Winesburg Notes

An on-going and evolving list of observations as I work on the “hands” concordance…

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–That the “adventure” idea is a device by which Anderson switches from character description and analysis to narrative and story-telling.

In the first two stories… Hands say something essential about the characters. Dr. Reefy’s hands resemble the unselected apples of Winesberg (which to people in the know are really the best) and those apples are like Dr. Reefy; while all of Wing B. is summed up in his hands: what he has done, what he is good at, what he has suffered, and how he is now.

In the third story, Mother, the motif remains important, but is not defining of the character of E. Willard to the same degree. (her story is told by her hands, as wing’s was; her essence isn’t as communicated by them as Dr. Reefy’s is.)

–On the one hand, Dr. Reefy’s hands are directly compared (in appearance) to the apples (the knuckles are also contrasted with walnuts); on the other hand, one can imagine the “hard balls” of his “paper pills” are like apples themselves, and that his hands, consequently, are like the branches that hold them. (It does, in any case, not seem coincidental that his best friend is an arborist/ “owned a tree nursery.”)… The story of Dr. Reefy and the tall dark girl is itself compared to the twisted apples, as is the relationship the tall dark girl discovers with Dr. Reefy.

–Of the first four tales, three feature characters (Wing, Elizabeth W., Dr. Parcival) concerned for the welfare of George Willard, that he will be like the others, the he will grow to have a life distorted by the drabness of the town. (Paper Pills does not involve George Willard.)

— Teeth in Paper Pills: the tall dark girl who is to become Reefy’s wife, dreams three times of being bitten by the “virginity suitor”, “jaws dripping” presumably with blood, and is actually bitten (on the shoulder) by the suitor who “makes her in a family way.” When the tall dark girl first goes to Dr. Reefy he is extracting a married woman’s tooth, which bleeds all over her white dress. How to take this? (Dr. Reefy offers a love “without bite”? How does it fit with the idea that “she was like one who had discovered the sweetness of the apples”?

— “Nobody Knows” is supposedly about Louise Trunnion, but really seems about George Willard. The preceding tales, while often involving George Willard, do seem to really be principally about the characters whose names appear as subheadings.

–Goddliness (i) has a very different character from the tales preceding, a difference which I think mainly consists in the fact that is a family history and thus paints a larger canvas, and with less detail, than an anecdote like “Nobody Knows” and than a personal history like “Mother” or “Hands”. In addition, the town of Winesburg appears only in the deep background in this story, a shift.

— Jesse Bentley, with his lustful religiousness, evokes the suitor of the tall dark girl in Paper Pills, who talks a virginity a lot. Does the tall dark girl fear sharing the fate of Jesse Bentley’s wife?

–Speaking of which, we have so far seen quite a few women prematurely die or be sick: E. Willard, the tall dark girl, and Bentley’s wife and daughter. (The latter’s sickness is somewhat explained in “Surrender.”

[–Jesse Bentley and David suggest a comparison to There Will Be Blood‘s Daniel Plainview and H.W. I haven’t read Oil! from which There Will Be Blood was partially derived, but see it was written nearly a decade after Winesburg. A defining difference between Jesse and Daniel, both selfmade rich men, is their attitude toward religion: Jesse’s belief in God makes him somewhat fearsome and unsympathetic to both characters and readers of his story, while Plainview’s hatred of religious hypocrysy is a redeeming quality of an otherwise difficult person.]

Mistaken-ness. David thinks Jesse, who is chasing the lamb with the knife, is chasing after him with the knife, and so shoots him with the sling shot. Similarly, Dr. Parcival thinks the town will punish him for not having helped in an emergency, when in fact, owing to an accident, the town did not even know of his refusal. Similar: Alice Hindman and the old deaf man, who can’t quite hear her call.

–Loneliness: being bereft of even imaginary companions.

–During “second pass”: see what distinctions are made between men and women; note parallels that run through separate chapters.


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