Winesburg, Ohio Themes

Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio is an early example of the short story cycle.  Instead of having a central character with many stories told about them over the course of their life or through different times in history, Winesburg opts for a rotating cast and more standalone tales with recurring characters and themes throughout.

The Winesburg stories all take place in Winesburg, a fictional small town in Ohio.  The Winesburg setting is very important to the collection and the central themes of loneliness and isolation that permeate it.

Anderson uses Winesburg as an expression of universal truths about human nature.  Winesburg’s characters may be seen as archetypes that represent certain aspects of humanity, but Winesburg is not about these characters specifically or exclusively.

Anderson’s Winesburg is a town where people are fully immersed in their loneliness and isolation.  He explores various ways they cope with this feeling of being outcasted from the rest of the world around them by using Winesburg as a microcosm for human existence.

One recurrent theme is the inability to communicate with others.  For example, Wing Biddlebaum can’t stop shaking hands at his wedding, even though no one will shake his hand anyway due to rumors surrounding his past behavior.  Another character tries to relate to another through love letters that never contain what she really wants to say, leaving her feeling even more isolated.  George Willard has an affair with Helen White simply because she does nothing to stop it, which leads them both to feel alone and isolated from everyone else.

Anderson also looks at Winesburg through the idea of technology as a replacement for feelings of connection.  Characters are often seen talking on telephones or writing letters that they say are better than actually seeing someone face-to-face, but these devices never seem to help their loneliness or isolation problems.

As Winesburg progresses, characters begin to leave Winesburg instead of staying in Winesburg where they will always be outcasts due to their differences from other people.  This allows them to move outside Winesburg where they might be able to fit in.  In Winesburg though, they are never allowed to fit in or interact with other people, perpetuating their isolation from the world outside Winesburg.

Anderson places Winesburg as a necessary phenomenon that is neither good nor bad for its inhabitants.  However, Anderson’s feelings about Winesburg can’t help but become clear through his choice of setting and character selection.

Themes of loneliness and isolation permeate Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.  These themes may be interpreted as universals, but the Winesburg setting only serves as a medium for examining these themes and not as an end to themselves.

In Winesburg, there is no place for people who are different from the “norm” to fit in.  Instead these characters are trapped where they can never be accepted, perpetuating their isolation and loneliness.

Anderson’s Winesburg is a necessary phenomenon that may either hurt or help its inhabitants depending on how they choose to cope with it.  Winesburg itself often becomes the protagonist of Winesburg, Ohio.  The Winesburg setting is so integral to Winesburg, Ohio though, that it only serves as a medium for understanding universal themes about human nature rather than an end in itself.

Winesburg, Ohio provides insight into the depth of Sherwood Anderson’s novels through more than just direct reference from his life. In 1883, Sherwood Anderson joined the Socialist Labor Party during its early stages after being inspired by Henry Demarest Lloyd’s Wealth Against Commonwealth . In 1889-1890 Sherwood Anderson worked for The Toledo Blade as an cub reporter. He was then promoted to a full-time writer of articles and stories at the young age of 19. After this promotion Sherwood dropped out of high school and moved to Chicago where he got more work from The Toledo Blade .

Sherwood Anderson moved to Colorado in order to manage a Colorado Womans’ Club magazine. In 1909, Sherwood had an affair with his secretary and then spent some time wandering around the west coast of America before settling in California for most of the 1910s with his wife and three children. While residing in California Sherwood Wrote Winesburg Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small Town Life . It is known that Sherwood was greatly inspired by his life and experiences while writing Winesburg, Ohio; whether or not he lived each story through its characters is unknown for sure though it is suspected that many were works of imagination.

The theme isolation and loneliness appears throughout Winesburg Ohio and Sherwood Anderson’s personal life. Sherwood grew up as an only child and his mother died when he was just 7 years old. He lived with his mother until she died, then went to live with various relatives that were not very close to him. There is a great sense of loneliness throughout Winesburg Ohio as the characters only interact with themselves and often complain about it; Winesburg is a town where people do nothing but talk to each other and pick at one another.

The theme these tales illustrate most vividly is perhaps the supreme importance of human relations: the need for love and community in a world where isolation and loneliness reign. ” (Winesburg) The next major theme in Winesburg Ohio is discovery. Winesburg Ohio is an excellent example of the methods Sherwood Anderson uses to present his themes; he displays them through actions and expressions rather than words. This helps provide Winesburg Ohio with a unique feel as it immerses the reader directly into the setting of Winesburg, Ohio.

The theme that runs across Winesburg Ohio that has real historical significance is that of America’s struggle between civilization and savagery. The characters in Winesburg are often illustrated as being stuck between their civilized nature and savage desires which leads to frustration, anger, and loneliness. Sherwood Anderson was greatly influenced by American history during his life, particularly events surrounding World War I along with other social movements.

Sherwood felt so strongly about his disapproval of war and dehumanization that Winesburg Ohio was dedicated to all the men and women who were victims of World War I (Winesburg, OH Dedication). Sherwood worked as a recruiter for the Red Cross in order to assist with the war efforts; he also used Winesburg, Ohio as a way to express his anti-war sentiments through Winesburg’s characters. While Winesburg is not an exact representation of Sherwood Anderson’s personal life it does provide insight into some themes present throughout Sherwood’s life.

Winesburg Ohio is most definitely based on Sherwoods experiences and Winesburg provides readers with a unique perspective on America during this time period and how people dealt with isolation and loneliness using the Winesburg community. Sherwood Anderson’s unique writing style and use of themes in Winesburg Ohio is an excellent example of how a novel can effectively portray important themes with efficiency and engaging the reader through actions and descriptions, not just words.

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