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Perspectives on the Lives

Edward Hopper, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On behalf of the High Plains Public radio, this is Dr. Mary Scott, Professor of Biology at Dodge City Community College., welcoming you to another BookByte. This summer I read Sherwood Anderson’s collection of 22 short stories entitled Winesburg, Ohio.  First published in 1919, the stories are based on his childhood in Clyde, Ohio. This book reminded me of my own grandfather’s stories, who was born in 1899, and lived in rural Ohio. This is only one of the many thoughts or memories this book evoked for me. Throughout my life I have enjoyed reading books written in the past, however, I do not believe I could have fully appreciated Mr. Anderson’s work in my youth. If you are a younger reader, I want you to understand that the characters you meet in this book could be real people that you have already met, and they reside everywhere, not just rural America. The problems faced by the characters of Winesburg, Ohio are timeless.

Had I read this book 40 years ago, I probably would have related most to George Willard’s desire to get out of town or to go anywhere that was not Winesburg, and I would not have appreciated how intertwined lives within a community can be. However, reading the book at the age of sixty years, I appreciate the lonely misunderstood gentleman that is hiding in Winesburg, afraid to really belong to the community, afraid of being falsely accused of wrongdoing again, or the lonely young man who is afraid to truly be himself for fear of rejection and ridicule. I felt the pain of Dr. Reefy having found the love of his life only to have her die shortly after they married.

I am reminded of many who leave their homeplace, such as Jesse Bentley, only to return later whether it is personal reasons or an overwhelming sense of family responsibility. Anderson reveals how Jesse’s experiences impact his decisions that lead to business success, but personal failure as a father. I also find myself relating to George Willard’s mother, Elizabeth, who has her “what if’s” as she reflects on her life.

Despite never really being able to communicate her thoughts with her son, we learn that she understands George and his need to leave Winesburg. Then, there is Louise who has felt her father’s rejection because she was not the desired son. Anderson realistically sketches how this impacts Louise’s personality, as well as her entire life, and even her son’s life. Although others may find stronger psychological plots in the other short stories, I personally found this to be Anderson’s best. My opinion is influenced by Jesse and Louise reappearing in several of the short stories, as well as my nonfictional psychology readings involving childhood traumas.

Despite Winesburg being a small town where everyone seems to know everyone there are still secrets. George Willard, the small-town reporter, is someone others feel comfortable telling their secrets to, or he seems to be available at the odd hours they need someone to listen. Some of the characters, such as Kate Swift have traveled and experienced life outside of Ohio and try to share their wisdom with George. Kate also recognizes potential in George, but believes he needs to leave to develop those skills and to mature. Perhaps they recognize themselves in young George who is struggling with love, goals, and the desire to leave Winesburg.

If you are looking for a book you can read a chapter or two and put it down and come back another day, this is one I would recommend. If you are prone to introspection, this is my warning, because I was only able to read one to two stories at a time.

In conclusion I found it fitting that the book ends with George Willard fulfilling his mother’s dream to leave Winesburg. George has his own entourage to see him off at the train station. This reader was left wondering if they had good wishes for him, regrets it was not them leaving, or relief that the young man with all their secrets would no longer call Winesburg home.

Thank you for listening to this BookByte on Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. This has been Mary Scott for High Plains Public Radio Readers.

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