Sunday, May 15, 2011
Simple Lives of Quiet Beauty and Tragedy. Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio.
A few years back, I had to dig into the books and prepare for a postgraduate exam to gauge my intellect and knowledge. I felt that I was more than prepared and qualified for the doctoral program for which I was applying at Spalding University (Louisville, KY). They felt I, like every other applicant, needed to take the exam.
It encompassed absolutely everything that this world has to offer: chemistry, physics, the arts, history, analytical reasoning, and much more. I ordered the usual Kaplan study guides and had a few months to get prepared. When I began reviewing the literature section, I realized that I was not as well—read as I thought I was. So, I made a mental note to try to read the books on the long lists of books to memorize for the exam. Sherwood Anderson’s book Winesburg, Ohio was on the Kaplan review as one of the most important works of our time. I tore through the novel immediately after the exam and discovered why it is held in such high esteem by the literary community.
The novel intricately weaves the seemingly quiet lives of those who dwell in small town America. It was written at a time when America was just discovering its writers and finding a place in this world separate from the wealth of literature just across the Atlantic. It was so well written that one goes from story to story in a seamless flow.
The first of these demonstrates the teasing way that Anderson relates the lives of his characters to us through an old writer and his bed. Anderson enjoys layering details upon details, like a carpenter’s stay in prison, but not in a way that is distracting. Each small detail seems to only add to the novel and the reader’s perception of Winesburg.
Another technique that Anderson employs can be seen in the next chapter, Hands. The author takes one rather seemingly inconsequential attribute and allows it to greatly affect a character’s life in a remarkable way. The nervous hands of a well—meaning teacher damn the rest of his existence in the most horrible of ways. Anderson forces the reader to ponder how many misunderstandings or small, incidental traits have actually come together to create the very destinies we live today.
The writing is so incredibly subtle that we nearly miss the genius. The novel continues and continues as a beautiful latticework pulling together the lives of Winesburg residents. Anderson greatly desires that we see as he does that every life holds a poignant story full of beauty and meaning. Clearly, Sherwood Anderson and Winesburg, Ohio help define American literature, our society, and us as people. It should be on everyone’s reading list, whether you are being tested or not.
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