Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio is a collection of short stories about the residents of Winesburg, Ohio. With each story, themes are expressed involving regret, isolation, alienation and unrequited love. These expressions represent the universal truths conveyed by the author to help impart his own understanding of life on to others. One theme that appears throughout Winesburg, Ohio is regret for past mistakes.
The theme of regret is expressed by various characters in the following stories: He was sitting before his father’s desk. “… Tad “leaned against the wall and began to read over again one of the letters he had written during the day. They were poor things, filled with a pretense at feeling which made him wince when he thought of them. ” (Anderson) This character regrets writing what he feels are artificial words that show little emotion or understanding. He now wishes that he could go back and change what he has written because it fails to truly express what is in his heart.
Tad feels torn between an inner reality and outer expression through writing. It becomes clear that he has repressed emotions and now they begin to surface as he realizes the “gap” between his inner and outer self. “Mary sat sewing by an open window in her room. ” (Anderson) Here we find a woman who is regretting past events in her life. Mary is feeling lonely and unhappy with the choices she has made for herself. She knows that if she had taken another path, her life would have turned out much differently than it has.
Though it might not be too late for things to change, life will not stop so she can dwell on these unchangeable past events: “There was no help for all the tragedy of thwarted careers and love–no help anywhere. “Anderson) Mary must accept what has happened in her past and carry on with what life continues to bring. Another theme that appears throughout Winesburg, Ohio is alienation from other people due to difference. The theme of alienation is expressed by various characters in the following stories: “A man who worked at night on one of the producer’s wagons found it hard to sleep during the day. (Anderson)
This character seems alienated because he does not share a normal sleeping pattern like others. He feels out of sync while among other townspeople during the day when they are all wide awake. The author leaves us wondering whether or not his isolation causes him to behave differently than others around him or if his fear comes from being different creates its own sense of self-isolation.
“The young man in Winesburg who worked in a livery stable wept when he thought of the difference between himself and the people in Winesburg whom he knew to be prosperous. (Anderson) This character is an example of isolation based on social status. He feels that there is a great deal of distance between his own life and that of others around him, specifically those who are wealthy or well-educated. The young man imagines how happy everyone would be if only they knew what it was like for him: “He failed no more than many another Winesburg youth who has left Winesburg to seek success elsewhere, but always without success. “Anderson) It seems as though this character imagines what Winesburg would be like if everyone was just like him.
Unrequited love also appears to be a theme that is expressed in Winesburg, Ohio: “His love for the girl grew in him and broke into blossom. ” (Anderson) This quote tells us that the character’s feelings of love reached a climax but still were not reciprocated or returned. The feelings he has are very strong and could possibly turn into an obsession, unless his affections are recognized by another person. Winesburg appears to be filled with individuals who have been turned away from one time or another and thus their isolation continues.
Though they feel alone, perhaps it is because they do not allow themselves to open up enough to experience human kindness which would allow them to form more significant relationships with others. “They were alone in the Winesburg post office and the girl seemed about to cry. ” (Anderson) Winesburg, Ohio delivers a message that love can be found everywhere: not just at home or within one’s self. This boy and girl appear to have met while checking their mail and perhaps they do share some common feeling of isolation despite being surrounded by people who care for them.
Winesburg has made it clear that happiness is never so far away but instead may be found quite easily if one is willing to open up and let another person into his or her heart. Winesburg, Ohio also deals with themes of morality such as truthfulness vs lying. This issue is demonstrated in the following quote: “Some of Winesburg’s citizens thought he lied. ” (Anderson) Since Winesburg, Ohio is a small town where everyone knows one another, lying can have huge consequences on reputations. This story tells us that some people are unwilling to accept that others may not be truthful or honest all of the time just as they themselves are not.
Winesburg, Ohio demonstrates this idea through George Willard who is alienated from his family member’s distrust towards him due to their belief that he has been less than completely forthcoming with them about his mother being ill. They feel betrayed because of their assumption that George did not share something so important with them because it would force him to face reality as Winesburg as they know it is not a place that he will be staying. Winesburg, Ohio shows us that lying and truths are difficult to accept especially if we believe that we never lie and therefore others must feel the same.
Anderson uses George Willard as a way of expressing his loneliness and isolation within Winesburg: “He dreams of becoming famous, of doing something for Winesburg, of lifting it up into a bright shining light. ” (Anderson) Through these ideas, Anderson depicts how Winesburg becomes like an escape for him away from reality due to its dullness and inconsistency with what he wishes life to be like. Winesburg becomes more than just a small town; instead George Willard sees it as a place that contains people who will never truly understand him and therefore Winesburg is both frightening and relieving at the same time.
Winesburg becomes the only place where people can be themselves while simultaneously being completely different from everyone else. Winesburg, Ohio demonstrates how it may be lonely in a small town but also shows us that Winesburg provides a sense of comfort for individuals who simply desire to be accepted without having to always feel on edge or anxious about their relationship with others. This story tells us that George Willard has yet to even begin experiencing life due to his age: “But something told him he had gone through all of Winesburg’s experience. (Anderson)
This quote suggests that Winesburg may not be the place where one can be educated about life due to Winesburg being a small town that has a very slow pace. Winesburg, Ohio does not provide George Willard with independence or freedom but instead Winesburg shows him how he is not yet ready for the real world and only through leaving Winesburg may George Willard finally learn everything Winesburg could have taught him about living. Winesburg places pressure on George Willard by making it clear that this place will never take his presence seriously unless he decides to leave it behind.