience. The depression is caused by a sudden change in hormones, environment, and lifestyle conflicts. Women don't choose to be depressed, but it causes the mom to separate from the child and not feel a bond. It is a complex condition and can be helped when family members and counselors intervene and sympathize with the mother.
Why did Jesse finally have a "smiling face?" Use evidence from the previous three chapters to support your response.
Anyone familiar with the story of King David from the Old Testament will start drawing the similarities that are piling up here. The author obviously draws these for us. King David was first a shepherd. King David killed Goliath with a slingshot and a stone. Recall that Jesse believes himself to be like the Biblical figure, so he might subconsciously (or consciously) be recreating these circumstances for himself and his grandson.
This is a horse-drawn carriage that has a light frame and large, thin wheels. It travels at high speeds and thus can be very dangerous. It is shown below. (This annotation contains an image)
This is an allusion to the story of Abraham and Isaac. After waiting for years for a son from his wife Sarah, Abraham finally had a son. God asked him to sacrifice him. Think about how hard this would be. It would be like getting a gift you've always wanted and then your parents telling you you had to return it. Would you be able to? Abraham is noted for his faith, by the way. He listened to God even though it wasn't easy. The picture below shows how God sent an angel to spare Isaac at the last moment. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the significance of David attempting to kill his grandfather?
Part I Quiz
Watch the following video on tone and mood. The concept of this literary technique will be explored throughout the book. (This annotation contains a video)
People knew that at any moment Joe's temper would erupt. If you're confused as why this might be amusing, think about how popular YouTube videos are that show people fighting, going off on someone, or having a tantrum. Although these are not admirable qualities and events, people nevertheless find them funny.
How does Joe make the four men here feel?
Like Doctor Parcival, Joe likes to hear himself. He has a grandiose sense of his own ideas. What do you think might cause someone to have a need to be heard so badly?
This statement indicates that most people did not approve of the romance. They knew better--this woman was destined to be around a very angry man possibly the rest of her life. Joe possesses what psychologists today would call "many red flags." He is not relationship material. Because we know how bad of a boyfriend and husband he will be, we are participating in dramatic irony--a situation in which we know what Sarah does not.
Which metaphor at the beginning of the story best describes the present situation between Joe and Sarah?
What is the mood of this scene meant to make us believe might happen?
The ending of this chapter is unexpected. Although most characters up to this point have suffered because of their idiosyncrasies, Joe actually benefits quite a bit from his eccentrism. His enthusiasm for ideas helps both the baseball team and him getting the Kings' approval. While it seems the Kings might at any moment get rid of Joe, like a pair of trained Mafia members, they actually like his quirky personality and bring him home.
A common theme in literature is that of departing love--the moment at which one of the two lovers leaves and vows to remain in love. It is almost inevitable that the one who leaves finds excitement and newness of life in a big city, new job, or attractive lover. As readers we can almost predict with certainty that vows of this kind are never upheld. Do you think Ned will keep up his end of the bargain?
What appears to be Alice's main hangup?
Read the following poem and then answer the question following.W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939Never give all the heart, for loveWill hardly seem worth thinking ofTo passionate women if it seemCertain, and they never dreamThat it fades out from kiss to kiss;For everything that’s lovely isBut a brief, dreamy, kind delight.O never give the heart outright,For they, for all smooth lips can say,Have given their hearts up to the play.And who could play it well enoughIf deaf and dumb and blind with love?He that made this knows all the cost,For he gave all his heart and lost.In what ways has Alice "lost"? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
Watch the following video. It contains a description of emerging themes. Then answer the question that follows. (This annotation contains a video)
What is an emerging theme that comes to the forefront in this story?
Do you think Alice has to live and die alone? What could prevent this from happening? Use prior knowledge about life and textual evidence to support your response.
Have you noticed how often this author has drawn attention to his characters' hands? Because he refers to them so often, it is safe to assume that hands mean something symbolic to this author. Hands reflect, in many people, who they are, their character, what they do. You can learn a lot about someone by their hands. What story do your hands tell about you?
In what way do the characters George meets all relate to him?
One might think that Wash would have a hard time resisting his wife, even after all she had done. However, even her naked presence was not enough to make him want her again. He was filled with so much rage that he attacked her for the shame and pain she and her mother put him and through. The theme of misogyny is present in this chapter; however, the twist here is that although Wash hates women, we learn that there were reasons he became this way.
Many lawyers and court officials wanted stenographers to write down what was said in meetings, testimonies, and other verbal transactions using a shorthand form of writing called stenography. Below is an example of what this writing looks like. (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Virginia have such a hard time disciplining her son, Seth?
The theme of loneliness surfaces here, but again, it seems that it's a fear of loneliness that plagues so many of these characters. What makes Seth afraid of being lonely? He lost his dad. He doesn't talk to his mom. He has no true friends with whom he can talk and confide. The tragedy of this town unfolds in the fearful sadness of its inhabitants.
What does Seth seem to be lacking that makes him feel so incomplete?
Think about the connection between this curious fact and the emerging themes of this story. What connection do you see?
Why is Seth annoyed by George's comments?
George, obviously the main protagonist of this story, has a bit of growing up to do. In contrast to Seth, his concept of love is juvenile and brash. Seth, in fact, stands out as having the exemplary character in this chapter.
Why does Seth feel like he doesn't belong in Winesburg?
Helen reciprocates Seth's love for her. She admires him (more than George), yet he feels like he doesn't belong to this town. In a strange way, Seth may feel this way because he feels overshadowed by George. It's not quite jealousy that drives him out of town, but it's his feeling that he doesn't fit in as well as others (like the two random workers he references).
In what way does Seth not truly know who he is and what he wants? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
Recall that the consequences of neglect have appeared frequently throughout this book. In many chapters, the parents' behavior has an adverse affect on their children. Some children rise above; some sink below the weight of it all.
How do the strange events in this chapter show that Tandy is different than her father?
How do we know that Reverend Hartman is not a particularly powerful preacher?
At first glance, nothing about Reverend Hartman seems too exciting. If you read between the lines, though, you will see an honest man who wants to make a difference in the world, but just hasn't gotten there yet. In contrast to Jesse Bentley, the Reverend depends upon God, instead of making things happen, like Jesse. Think about this difference when you learn about the character flaw Jesse.
In what way is Reverend Hartman most different from Jesse Bentley?
Although it may sound strange for a pastor to feel guilty about looking at a woman's shoulders and bare throat, keep in mind that the dress code of the day, was much more conservative than today. Most women covered their necks, shoulders, and ankles when in public.
Which statement best describes the error in the Reverend's thinking?
The Reverend is convicted, or made to feel guilt, for knowing that he was peeping on someone he thought was sinful, but she actually wanted God. This made him not desire her in the way he had been. In a sense, it freed him from his own shame and sin.
Part II Quiz
Although this chapter will focus on Kate Swift, it gives us a glimpse into the main character--George Willard. Here we learn how confused he really is about love, sex, and the like. Think about the unique structure of this novel in how we learn about the main character. How is this story told differently than many other novels you've read?
In what way can we sense that Kate does not care very much about her life?
Kate Swift has poor social skills. She has a very vivid imagination, probably fueled by all the books she reads. It is easy to sense her loneliness, though, like many of the other characters.
What trait does George not possess that would make him a more mature writer?
The chapter before this coincides chronologically with this one. Like a parallel plot, Reverend Hartman and Kate Swift's misadventures both unfold--both with inner conflicts that present great challenges to them. Ironically, Kate's epiphany about her foolish idea of love also brings about Reverend Hartman's epiphany about his foolish notion of love.
The author offers a glimpse into George's psyche here. In what ways does George seem to be struggling with his identify? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
At first glance, it may seem like a lot of these characters are all too similar in one way--loneliness. What we must realize, though, as we read, is that although most of these characters are lonely, they are all lonely for a different reason. Some because they never grow up. Others because they are naive. The theme of loneliness pervades these pages--yet the subtleties of why one person is lonely varies.
What makes it difficult for Enoch to make new friends?
Every character has a "thinking habit" often causes tragic consequences. This is Enoch's. His way of thinking causes loneliness and isolation because he always feels like he is misunderstood and can never perform the way he wants to. Do you ever get frustrated when you cannot perform the way you envision?
What does this phrase mean?
The "friends" that Enoch made are imaginary. In his loneliness, he has invented his own world of characters to keep him company. His reversion back to this way of living points to fact that he really hasn't grown up. He's a child in an old man's body.
Enoch is referring to his imaginary friends.
Enoch is an egotistical person. Support this statement with evidence from this chapter.
The dysfunctional dynamic between Belle and her father highlights the same theme we've seen in this story--parents become estranged from their children because of their own problems and cause loneliness and fear in their kids. At some point, you'd think that you'd meet a functional family. This is just the point, though. People in this town are tragically overwhelmed by unhealthy emotions and thoughts. Instead of thinking of this town as an isolated example, though, think about what ways the experiences and problems of these characters relate to every person, regardless of where they come from or who they are.
Why did Elle develop a physical relationship with George?
At this point in the story, it is worth taking a moment to look at George's character development. At the beginning of the text, he is unsure of himself and of girls. Near this point, he is full of himself and apparently has no confidence issues with the ladies. What do you think has been a catalyst in this change?
Why does George begin to "tremble"?
George's main conflict is mostly with his
We can interpret what is going on between Belle and Ed in several ways. One way, though, suggests that Belle allows Ed into her life because he is like her father--abusive and controlling. Just like her father, she is going to find ways to make him suffer. Sometimes people find themselves bound to the things they hate the most.
What phrase best summarizes the lesson that George just learned?
This is also called indecisiveness. Because of two competing fears-losing money by buying unnecessarily or losing business by not buying enough--Ebenezer cannot make decisions easily.
Why did Elmer feel the need to scare off the salesman?
Elmer's insecurities lie in his perception of what others think about him, his father, and their position in society. Wanting to be very different from his father, he seems to be obsessed with not being queer (different or odd).
Why is Elmer like so many of the other characters in this novel?
As the reader it's easy to see that maybe Elmer's problems are more in his head than in reality. You might ask such questions as, "Why doesn't he just talk to somebody?" or "Why does he think people care about what he wears?". The loneliness he faces, like others in town, is really self-imposed.
Ironically, George admires Elmer and wants to be his friend. Elmer cannot see this, though, because he is too overcome by his own anger and paranoia.
What is an actual character flaw Elmer possesses?
Define this word. A reprobate would be most likely to do which of the following?
It's interesting to note how many married couples in the town get married out of convenience or on a whim. Today's young people wait years, court many people, and sometimes never get married. Why do you think people in Winesburg have such a different view on marriage?
What kind of "trouble" does Hal most likely mean?
Why does Ray change his mind about leaving his family?
What does Tom's comment here tell us about his character?
Tom represents a unique individual in the series of character portraits. He fits in, seems to feel accepted, and yet doesn't really try to hard to do so. The other characters, on the other hand, try in many ways to fit in, not feel lonely, gain acceptance, and yet it is not so easy.
This is the same girl that George thought he loved and the same girl Seth loved.
In what way does Tom further his isolation from people?
What lesson should George learn from Tom? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
What unusual idea is Doctor Reefy referring to here? His idea about praying to gods, has more to do with a coping mechanism for loneliness than it does an actual religious act. He is justifying his actions (meeting with Mrs. Willard) by making his affair sound like it's for another cause.
Which of the following is not a detail from the story indicate that Elizabeth is considering an affair with Doctor Reefy?
Does this theme sound familiar? Many of the other characters in this novel have the same conflict--they idealize some kind of life that they obsess over. It could be that the narrow-minded approach these characters take towards life are their major flaw. Think about what happens to someone if he or she only wants one thing. What happens when you don't get what you want?
What was Elizabeth seeking to escape by getting married?
Presumably, Elizabeth is frightened by the sound and thinks it is either her husband who knows what's going on, or someone who would tell her husband. Afraid of being caught in infidelity, she never sees Doctor Reefy again. Her mission of finding true love is thus thwarted again.
What do George's thoughts tell you about how he feels about his mother's death?
Note that George's obsession with someone who he doesn't even really love, causes him to feel guilty for thinking about this so much while he is looking at her dead body. His tears aren't for his mother, but for feeling like a despicable person. The theme of contentment and remorse runs throughout this novel. Many characters want something, but then feel guilty for wanting more than what they already have.
What made Elizabeth have such a strong desire to die? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
In what way does George's view of death seem different than Dylan Thomas' view set forth in the poem you just heard?
Watch the following video that shows the reading of a poem by Dylan Thomas. Contrast the view of the poem with the view that George takes towards life and death. Who has the more positive view? (This annotation contains a video)
What trait does George still lack that will prevent him from make an impression on Helen?
There is an obvious struggle going on in George. One is his struggle to pursue his passionate desires. The other is to find meaning and acceptance to avoid feeling lonely. From the outside looking in, he appears to have a very black and white mood. What kind of attitude do you think he should have?
What is this "thing that makes the mature life of men and women in the modern world possible"? Use evidence from your text to support your response.
Although a simple phrase, it carries significance coming from the people of Winesburg. Many are stuck in this town, and to see someone leave, represents bravery and risk.
Why does Tom grin at George?
Part III Quiz