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The Truth Becomes a Lie

Anderson describes the grotesque as being people’s truths. His theory is that the moment someone took a truth to himself and called it his truth and tried to live by it, he became a grotesque, and the truth became a lie.
Wellcome Library, London
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Anderson describes the grotesque as being people’s truths. His theory is that the moment someone took a truth to himself and called it his truth and tried to live by it, he became a grotesque, and the truth became a lie.

I’m Pat Tyrer from Canyon, Texas for the High-Plains-Public-Radio-Readers Book Club’s 2022 Fall Read. Our fall book, Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson is one of my favorites. Winesburg is the story of small-town, pre-industrial American life. The story cycle is composed of twenty-two vignettes connected by the character of George Willard, a young reporter for the Winesburg Eagle who interacts in some way with each character.

The first story, “The Book of the Grotesque,” which introduces the collection features an old man, a writer, who has a dream in which figures of people he knew pass in front of him. He describes them as grotesque, but not all horrible. “Some were amusing, some almost beautiful,” and some painful. After watching all these figures, the old man got out of bed and began to write. In the end he wrote a book which he called “The Book of the Grotesque.” He describes the grotesque as being people’s truths. His theory is that the moment someone took a truth to himself and called it his truth and tried to live by it, he became a grotesque, and the truth became a lie.

Each of the characters in the stories that follow, have a truth which they’ve taken to themselves, but in trying to live that truth it has become a lie. Truths such as virginity, passion, wealth, poverty, profligacy, carelessness, abandon, and thrift are all examined through individual characters.

Although there are so many interesting characters in Winesburg, I’ve tried to narrow it down to just a couple of my favorites. “Hands,” concerns a former teacher, Wing Biddlebaum, who lives on the edge of Winesburg and is befriended by George Willard, his only visitor. Wing whose real name is Adolph Meyers was a talented and passionate teacher with restless hands described like “the beating of the wings of an imprisoned bird.” Adolph would often touch the shoulders of his students during a passionate lecture. On the day a half-witted boy falsely accuses him of molestation he is driven out of town. Thereafter, he settles in Winesburg and lives alone. He keeps his hands, which he suspects are the problem, imprisoned in his pockets. The story appeals to me because of the tragedy of Wing’s story. He’s a man who is passionate about learning with no understanding of the evil in the minds of others. He knows he was accused of something, but he’s not quite sure of what. The story for me is one of despair. His love of learning and sharing that passion with his students became his grotesque.

Another story about passion is “Adventure.” Alice Hindman lives with her parents and works in a dry goods store. As a young woman, Alice had fallen in love with Ned Currie who left Winesburg after their brief affair to try for a writing job with a Cleveland newspaper. After a while, not having secured a job, Ned moved on to Chicago where eventually he met a girl, fell in love, and forgot all about Alice. But Alice never forgot Ned, praying about him every night and longing to be with him. One rainy night, alone in the house, Alice decides to have an adventure. She strips off her clothes and goes outside believing the rain would have a creative and wonderful effect on her naked body. She longed to find another lonely human and embrace him. Seeing someone pass by, she calls out to an old man. Barely able to hear he asks, “what? What say?” At that point Alice realizes what she’s done and is paralyzed by fear. She races to her room realizing her want of adventure might make her do something dreadful. She sadly confirms to herself that she is one of the many people who are doomed to a life of quiet solitude. Her unrequited longing makes her a grotesque.

I hope this short discussion of Winesburg encourages you to check it out. It’s a great read filled with characterizations of people you might just recognize from your own hometown.

Again, I’m Pat Tyrer from Canyon, Texas for the High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club.

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Fall Read 2022: Rural Life Revisited 2022 Fall ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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