A MAN OF IDEAS / Joe Welling

PP. 57: “There was a cloud in the west down near the horizon, a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand“.

PP. 58: “rolling his eyes about and running a thin nervous hand through his hair”.

PP. 59: “Watch my fingers! Watch my hands! Watch my feet! Watch my eyes!” ; “always carried a heavy, wicked-looking walking stick in his hand“; “When he laughed he scratched his left elbow with his right hand“.

PP. 60: “The son had the heavy walking stick in his hand and sat near the door”; “scratching his left elbow with his right hand“; “George Willard went to his own room and sat down at his desk. He tried to write but his hand trembled so that he could not hold the pen”; “Absorbed in an idea he closed the door and, lighting a lamp, spread the handful of weeds and grasses upon the floor”.

What are the ideas of Joe Welling:

(1) That water levels of creeks are determined by amounts rainfall upstream, often far from sight.

(2) That the world is on fire with decay.

(3) That, if the world’s vegetation were somehow lost, new edible vegetation could be raised up from wild weeds and grasses.

Also provocative is his statement about baseball that “in me you see all the movements of the game.” (His success at baseball has everything to do with him being watched. “You just watch him,” say the townsfolk.) The liveliness of these ideas is contrasted with the humdrum sports talk of the men at the drug store.

Wine Creek. I believe we first started hearing of Wine Creek in the Godliness tales, directly preceding this one. Joe Welling lived in a house “where the main street of Winesburg crossed Wine Creek.”

Medina County is both the source of the increased water levels of Wine Creek and one of Welling’s (presumably) early baseball victories. (Not otherwise mentioned in Winesburg.)

Hands. “A cloud no bigger than a man’s hand’ is an interesting statement, but I don’t know what might be made of it. Joe does not seem particularly characterized by his hands (perhaps more by the fingers) unlike the Kings, whose characters are given some dimension by what they hold (the stick) or do (scratch their elbow) with their hands. Possibly a similar idea is at work behind George Willard being unable to hold a pen in his hand. Anderson wanted to convey Willard was agitated, and his means was to show the interruption of something routine with him, writing.

Mother. The first thing we’re told about Welling is that he lives with his mother. Although we’re told nothing else about this relationship, it appears his mother’s death is catalyst for major, apparently positive, changes in his life, suggesting a comparison to George Willard and others. Also, the information that she died after Willard had been working at The Eagle for a year, may help us fill out the chronology of the book.

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