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Portland, O r e g o k
by Sherwood Anderson
edited by Raymond Soulard, Jr.
& Kassandra Soulard
selections from Winesburg, Ohio, 1919
by Sherwood Anderson
Burning Man Books is
an imprint of
2442 NW Market Street-#363
Seattle, Washington 98107
This volume was composed
in the AGaramond font
in PageMaker 7.0 on the
Macintosh G4 computer
Much more of the world is revealed
through empathy and awareness . . .
X Hirnl e^eetrj
\ BiW Carteri
^ RR. i^atiiti
7 F*ir &TOUn<tS
§ Wafer U»fe IW
THE BOOK OF THE GROTESQUE
The writer, an old man with a white mustache, had some difficulty in getting into
bed. The windows of the house in which he lived were high and he wanted to look at
the trees when he awoke in the morning. A carpenter came to fix the bed so that it
would be on a level with the window.
Quite a fuss was made about the matter. The carpenter, who had been a
soldier in the Civil War, came into the writer's room and sat down to talk of building
a platform for the purpose of raising the bed. The writer had cigars lying about and
the carpenter smoked.
For a time the two men talked of the raising of the bed and then they talked
of other things. The soldier got on the subject of the war. The writer, in fact, led him
to that subject. The carpenter had once been a prisoner in Andersonville Prison and
had lost a brother. The brother had died of starvation, and whenever the carpenter
got upon that subject he cried. He, like the old writer, had a white mustache, and
when he cried he puckered up his lips and the mustache bobbed up and down. The
weeping old man with the cigar in his mouth was ludicrous. The plan the writer had
for the raising of his bed was forgotten and later the carpenter did it in his own way
and the writer, who was past sixty, had to help himself with a chair when he went to
bed at night.
In his bed the writer rolled over on his side and lay quite still. For years he
had been beset with notions concerning his heart. He was a hard smoker and his
heart fluttered. The idea had got into his mind that he would sometime die
unexpectedly and always when he got into bed he thought of that. It did not alarm
him. The effect in fact was quite a special thing and not easily explained. It made him
more alive, there in bed, than at any other time. Perfectly still he lay and his body was
old and not of much use anymore, but something inside him was altogether young.
He was like a pregnant woman, only that the thing inside him was not a baby but a
youth. No, it wasn't a youth, it was a woman, young, and wearing a coat of mail like
a knight. It is absurd, you see, to try to tell what was inside the old writer as he lay on
his high bed and listened to the fluttering of his heart. The thing to get at is what the
writer, or the young thing within the writer, was thinking about.
The old writer, like all of the people in the world, had got, during his long
life, a great many notions in his head. He had once been quite handsome and a
number of women had been in love with him. And then, of course, he had known
people, many people, known them in a peculiarly intimate way that was different
from the way in which you and I know people. At least that is what the writer thought
and the thought pleased him. Why quarrel with an old man concerning his thoughts?
In the bed the writer had a dream that was not a dream. As he grew somewhat
sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his eyes. He imagined
the young indescribable thing within himself was driving a long procession of figures
before his eyes.
You see the interest in all this lies in the figures that went before the eyes of
the writer. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio
known had become grotesques.
The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost
beautiful, and one, a woman all drawn out of shape, hurt the old man by her
grotesqueness. When she passed he made a noise like a small dog whimpering. Had
you come into the room you might have supposed the old man had unpleasant
dreams or perhaps indigestion.
For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the old
man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of bed and began
to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep impression on his mind and
he wanted to describe it.
At his desk the writer worked for an hour. In the end he wrote a book
which he called "The Book of the Grotesque." It was never published, but I saw it
once and it made an indelible impression on my mind. The book had one central
thought that is very strange and has always remained with me. By remembering it I
have been able to understand many people and things that I was never able to
understand before. The thought was involved but a simple statement of it would be
something like this:
That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many
thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth
was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the
truths and they were all beautiful.
The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to
tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the
truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carefulness and abandon.
Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.
And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of
the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.
It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite
an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of
the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his
life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.
You can see for yourself how the old man, who had spent all of his life
writing and was filled with words, would write hundreds of pages concerning this
matter. The subject would become so big in his mind that he himself would be in
danger of becoming a grotesque. He didn't, I suppose, for the same reason that he
never published the book. It was the young thing inside him that saved the old man.
Concerning the old carpenter who fixed the bed for the writer, I only
mentioned him because he, like many of what are called very common people, became
the nearest thing to what is understandable and lovable of all the grotesques in the
Concerning Wing Biddlebaum
Upon the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a
ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up
and down. Across a long field that had been seeded for clover but that had produced
only a dense crop of yellow mustard weeds, he could see the public highway along
which went a wagon filled with berry pickers returning from the fields. The berry
pickers, youths and maidens, laughed and shouted boisterously. A boy clad in a blue
shirt leaped from the wagon and attempted to drag after him one of the maidens,
who screamed and protested shrilly. The feet of the boy in the road kicked up a cloud
of dust that floated across the face of the departing sun. Over the long field came a
thin girlish voice. "Oh, you Wing Biddlebaum, comb your hair, it's falling into your
eyes," commanded the voice to the man, who was bald and whose nervous little
hands fiddled about the bare white forehead as though arranging a mass of tangled
Wing Biddlebaum, forever frightened and beset by a ghostly band of doubts,
did not think of himself as in any way a part of the life of the town where he had lived
for twenty years. Among all the people of Winesburg but one had come close to him.
With George Willard, son of Tom Willard, the proprietor of the New Willard House,
he had formed something like a friendship. George Willard was the reporter on the
Winesburg Eagle and sometimes in the evening he walked out along the highway to
Wing Biddlebaum's house. Now, as the old man walked up and down on the veranda,
his hands moving nervously about, he was hoping that George Willard would come
and spend the evening with him. After the wagon containing the berry pickers had
passed, he went across the field through the tall mustard weeds and climbing a rail
fence peered anxiously along the road to the town. For a moment he stood thus,
rubbing his hands together and looking up and down the road, and then, fear
overcoming him, ran back to walk again upon the porch on his own house.
In the presence of George Willard, Wing Biddlebaum, who for twenty years
had been the town mystery, lost something of his timidity, and his shadowy personality,
submerged in a sea of doubts, came forth to look at the world. With the young
reporter at his side, he ventured in the light of day into Main Street or strode up and
down on the rickety front porch of his own house, talking excitedly. The voice that
had been low and trembling became shrill and loud. The bent figure straightened.
With a kind of wriggle, like a fish returned to the brook by the fisherman, Biddlebaum
the silent began to talk, striving to put into words the ideas that had been accumulated
by his mind during long years of silence.
Wing Biddlebaum talked much with his hands. The slender expressive
fingers, forever active, forever striving to conceal themselves in his pockets or behind
his back, came forth and became the piston rods of his machinery of expression.
The story of Wing Biddlebaum is a story of hands. Their restless activity,
like unto the beating of the wings of an imprisoned bird, had given him his name.
Some obscure "poet" of the town had thought of it. The hands alarmed their owner.
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 7
He wanted to keep them hidden away and looked with amazement at the quiet
inexpressive hands of other men who worked beside him in the fields, or passed
driving sleepy teams on country roads.
When he talked to George Willard, Wing Biddlebaum closed his fists and
beat with them upon a table or on the walls of his house. The action made him more
comfortable. If the desire to talk came to him when the two were walking in the
fields, he sought out a stump or the top board of a fence and with his hands pounding
busily talked with renewed ease.
The story of Wing Biddlebaum's hands is worth a book in itself.
Sympathetically set forth it would tap many strange, beautiful qualities in obscure
men. It is a job for a poet. In Winesburg the hands had attracted attention merely
because of their activity. With them Wing Biddlebaum had picked as high as a hundred
and forty quarts of strawberries in a day. They became his distinguishing feature, the
source of his fame. Also they made more grotesque an already grotesque and elusive
individuality. Winesburg was proud of the hands of Wing Biddlebaum in the same
spirit in which it was proud of Banker White's new stone house and Wesley Moyer's
bay stallion, Tony Tip, that had won the two-fifteen trot at the fall races in Cleveland.
As for George Willard, he had many times wanted to ask about the hands.
At times an almost overwhelming curiosity had taken hold of him. He felt that there
must be a reason for their strange activity and their inclination to keep hidden away
and only a growing respect for Wing Biddlebaum kept him from blurting out the
questions that were often in his mind.
Once he had been on the point of asking. The two were walking in the
fields on a summer afternoon and had stopped to sit upon a grassy bank. All afternoon
Wing Biddlebaum had talked as one inspired. By a fence he had stopped and beating
like a giant woodpecker upon the top board had shouted at George Willard,
condemning his tendency to be too much influenced by the people about him. "You
are destroying yourself," he cried. "You have the inclination to be alone and to dream
and you are afraid of dreams. You want to be like others in town here. You hear them
talk and you try to imitate them."
On the grassy bank Wing Biddlebaum had tried again to drive his point
home. His voice became soft and reminiscent, and with a sigh of contentment he
launched into a long rambling talk, speaking as one lost in a dream.
Out of the dream Wing Biddlebaum made a picture for George Willard. In
the picture men lived again in a kind of pastoral golden age. Across a green open
country came clean-limbed young men, some afoot, some mounted upon horses. In
crowds the young men came to gather about the feet of an old man who sat beneath
a tree in a tiny garden and who talked to them.
Wing Biddlebaum became wholly inspired. For once he forgot the hands.
Slowly they stole forth and lay upon George Willard's shoulders. Something new and
bold came into the voice that talked. "You must try to forget all you have learned,"
said the old man. "You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your
ears to the roaring of the voices."
Pausing in his speech, Wing Biddlebaum looked long and earnestly at George
8 • Sherwood Anderson
Willard. His eyes glowed. Again he raised the hands to caress the boy and then a look
of horror swept over his face.
With a convulsive movement of his body, Wing Biddlebaum sprang to his
feet and thrust his hands deep into his trousers pockets. Tears came to his eyes. "I
must be getting along home. I can talk no more with you," he said nervously.
Without looking back, the old man had hurried down the hillside and across
a meadow, leaving George Willard perplexed and frightened upon the grassy slope.
With a shiver of dread the boy arose and went along the road toward town. "I'll not
ask him about his hands," he thought, touched by the memory of the terror he had
seen in the man's eyes. "There's something wrong, but I don't want to know what it
is. His hands have something to do with his fear of me and of everyone."
And George Willard was right. Let us look briefly into the story of the
hands. Perhaps our talking of them will arouse the poet who will tell the hidden
wonder story of the influence for which the hands were but fluttering pennants of
In his youth Wing Biddlebaum had been a school teacher in a town in
Pennsylvania. He was not then known as Wing Biddlebaum, but went by the less
euphonic name of Adolph Myers. As Adolph Myers he was much loved by the boys
of his school.
Adolph Myers was meant by nature to be a teacher of youth. He was one of
those rare, little-understood men who rule by a power so gentle that it passes as a
lovable weakness. In their feeling for the boys under their charge such men are not
unlike the finer sort of women in their love of men.
And yet that is but crudely stated. It needs the poet there. With the boys of
his school, Adolph Myers had walked in the evening or had sat talking until dusk
upon the schoolhouse steps lost in a kind of dream. Here and there went his hands,
caressing the shoulders of the boys, playing about the tousled heads. As he talked his
voice became soft and musical. There was a caress in that also. In a way the voice and
the hands, the stroking of the shoulders and the touching of the hair was a part of the
schoolmaster's effort to carry a dream into the young minds. By the caress that was in
his fingers he expressed himself. He was one of those men in whom the force that
creates life is diffused, not centralized. Under the caress of his hands doubt and disbelief
went out of the minds of the boys and they began also to dream.
And then the tragedy. A half-witted boy of the school became enamored of
the young master. In his bed at night he imagined unspeakable things and in the
morning went forth to tell his dreams as facts. Strange, hideous accusations fell from
his loose-hung lips. Through the Pennsylvania town went a shiver. Hidden, shadowy
doubts that had been in men's minds concerning Adolph Myers were galvanized into
The tragedy did not linger. Trembling lads were jerked out of bed and
questioned. "He put his arms about me," said one. "His fingers were always playing
in my hair," said another.
One afternoon a man of the town, Henry Bradford, who kept a saloon,
came to the schoolhouse door. Calling Adolph Myers into the school yard he began
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 9
to beat him with his fists. As his hard knuckles beat down into the frightened face of
the school-master, his wrath became more and more terrible. Screaming with dismay,
the children ran here and there like disturbed insects. "I'll teach you to put your
hands on my boy, you beast," roared the saloon keeper, who, tired of beating the
master, had begun to kick him about the yard.
Adolph Myers was driven from the Pennsylvania town in the night. With
lanterns in their hands a dozen men came to the door of the house where he lived
alone and commanded that he dress and come forth. It was raining and one of the
men had a rope in his hands. They had intended to hang the school-master, but
something in his figure, so small, white, and pitiful, touched their hearts and they let
him escape. As he ran away into the darkness they repented of their weakness and ran
after him, swearing and throwing sticks and great balls of soft mud at the figure that
screamed and ran faster and faster into the darkness.
For twenty years Adolph Myers had lived alone in Winesburg. He was but
forty but looked sixty-five. The name of Biddlebaum he got from a box of goods seen
at a freight station as he hurried through an eastern Ohio town. He had an aunt in
Winesburg, a black-toothed old woman who raised chickens, and with her he lived
until she died. He had been ill for a year after the experience in Pennsylvania, and
after his recovery worked as a day laborer in the fields, going timidly about and
striving to conceal his hands. Although he did not understand what had happened
he felt that the hands must be to blame. Again and again the fathers of the boys had
talked of the hands. "Keep your hands to yourself," the saloon keeper had roared,
dancing with fury in the schoolhouse yard.
Upon the veranda of his house by the ravine, Wing Biddlebaum continued
to walk up and down until the sun had disappeared and the road beyond the field
was lost in the grey shadows. Going into his house he cut slices of bread and spread
honey upon them. When the rumble of the evening train that took away the express
cars loaded with the day's harvest of berries had passed and restored the silence of the
summer night, he went again to walk upon the veranda. In the darkness he could not
see the hands and they became quiet. Although he still hungered for the presence of
the boy, who was the medium through which he expressed his love of man, the
hunger became again a part of his loneliness and his waiting. Lighting a lamp, Wing
Biddlebaum washed the few dishes soiled by his simple meal and, setting up a folding
cot by the screen door that led to the porch, prepared to undress for the night. A few
stray white bread crumbs lay on the cleanly washed floor by the table; putting the
lamp upon a low stool he began to pick up the crumbs, carrying them to his mouth
one by one with unbelievable rapidity. In the dense blotch of light beneath the table,
the kneeling figure looked like a priest engaged in some service of his church. The
nervous expressive fingers, flashing in and out of the light, might well have been
mistaken for the fingers of the devotee going swiftly through decade after decade of
10 • Sherwood Anderson
Concerning Doctor Reefy
He was an old man with a white beard and huge nose and hands. Long before the
time during which we will know him, he was a doctor and drove a jaded white horse
from house to house through the streets of Winesburg. Later he married a girl who
had money. She had been left a large fertile farm when her father died. The girl was
quiet, tall, and dark, and to many people she seemed very beautiful. Everyone in
Winesburg wondered why she married the doctor. Within a year after the marriage
The knuckles of the doctor's hands were extraordinarily large. When the
hands were closed they looked like clusters of unpainted wooden balls as large as
walnuts fastened together by steel rods. He smoked a cob pipe and after his wife's
death sat all day in his empty office close by a window that was covered with cobwebs.
He never opened the window. Once on a hot day in August he tried but found it
stuck fast and after that he forgot all about it.
Winesburg had forgotten the old man, but in Doctor Reefy there were the
seeds of something very fine. Alone in his musty office in the Heffner Block above
the Paris Dry Goods Company, he worked ceaselessly, building up something that he
himself destroyed. Little pyramids of truth he erected and after erecting knocked
them down again that he might have the truth to erect other pyramids.
Doctor Reefy was a tall man who had worn one suit of clothes for ten years.
It was frayed at the sleeves and little holes had appeared at the knees and elbows. In
the office he wore also a linen duster with huge pockets into which he continually
stuffed scraps of paper. After some weeks the scraps of paper became little hard round
balls, and when the pockets were filled he dumped them out upon the floor. For ten
years he had but one friend, another old man named John Spaniard who owned a
tree nursery. Sometimes, in a playful mood, old Doctor Reefy took from his pockets
a handful of the paper balls and threw them at the nursery man. "That is to confound
you, you blathering old sentimentalist," he cried, shaking with laughter.
The story of Doctor Reefy and his courtship of the tall dark girl who became
his wife and left her money to him is a very curious story. It is delicious, like the
twisted little apples that grow in the orchards of Winesburg. In the fall one walks in
the orchards and the ground is hard with frost underfoot. The apples have been
taken from the trees by the pickers. They have been put in barrels and shipped to the
cities where they will be eaten in apartments that are filled with books, magazines,
furniture, and people. On the trees are only a few gnarled apples that the pickers
have rejected. They look like the knuckles of Doctor Reefy 's hands. One nibbles at
them and they are delicious. Into a little round place at the side of the apple has been
gathered all of its sweetness. One runs from tree to tree over the frosted ground
picking the gnarled, twisted apples and filling his pockets with them. Only the few
know the sweetness of the twisted apples.
The girl and Doctor Reefy began their courtship on a summer afternoon.
He was forty-five then and already he had begun the practice of filling his pockets
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 11
with the scraps of paper that became hard balls and were thrown away. The habit had
been formed as he sat in his buggy behind the jaded white horse and went slowly
along country roads. On the papers were written thoughts, ends of thoughts,
beginnings of thoughts.
One by one the mind of Doctor Reefy had made the thoughts. Out of
many of them he formed a truth that arose gigantic in his mind. The truth clouded
the world. It became terrible and then faded away and the little thoughts began
The tall dark girl came to see Doctor Reefy because she was in the family
way and had become frightened. She was in that condition because of a series of
circumstances also curious.
The death of her father and mother and the rich acres of land that had
come down to her had set a train of suitors on her heels. For two years she saw suitors
almost every evening. Except two they were all alike. They talked to her of passion
and there was a strained eager quality in their voices and in their eyes when they
looked at her. The two who were different were much unlike each other. One of
them, a slender young man with white hands, the son of a jeweler in Winesburg,
talked continually of virginity. When he was with her he was never off the subject.
The other, a black-haired boy with large ears, said nothing at all but always managed
to get her into the darkness, where he began to kiss her.
For a time the tall dark girl thought she would marry the jeweler's son. For
hours she sat in silence listening as he talked to her and then she began to be afraid of
something. Beneath his talk of virginity she began to think there was a lust greater
than in all the others. At times it seemed to her that as he talked he was holding her
body in his hands. She imagined him turning it slowly about in the white hands and
staring at it. At night she dreamed that he had bitten into her body and that his jaws
were dripping. She had the dream three times, then she became in the family way to
the one who said nothing at all but who in the moment of his passion actually did
bite her shoulder so that for days the marks of his teeth showed.
After the tall dark girl came to know Doctor Reefy it seemed to her that she
never wanted to leave him again. She went into his office one morning and without
her saying anything he seemed to know what had happened to her.
In the office of the doctor there was a woman, the wife of the man who kept
the bookstore in Winesburg. Like all old-fashioned country practitioners, Doctor
Reefy pulled teeth, and the woman who waited held a handkerchief to her teeth and
groaned. Her husband was with her and when the tooth was taken out they both
screamed and blood ran down on the woman's white dress. The tall dark girl did not
pay any attention. When the woman and the man had gone the doctor smiled. "I
will take you driving into the country with me," he said.
For several weeks the tall dark girl and the doctor were together almost
every day. The condition that had brought her to him passed in an illness, but she
was like one who has discovered the sweetness of the twisted apples. She could not
get her mind fixed again upon the round perfect fruit that is eaten in the city
apartments. In the fall after the beginning of her acquaintanceship with him she
12 • Sherwood Anderson
married Doctor Reefy and in the following spring she died. During the winter he
read to her all of the odds and ends of thoughts he had scribbled on the bits of paper.
After he had read them he laughed and stuffed them away in his pockets to become
round hard balls.
Concerning Elizabeth Willard
Elizabeth Willard, the mother of George Willard, was tall and gaunt and her face was
marked with smallpox scars. Although she was but forty-five, some obscure disease
had taken the fire out of her figure. Listlessly she went about the disorderly old hotel
looking at the faded wall-paper and the ragged carpets and, when she was able to be
about, doing the work of a chambermaid among beds soiled by the slumbers of fat
traveling men. Her husband, Tom Willard, a slender, graceful man with square
shoulders, a quick military step, and a black mustache trained to turn sharply up at
the ends, tried to put the wife out of his mind. The presence of the tall ghostly figure,
moving slowly through the halls, he took as a reproach to himself. When he thought
of her he grew angry and swore. The hotel was unprofitable and forever on the edge
of failure and he wished himself out of it. He thought of the old house and the
woman who lived there with him as things defeated and done for. The hotel in which
he had begun life so hopefully was now a mere ghost of what a hotel should be. As he
went spruce and business-like through the streets of Winesburg, he sometimes stopped
and turned quickly about as though fearing that the spirit of the hotel and of the
woman would follow him even into the streets. "Damn such a life, damn it!" he
Tom Willard had a passion for village politics and for years had been the
leading Democrat in a strongly Republican community. Someday, he told himself,
the tide of things political will turn in my favor and the years of ineffectual service
count big in the bestowal of rewards. He dreamed of going to Congress and even of
becoming governor. Once, when a younger member of the party arose at a political
conference and began to boast of his faithful service, Tom Willard grew white with
fury. "Shut up, you," he roared, glaring about. "What do you know of service? What
are you but a boy? Look at what I've done here! I was a Democrat here in Winesburg
when it was a crime to be a Democrat. In the old days they fairly hunted us with
Between Elizabeth and her one son George there was a deep unexpressed
bond of sympathy, based on a girlhood dream that had long ago died. In the son's
presence she was timid and reserved, but sometimes while he hurried about town
intent upon his duties as a reporter, she went into his room and closing the door
knelt by a little desk, made of a kitchen table, that sat near a window. In the room by
the desk she went through a ceremony that was half a prayer, half a demand, addressed
to the skies. In the boyish figure she yearned to see something half forgotten that had
once been a part of herself recreated. The prayer concerned that. "Even though I die,
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 13
I will in some way keep defeat from you," she cried, and so deep was her determination
that her whole body shook. Her eyes glowed and she clenched her fists. "If I am dead
and see him becoming a meaningless drab figure like myself, I will come back," she
declared. "I ask God now to give me that privilege. I demand it. I will pay for it. God
may beat me with his fists. I will take any blow that may befall if but this my boy be
allowed to express something for us both." Pausing uncertainly, the woman stared
about the boy's room. "And do not let him become smart and successful either," she
The communion between George Willard and his mother was outwardly a
formal thing without meaning. When she was ill and sat by the window in her room
he sometimes went in the evening to make her a visit. They sat by a window that
looked over the roof of a small frame building into Main Street. By turning their
heads they could see through another window, along an alleyway that ran behind the
Main Street stores and into the back door of Abner Groff 's bakery. Sometimes as
they sat thus a picture of village life presented itself to them. At the back door of his
shop appeared Abner Groff with a stick or an empty milk bottle in his hand. For a
long time there was a feud between the baker and a grey cat that belonged to Sylvester
West, the druggist. The boy and his mother saw the cat creep into the door of the
bakery and presently emerge followed by the baker, who swore and waved his arms
about. The baker's eyes were small and red and his black hair and beard were filled
with flour dust. Sometimes he was so angry that, although the cat had disappeared,
he hurled sticks, bits of broken glass, and even some of the tools of his trade about.
Once he broke a window at the back of Sinning's Hardware Store. In the alley the
grey cat crouched behind barrels filled with torn paper and broken bottles above
which flew a black swarm of flies. Once when she was alone, and after watching a
prolonged and ineffectual outburst on the part of the baker, Elizabeth Willard put
her head down on her long white hands and wept. After that she did not look along
the alleyway anymore, but tried to forget the contest between the bearded man and
the cat. It seemed like a rehearsal of her own life, terrible in its vividness.
In the evening, when the son sat in the room with his mother, the silence
made them both feel awkward. Darkness came on and the evening train came in at
the station. In the street below feet tramped up and down upon a board sidewalk. In
the station yard, after the evening train had gone, there was a heavy silence. Perhaps
Skinner Leason, the express agent, moved a truck the length of the station platform.
Over on Main Street sounded a man's voice, laughing. The door of the express office
banged. George Willard arose and crossing the room fumbled for the doorknob.
Sometimes he knocked against a chair, making it scrape along the floor. By the window
sat the sick woman, perfectly still, listless. Her long hands, white and bloodless,
could be seen drooping over the ends of the arms of the chair. "I think you had better
be out among the boys. You are too much indoors," she said, striving to relieve the
embarrassment of the departure. "I thought I would take a walk," replied George
Willard, who felt awkward and confused.
One evening in July, when the transient guests who made the New Willard
House their temporary homes had become scarce, and the hallways, lighted only by
14 • Sherwood Anderson
kerosene lamps turned low, were plunged in gloom, Elizabeth Willard had an
adventure. She had been ill in bed for several days and her son had not come to visit
her. She was alarmed. The feeble blaze of life that remained in her body was blown
into a flame by her anxiety and she crept out of bed, dressed and hurried along the
hallway toward her son's room, shaking with exaggerated fears. As she went along she
steadied herself with her hand, slipped along the papered walls of the hall and breathed
with difficulty. The air whistled through her teeth. As she hurried forward she thought
how foolish she was. "He is concerned with boyish affairs," she told herself. "Perhaps
he has now begun to walk about in the evening with girls."
Elizabeth Willard had a dread of being seen by guests in the hotel that had
once belonged to her father and the ownership of which still stood recorded in her
name in the county courthouse. The hotel was continually losing patronage because
of its shabbiness and she thought of herself as also shabby. Her own room was in an
obscure corner and when she felt able to work she voluntarily worked among the
beds, preferring the labor that could be done when the guests were abroad seeking
trade among the merchants of Winesburg.
By the door of her son's room the mother knelt upon the floor and listened
for some sound from within. When she heard the boy moving about and talking in
low tones a smile came to her lips. George Willard had a habit of talking aloud to
himself and to hear him doing so had always given his mother a peculiar pleasure.
The habit in him, she felt, strengthened the secret bond that existed between them.
A thousand times she had whispered to herself of the matter. "He is groping about,
trying to find himself," she thought. "He is not a dull clod, all words and smartness.
Within him there is a secret something that is striving to grow. It is the thing I let be
killed in myself."
In the darkness in the hallway by the door the sick woman arose and started
again toward her own room. She was afraid that the door would open and the boy
come upon her. When she had reached a safe distance and was about to turn a corner
into a second hallway she stopped and, bracing herself with her hands, waited, thinking
to shake off a trembling fit of weakness that had come upon her. The presence of the
boy in the room had made her happy. In her bed, during the long hours alone, the
little fears that had visited her had become giants. Now they were all gone. "When I
get back to my room I shall sleep," she murmured gratefully.
But Elizabeth Willard was not to return to her bed and to sleep. As she
stood trembling in the darkness the door of her son's room opened and the boy's
father, Tom Willard, stepped out. In the light that steamed out at the door he stood
with the knob in his hand and talked. What he said infuriated the woman.
Tom Willard was ambitious for his son. He had always thought of himself
as a successful man, although nothing he had ever done had turned out successfully.
However, when he was out of sight of the New Willard House and had no fear of
coming upon his wife, he swaggered and began to dramatize himself as one of the
chief men of the town. He wanted his son to succeed. He it was who had secured for
the boy the position on the Winesburg Eagle. Now, with a ring of earnestness in his
voice, he was advising concerning some course of conduct. "I tell you what, George,
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 15
you've got to wake up," he said sharply. "Will Henderson has spoken to me three
times concerning the matter. He says you go along for hours not hearing when you
are spoken to and acting like a gawky girl. What ails you?" Tom Willard laughed
good-naturedly. "Well, I guess you'll get over it," he said. "I told Will that. You're not
a fool and you're not a woman. You're Tom Willard's son and you'll wake up. I'm not
afraid. What you say clears things up. If being a newspaper man has put the notion
of becoming a writer into your mind that's all right. Only I guess you'll have to wake
up to do that too, eh?"
Tom Willard went briskly along the hallway and down a flight of stairs to
the office. The woman in the darkness could hear him laughing and talking with a
guest who was striving to wear away a dull evening by dozing in a chair by the office
door. She returned to the door of her son's room. The weakness had passed from her
body as by a miracle and she stepped boldly along. A thousand ideas raced through
her head. When she heard the scraping of a chair and the sound of a pen scratching
upon paper, she again turned and went back along the hallway to her own room.
A definite determination had come into the mind of the defeated wife of
the Winesburg hotel keeper. The determination was the result of long years of quiet
and rather ineffectual thinking. "Now," she told herself, "I will act. There is something
threatening my boy and I will ward it off." The fact that the conversation between
Tom Willard and his son had been rather quiet and natural, as though an
understanding existed between them, maddened her. Although for years she had
hated her husband, her hatred had always before been a quite impersonal thing. He
had been merely a part of something else that she hated. Now, and by the few words
at the door, he had become the thing personified. In the darkness of her own room
she clenched her fists and glared about. Going to a cloth bag that hung on a nail by
the wall she took out a long pair of sewing scissors and held them in her hand like a
dagger. "I will stab him," she said aloud. "He has chosen to be the voice of evil and I
will kill him. When I have killed him something will snap within myself and I will
die also. It will be a release for all of us."
In her girlhood and before her marriage with Tom Willard, Elizabeth had
borne a somewhat shaky reputation in Winesburg. For years, she had been what is
called "stage-struck" and had paraded through the streets with traveling men guests
at her father's hotel, wearing loud clothes and urging them to tell her of life in the
cities out of which they had come. Once she startled the town by putting on men's
clothes and riding a bicycle down Main Street.
In her own mind the tall dark girl had been in those days much confused. A
great restlessness was in her and it expressed itself in two ways. First there was an
uneasy desire for change, for some big definite movement to her life. It was this
feeling that had turned her mind to the stage. She dreamed of joining some company
and wandering over the world, seeing always new faces and giving something out of
herself to all people. Sometimes at night she was quite beside herself with the thought,
but when she tried to talk of the matter to the members of the theatrical companies
that came to Winesburg and stopped at her father's hotel, she got nowhere. They did
not seem to know what she meant, or if she did get something of her passion expressed,
16 • Sherwood Anderson
they only laughed. "It's not like that," they said. "It's as dull and uninteresting as this
here. Nothing comes of it."
With the traveling men when she walked about with them, and later with
Tom Willard, it was quite different. Always they seemed to understand and sympathize
with her. On the side streets of the village, in the darkness under the trees, they took
hold of her hand and she thought that something unexpressed in herself came forth
and became a part of an unexpressed something in them.
And then there was the second expression of her restlessness. When that
came she felt for a time released and happy. She did not blame the men who walked
with her and later she did not blame Tom Willard. It was always the same, beginning
with kisses and ending, after strange wild emotions, with peace and then sobbing
repentance. When she sobbed she put her hand upon the face of the man and had
always the same thought. Even though he were large and bearded she thought he had
become suddenly a little boy. She wondered why he did not sob also.
In her room, tucked away in a corner of the New Willard House, Elizabeth
Willard lighted a lamp and put it on a dressing table that stood by the door. A
thought had come into her mind and she went to a closet and brought out a small
square box and set it on the table. The box contained material for make-up and had
been left with other things by a theatrical company that had once been stranded in
Winesburg. Elizabeth Willard had decided that she would be beautiful. Her hair was
still black and there was a great mass of it braided and coiled about her head. The
scene that was to take place in the office below began to grow in her mind. No
ghostly worn-out figure should confront Tom Willard, but something quite
unexpected and startling. Tall and with dusky cheeks and hair that fell in a mass from
her shoulders, a figure should come striding down the stairway before the startled
loungers in the hotel office. The figure would be silent — it would be swift and terrible.
As a tigress whose cub had been threatened would she appear, coming out of the
shadows, stealing noiselessly along and holding the long wicked scissors in her hand.
With a little broken sob in her throat, Elizabeth Willard blew out the light
that stood upon the table and stood weak and trembling in the darkness. The strength
that had been as a miracle in her body left and she half reeled across the floor, clutching
at the back of the chair in which she had spent so many long days staring out over the
tin roofs into the main street of Winesburg. In the hallway there was the sound of
footsteps and George Willard came in at the door. Sitting in a chair beside his mother
he began to talk. "I'm going to get out of here," he said. "I don't know where I shall
go or what I shall do but I am going away."
The woman in the chair waited and trembled. An impulse came to her. "I
suppose you had better wake up," she said. "You think that? You will go to the city
and make money, eh? It will be better for you, you think, to be a business man, to be
brisk and smart and alive?" She waited and trembled.
The son shook his head. "I suppose I can't make you understand, but oh, I
wish I could," he said earnestly. "I can't even talk to father about it. I don't try. There
isn't any use. I don't know what I shall do. I just want to go away and look at people
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 17
Silence fell upon the room where the boy and woman sat together. Again,
as on the other evenings, they were embarrassed. After a time the boy tried again to
talk. "I suppose it won't be for a year or two but I've been thinking about it," he said,
rising and going toward the door. "Something father said makes it sure that I shall
have to go away." He fumbled with the doorknob. In the room the silence became
unbearable to the woman. She wanted to cry out with joy because of the words that
had come from the lips of her son, but the expression of joy had become impossible
to her. "I think you had better go out among the boys. You are too much indoors,"
she said. "I thought I would go for a little walk," replied the son stepping awkwardly
out of the room and closing the door.
Concerning Doctor Parcival
Doctor Parcival was a large man with a drooping mouth covered by a yellow mustache.
He always wore a dirty white waistcoat out of the pockets of which protruded a
number of the kind of black cigars known as stogies. His teeth were black and irregular
and there was something strange about his eyes. The lid of the left eye twitched; it
fell down and snapped up; it was exactly as though the lid of the eye were a window
shade and someone stood inside the doctor's head playing with the cord.
Doctor Parcival had a liking for the boy, George Willard. It began when
George had been working for a year on the Winesburg Eagle and the acquaintanceship
was entirely a matter of the doctor's own making.
In the late afternoon Will Henderson, owner and editor of the Eagle, went
over to Tom Willy's saloon. Along an alleyway he went and slipping in at the back
door of the saloon began drinking a drink made of a combination of sloe gin and
soda water. Will Henderson was a sensualist and had reached the age of forty-five.
He imagined the gin renewed the youth in him. Like most sensualists he enjoyed
talking of women, and for an hour he lingered about gossiping with Tom Willy. The
saloon keeper was a short, broad-shouldered man with peculiarly marked hands.
That flaming kind of birthmark that sometimes paints with red the faces of men and
women had touched with red Tom Willy's fingers and the backs of his hands. As he
stood by the bar talking to Will Henderson he rubbed the hands together. As he grew
more and more excited the red of his fingers deepened. It was as though the hands
had been dipped in blood that had dried and faded.
As Will Henderson stood at the bar looking at the red hands and talking of
women, his assistant, George Willard, sat in the office of the Winesburg Eagle and
listened to the talk of Doctor Parcival.
Doctor Parcival appeared immediately after Will Henderson had
disappeared. One might have supposed that the doctor had been watching from his
office window and had seen the editor going along the alleyway. Coming in at the
front door and finding himself a chair, he lighted one of the stogies and crossing his
legs began to talk. He seemed intent upon convincing the boy of the advisability of
18 • Sherwood Anderson
adopting a line of conduct that he was himself unable to define.
"If you have your eyes open you will see that although I call myself a doctor
I have mighty few patients," he began. "There is a reason for that. It is not an accident
and it is not because I do not know as much of medicine as anyone here. I do not
want patients. The reason, you see, does not appear on the surface. It lies in fact in
my character, which has, if you think about it, many strange turns. Why I want to
talk to you of the matter I don't know. I might keep still and get more credit in your
eyes. I have a desire to make you admire me, that's a fact. I don't know why. That's
why I talk. It's very amusing, eh?"
Sometimes the doctor launched into long tales concerning himself. To the
boy the tales were very real and full of meaning. He began to admire the fat unclean-
looking man and, in the afternoon when Will Henderson had gone, looked forward
with keen interest to the doctor's coming.
Doctor Parcival had been in Winesburg about five years. He came from
Chicago and when he arrived was drunk and got into a fight with Albert Longworth,
the baggageman. The fight concerned a trunk and ended by the doctor's being escorted
to the village lockup. When he was released he rented a room above a shoe-repairing
shop at the lower end of Main Street and put out the sign that announced himself as
a doctor. Although he had but few patients and these of the poorer sort who were
unable to pay, he seemed to have plenty of money for his needs. He slept in the office
that was unspeakably dirty and dined at Biff Carter's Lunch Room in a small frame
building opposite the railroad station. In the summer the lunch room was filled with
flies and Biff Carter's white apron was more dirty than his floor. Doctor Parcival did
not mind. Into the lunch room he stalked and deposited twenty cents upon the
counter. "Feed me what you wish for that," he said laughing. "Use up food that you
wouldn't otherwise sell. It makes no difference to me. I am a man of distinction, you
see. Why should I concern myself with what I eat."
The tales that Doctor Parcival told George Willard began nowhere and
ended nowhere. Sometimes the boy thought they must all be inventions, a pack of
lies. And then again he was convinced that they contained the very essence of truth.
"I was a reporter, like you here," Doctor Parcival began. "It was in a town in
Iowa — or was it in Illinois? I don't remember and anyway it makes no difference.
Perhaps I am trying to conceal my identity and don't want to be very definite. Have
you never thought it strange that I have money for my needs although I do nothing?
I may have stolen a great sum of money or been involved in a murder before I came
here. There is food for thought in that, eh? If you were a really smart newspaper
reporter you would look me up. In Chicago there was a Doctor Cronin who was
murdered. Have you heard of that? Some men murdered him and put him in a
trunk. In the early morning they hauled the trunk across the city. It sat on the back
of an express wagon and they were on the seat as unconcerned as anything. Along
they went through quiet streets where everyone was asleep. The sun was just coming
up over the lake. Funny, eh — just to think of them smoking pipes and chattering as
they drove along as unconcerned as I am now. Perhaps I was one of those men. That
would be a strange turn of things, now wouldn't it, eh?" Again Doctor Parcival began
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 19
his tale: "Well, anyway there I was, a reporter on a paper just as you are here, running
about and getting little items to print. My mother was poor. She took in washing.
Her dream was to make me a Presbyterian minister and I was studying with that end
"My father had been insane for a number of years. He was in an asylum
over at Dayton, Ohio. There, you see, I have let it slip out! All of this took place in
Ohio, right here in Ohio. There is a clew if you ever get the notion of looking me up.
"I was going to tell you of my brother. That's the object of all this. That's
what I'm getting at. My brother was a railroad painter and had a job on the Big Four.
You know that road runs through Ohio here. With other men he lived in a box car
and away they went from town to town painting the railroad property — switches,
crossing gates, bridges, and stations.
"The Big Four paints its stations a nasty orange color. How I hated that
color! My brother was always covered with it. On pay days he used to get drunk and
come home wearing his paint-covered clothes and bringing his money with him. He
did not give it to mother but laid it in a pile on our kitchen table.
"About the house he went in the clothes covered with the nasty orange
colored paint. I can see the picture. My mother, who was small and had red, sad-
looking eyes, would come into the house from a little shed at the back. That's where
she spent her time over the washtub scrubbing people's dirty clothes. In she would
come and stand by the table, rubbing her eyes with her apron that was covered with
'"Don't touch it! Don't you dare touch that money,' my brother roared, and
then he himself took five or ten dollars and went tramping off to the saloons. When
he had spent what he had taken he came back for more. He never gave my mother
any money at all but stayed about until he had spent it all, a little at a time. Then he
went back to his job with the painting crew on the railroad. After he had gone things
began to arrive at our house, groceries and such things. Sometimes there would be a
dress for mother or a pair of shoes for me.
"Strange, eh? My mother loved my brother much more than she did me,
although he never said a kind word to either of us and always raved up and down
threatening us if we dared so much as touch the money that sometimes lay on the
table three days.
"We got along pretty well. I studied to be a minister and prayed. I was a
regular ass about saying prayers. You should have heard me. When my father died I
prayed all night, just as I did sometimes when my brother was in town drinking and
going about buying the things for us. In the evening after supper I knelt by the table
where the money lay and prayed for hours. When no one was looking I stole a dollar
or two and put it in my pocket. That makes me laugh now but then it was terrible. It
was on my mind all the time. I got six dollars a week from my job on the paper and
always took it straight home to mother. The few dollars I stole from my brother's pile
I spent on myself, you know, for trifles, candy and cigarettes and such things.
"When my father died at the asylum over at Dayton, I went over there. I
borrowed some money from the man for whom I worked and went on the train at
20 • Sherwood Anderson
night. It was raining. In the asylum they treated me as though I were a king.
"The men who had jobs in the asylum had found out I was a newspaper
reporter. That made them afraid. There had been some negligence, some carelessness,
you see, when father was ill. They thought perhaps I would write it up in the paper
and make a fuss. I never intended to do anything of the kind.
"Anyway, in I went to the room where my father lay dead and blessed the
dead body. I wonder what put that notion into my head. Wouldn't my brother, the
painter, have laughed, though. There I stood over the dead body and spread out my
hands. The superintendent of the asylum and some of his helpers came in and stood
about looking sheepish. It was very amusing. I spread out my hands and said, 'Let
peace brood over this carcass.' That's what I said."
Jumping to his feet and breaking off the tale, Doctor Parcival began to walk
up and down in the office of the Wines burg Eagle where George Willard sat listening.
He was awkward and, as the office was small, continually knocked against things.
"What a fool I am to be talking," he said. "That is not my object in coming here and
forcing my acquaintanceship upon you. I have something else in mind. You are a
reporter just as I was once and you have attracted my attention. You may end by
becoming just such another fool. I want to warn you and keep on warning you.
That's why I seek you out."
Doctor Parcival began talking of George Willard's attitude toward men. It
seemed to the boy that the man had but one object in view, to make everyone seem
despicable. "I want to fill you with hatred and contempt so that you will be a superior
being," he declared. "Look at my brother. There was a fellow, eh? He despised everyone,
you see. You have no idea with what contempt he looked upon mother and me. And
was he not our superior? You know he was. You have not seen him and yet I have
made you feel that. I have given you a sense of it. He is dead. Once when he was
drunk he lay down on the tracks and the car in which he lived with the other painters
ran over him."
One day in August Doctor Parcival had an adventure in Winesburg. For a
month George Willard had been going each morning to spend an hour in the doctor's
office. The visits came about through a desire on the part of the doctor to read to the
boy from the pages of a book he was in the process of writing. To write the book
Doctor Parcival declared was the object of his coming to Winesburg to live.
On the morning in August, before the coming of the boy, an incident had
happened in the doctor's office. There had been an accident on Main Street. A team
of horses had been frightened by a train and had run away. A little girl, the daughter
of a farmer, had been thrown from a buggy and killed.
On Main Street everyone had become excited and a cry for doctors had
gone up. All three of the active practitioners of the town had come quickly but had
found the child dead. From the crowd someone had run to the office of Doctor
Parcival who had bluntly refused to go down out of his office to the dead child. The
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 21
useless cruelty of his refusal had passed unnoticed. Indeed, the man who had come
up the stairway to summon him had hurried away without hearing the refusal.
All of this, Doctor Parcival did not know and when George Willard came
to his office he found the man shaking with terror. "What I have done will arouse the
people of this town," he declared excitedly. "Do I not know human nature? Do I not
know what will happen? Word of my refusal will be whispered about. Presently men
will get together in groups and talk of it. They will come here. We will quarrel and
there will be talk of hanging. Then they will come again bearing a rope in their
Doctor Parcival shook with fright. "I have a presentiment," he declared
emphatically. "It may be that what I am talking about will not occur this morning. It
may be put off until tonight but I will be hanged. Everyone will get excited. I will be
hanged to a lamp-post on Main Street."
Going to the door of his dirty little office, Doctor Parcival looked timidly
down the stairway leading to the street. When he returned the fright that had been in
his eyes was beginning to be replaced by doubt. Coming on tiptoe across the room
he tapped George Willard on the shoulder. "If not now, sometime," he whispered,
shaking his head. "In the end I will be crucified, uselessly crucified."
Doctor Parcival began to plead with George Willard. "You must pay attention
to me," he urged. "If something happens perhaps you will be able to write the book
that I may never get written. The idea is very simple, so simple that if you are not
careful you will forget it. It is this — that everyone in the world is Christ and they are
all crucified. That's what I want to say. Don't you forget that. Whatever happens,
don't you dare let yourself forget."
Concerning Alice Hindman
Alice Hindman, a woman of twenty-seven when George Willard was a mere boy, had
lived in Winesburg all her life. She clerked in Winney's Dry Goods Store and lived
with her mother, who had married a second husband.
Alice's step-father was a carriage painter, and given to drink. His story is an
odd one. It will be worth telling someday.
At twenty-seven Alice was tall and somewhat slight. Her head was large and
overshadowed her body. Her shoulders were a little stooped and her hair and eyes
brown. She was very quiet but beneath a placid exterior a continual ferment went on.
When she was a girl of sixteen and before she began to work in the store,
Alice had an affair with a young man. The young man, named Ned Currie, was older
than Alice. He, like George Willard, was employed on the Winesburg Eagle and for a
long time he went to see Alice almost every evening. Together the two walked under
the trees through the streets of the town and talked of what they would do with their
lives. Alice was then a very pretty girl and Ned Currie took her into his arms and
kissed her. He became excited and said things he did not intend to say and Alice,
22 • Sherwood Anderson
betrayed by her desire to have something beautiful come into her rather narrow life,
also grew excited. She also talked. The outer crust of her life, all of her natural diffidence
and reserve, was torn away and she gave herself over to the emotions of love. When,
late in the fall of her sixteenth year, Ned Currie went away to Cleveland, where he
hoped to get a place on a city newspaper and rise in the world, she wanted to go with
him. With a trembling voice she told him what was in her mind. "I will work and
you can work," she said. "I do not want to harness you to a needless expense that will
prevent your making progress. Don't marry me now. We will get along without that
and we can be together. Even though we live in the same house no one will say
anything. In the city we will be unknown and people will pay no attention to us."
Ned Currie was puzzled by the determination and abandon of his sweetheart
and was also deeply touched. He had wanted the girl to become his mistress but
changed his mind. He wanted to protect and care for her. "You don't know what
you're talking about," he said sharply. "You may be sure I'll let you do no such thing.
As soon as I get a good job I'll come back. For the present you'll have to stay here. It's
the only thing we can do."
On the evening before he left Winesburg to take up his new life in the city,
Ned Currie went to call on Alice. They walked about through the streets for an hour
and then got a rig from Wesley Moyer's livery and went for a drive in the country.
The moon came up and they found themselves unable to talk. In his sadness the
young man forgot the resolutions he had made regarding his conduct with the girl.
They got out of the buggy at a place where a long meadow ran down to the
bank of Wine Creek and there in the dim light became lovers. When at midnight
they returned to town they were both glad. It did not seem to them that anything
that could happen in the future could blot out the wonder and beauty of the thing
that had happened. "Now we will have to stick to each other, whatever happens we
will have to do that," Ned Currie said as he left the girl at her father's door.
The young newspaper man did not succeed in getting a place on a Cleveland
paper and went west to Chicago. For a time he was lonely and wrote to Alice almost
every day. Then he was caught up by the life of the city; he began to make friends and
found new interests in life. In Chicago he boarded at a house where there were several
women. One of them attracted his attention and he forgot Alice in Winesburg. At
the end of a year he had stopped writing letters, and only once in a long time, when
he was lonely or when he went into one of the city parks and saw the moon shining
on the grass as it had shone that night on the meadow by Wine Creek, did he think
of her at all.
In Winesburg the girl who had been loved grew to be a woman. When she
was twenty-two years old her father, who owned a harness repair shop, died suddenly.
The harness maker was an old soldier, and after a few months his wife received a
widow's pension. She used the first money she got to buy a loom and became a
weaver of carpets, and Alice got a place in Winney's store. For a number of years
nothing could have induced her to believe that Ned Currie would not in the end
return to her.
She was glad to be employed because the daily round of toil in the store
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 23
made the time of waiting seem less long and uninteresting. She began to save money,
thinking that when she had saved two or three hundred dollars she would follow her
lover to the city and try if her presence would not win back his affections.
Alice did not blame Ned Currie for what had happened in the moonlight
in the field, but felt that she could never marry another man. To her the thought of
giving to another what she still felt could belong only to Ned seemed monstrous.
When other young men tried to attract her attention she would have nothing to do
with them. "I am his wife and shall remain his wife whether he comes back or not,"
she whispered to herself, and for all of her willingness to support herself could not
have understood the growing modern idea of a woman's owning herself and giving
and taking for her own ends in life.
Alice worked in the dry goods store from eight in the morning until six at
night and on three evenings a week went back to the store to stay from seven until
nine. As time passed and she became more and more lonely she began to practice the
devices common to lonely people. When at night she went upstairs into her own
room she knelt on the floor to pray and in her prayers whispered things she wanted
to say to her lover. She became attached to inanimate objects, and because it was her
own, could not bare to have anyone touch the furniture of her room. The trick of
saving money, begun for a purpose, was carried on after the scheme of going to the
city to find Ned Currie had been given up. It became a fixed habit, and when she
needed new clothes she did not get them. Sometimes on rainy afternoons in the store
she got out her bank book and, letting it lie open before her, spent hours dreaming
impossible dreams of saving money enough so that the interest would support both
herself and her future husband.
"Ned always liked to travel about," she thought. "I'll give him the chance.
Someday, when we are married and I can save both his money and my own, we will
be rich. Then we can travel together all over the world."
In the dry goods store weeks ran into months and months into years as
Alice waited and dreamed of her lover's return. Her employer, a grey old man with
false teeth and a thin grey mustache that drooped down over his mouth, was not
given to conversation, and sometimes, on rainy days and in the winter when a storm
raged in Main Street, long hours passed when no customers came in. Alice arranged
and rearranged the stock. She stood near the front window where she could look
down the deserted street and thought of the evenings when she had walked with
Ned Currie and of what he had said. "We will have to stick to each other now." The
words echoed and re-echoed through the mind of the maturing woman. Tears came
into her eyes. Sometimes when her employer had gone out and she was alone in the
store she put her head on the counter and wept. "Oh, Ned, I am waiting," she
whispered over and over, and all the time the creeping fear that he would never come
back grew stronger within her.
In the spring, when the rains have passed and before the long hot days of
summer have come, the country about Winesburg is delightful. The town lies in the
midst of open fields, but beyond the fields are pleasant patches of woodlands. In the
wooded places are many little cloistered nooks, quiet places where lovers go to sit on
24 • Sherwood Anderson
Sunday afternoons. Through the trees they look out across the fields and see farmers
at work about the barns or people driving up and down on the roads. In the town
bells ring and occasionally a train passes, looking like a toy thing in the distance.
For several years after Ned Currie went away Alice did not go into the
woods with the other young people on Sunday, but one day after he had been gone
for two or three years and when her loneliness seemed unbearable, she put on her
best dress and set out. Finding a little sheltered place from which she could see the
town and a long stretch of the fields, she sat down. Fear of age and ineffectuality took
possession of her. She could not sit still, and arose. As she stood looking out over the
land something, perhaps the thought of never-ceasing life as it expresses itself in the
flow of the seasons, fixed her mind on the passing years. With a shiver of dread, she
realized that for her the beauty and freshness of youth had passed. For the first time
she felt that she had been cheated. She did not blame Ned Currie and did not know
what to blame. Sadness swept over her. Dropping to her knees, she tried to pray, but
instead of prayers words of protest came to her lips. "It is not going to come to me. I
will never find happiness. Why do I tell myself lies?" she cried, and an odd sense of
relief came with this, her first bold attempt to face the fear that had become a part of
her everyday life.
In the year when Alice Hindman became twenty-five two things happened
to disturb the dull uneventfulness of her days. Her mother married Bush Milton, the
carriage painter of Winesburg, and she herself became a member of the Winesburg
Methodist Church. Alice joined the church because she had become frightened by
the loneliness of her position in life. Her mother's second marriage had emphasized
her isolation. "I am becoming old and queer. If Ned comes he will not want me. In
the city where he is living men are perpetually young. There is so much going on that
they do not have time to grow old," she told herself with a grim little smile, and went
resolutely about the business of becoming acquainted with people. Every Thursday
evening when the store had closed she went to a prayer meeting in the basement of
the church and on Sunday evening attended a meeting of an organization called The
When Will Hurley, a middle-aged man who clerked in a drug store and
who also belonged to the church, offered to walk home with her she did not protest.
"Of course I will not let him make a practice of being with me, but if he comes to see
me once in a long time there can be no harm in that," she told herself, still determined
in her loyalty to Ned Currie.
Without realizing what was happening, Alice was trying feebly at first, but
with growing determination, to get a new hold upon life. Beside the drug clerk she
walked in silence, but sometimes in the darkness as they went stolidly along she put
out her hand and touched softly the folds of his coat. When he left her at the gate
before her mother's house she did not go indoors, but stood for a moment by the
door. She wanted to call to the drug clerk, to ask him to sit with her in the darkness
on the porch before the house, but was afraid he would not understand. "It is not
him that I want," she told herself; "I want to avoid being so much alone. If I am not
careful I will grow unaccustomed to being with people."
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 25
During the early fall of her twenty-seventh year a passionate restlessness
took possession of Alice. She could not bear to be in the company of the drug clerk,
and when, in the evening, he came to walk with her she sent him away. Her mind
became intensely active and when, weary from the long hours of standing behind the
counter in the store, she went home and crawled into bed, she could not sleep. With
staring eyes she looked into the darkness. Her imagination, like a child awakened
from long sleep, played about the room. Deep within her there was something that
would not be cheated by fantasies and that demanded some definite answer from
Alice took a pillow into her arms and held it tightly against her breasts.
Getting out of bed, she arranged a blanket so that in the darkness it looked like a
form lying between the sheets and, kneeling beside the bed, she caressed it, whispering
words over and over, like a refrain. "Why doesn't something happen? Why am I left
here alone?" she muttered. Although she sometimes thought of Ned Currie, she no
longer depended on him. Her desire had grown vague. She did not want Ned Currie
or any other man. She wanted to be loved, to have something answer the call that
was growing louder and louder within her.
And then one night when it rained Alice had an adventure. It frightened
and confused her. She had come home from the store at nine and found the house
empty. Bush Milton had gone off to town and her mother to the house of a neighbor.
Alice went upstairs to her room and undressed in the darkness. For a moment she
stood by the window hearing the rain beat against the glass and then a strange desire
took possession of her. Without stopping to think of what she intended to do, she
ran downstairs through the dark house and out into the rain. As she stood on the
little grass plot before the house and felt the cold rain on her body a mad desire to
run naked through the streets took possession of her.
She thought that the rain would have some creative and wonderful effect
on her body. Not for years had she felt so full of youth and courage. She wanted to
leap and run, to cry out, to find some other lonely human and embrace him. On the
brick sidewalk before the house a man stumbled homeward. Alice started to run. A
wild, desperate mood took possession of her. "What do I care who it is? He is alone,
and I will go to him," she thought; and then without stopping to consider the possible
result of her madness, called softly. "Wait!" she cried. "Don't go away. Whoever you
are, you must wait."
The man on the sidewalk stopped and stood listening. He was an old man
and somewhat deaf. Putting his hand to his mouth, he shouted. "What? What say?"
Alice dropped to the ground and lay trembling. She was so frightened at
the thought of what she had done that when the man had gone on his way she did
not dare get to her feet, but crawled on hands and knees through the grass to the
house. When she got to her own room she bolted the door and drew her dressing
table across the doorway. Her body shook as with a chill and her hands trembled so
26 • Sherwood Anderson
that she had difficulty getting into her nightdress. When she got into bed she buried
her face in the pillow and wept broken-heartedly. "What is the matter with me? I will
do something dreadful if I am not careful," she thought, and turning her face to the
wall, began trying to force herself to face bravely the fact that many people must live
and die alone, even in Winesburg.
THE STRENGTH OF GOD
Concerning the Reverend Curtis Hartman
The Reverend Curtis Hartman was pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Winesburg,
and had been in that position ten years. He was forty years old, and by his nature
very silent and reticent. To preach, standing in the pulpit before the people, was
always a hardship for him and from Wednesday morning until Saturday evening he
thought of nothing but the two sermons that must be preached on Sunday. Early on
Sunday morning he went into a little room called a study in the bell tower of the
church and prayed. In his prayers there was one note that always predominated.
"Give me strength and courage for Thy work, O Lord!" he pleaded, kneeling on the
bare floor and bowing his head in the presence of the task that lay before him.
The Reverend Hartman was a tall man with a brown beard. His wife, a
stout, nervous woman, was the daughter of a manufacturer of underwear at Cleveland,
Ohio. The minister himself was rather a favorite in the town. The elders of the church
liked him because he was quiet and unpretentious and Mrs. White, the banker's wife,
thought him scholarly and refined.
The Presbyterian Church held itself somewhat aloof from the other churches
of Winesburg. It was larger and more imposing and its minister was better paid. He
even had a carriage of his own and on summer evenings sometimes drove about town
with his wife. Through Main Street and up and down Buckeye Street he went, bowing
gravely to the people, while his wife, afire with secret pride, looked at him out of the
corners of her eyes and worried lest the horse become frightened and run away.
For a good many years after he came to Winesburg things went well with
Curtis Hartman. He was not one to arouse keen enthusiasm among the worshippers
in his church but on the other hand he made no enemies. In reality he was much in
earnest and sometimes suffered prolonged periods of remorse because he could not
go crying the word of God in the highways and byways of the town. He wondered if
the flame of the spirit really burned in him and dreamed of a day when a strong sweet
new current of power would come like a great wind into his voice and his soul and
the people would tremble before the spirit of God made manifest in him. "I am a
poor stick and that will never really happen to me," he mused dejectedly, and then a
patient smile lit up his features. "Oh well, I suppose I'm doing well enough," he
The room in the bell tower of the church, where on Sunday mornings the
minister prayed for an increase in him of the power of God, had but one window. It
was long and narrow and swung outward on a hinge like a door. On the window,
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 27
made of little leaded panes, was a design showing the Christ laying his hand upon
the head of a child. One Sunday morning in the summer as he sat by his desk in the
room with a large Bible opened before him, and the sheets of his sermon scattered
about, the minister was shocked to see, in the upper room of the house next door, a
woman lying in her bed and smoking a cigarette while she read a book. Curtis Hartman
went on tiptoe to the window and closed it softly. He was horror stricken at the
thought of a woman smoking and trembled also to think that his eyes, just raised
from the pages of the book of God, had looked upon the bare shoulders and white
throat of a woman. With his brain in a whirl he went down into the pulpit and
preached a long sermon without once thinking of his gestures or his voice. The sermon
attracted unusual attention because of its power and clearness. "I wonder if she is
listening, if my voice is carrying a message into her soul," he thought and began to
hope that on future Sunday mornings he might be able to say words that would
touch and awaken the woman apparently far gone in secret sin.
The house next door to the Presbyterian Church, through the window of
which the minister had seen the sight that had so upset him, was occupied by two
women. Aunt Elizabeth Swift, a grey competent-looking widow with money in the
Winesburg National Bank, lived there with her daughter Kate Swift, a school teacher.
The school teacher was thirty years old and had a neat trim-looking figure. She had
few friends and bore a reputation of having a sharp tongue. When he began to think
about her, Curtis Hartman remembered that she had been to Europe and had lived
for two years in New York City. "Perhaps after all her smoking means nothing," he
thought. He began to remember that when he was a student in college and occasionally
read novels, good although somewhat worldly women had smoked through the pages
of a book that had once fallen into his hands. With a rush of new determination he
worked on his sermons all through the week and forgot, in his zeal to reach the ears
and the soul of this new listener, both his embarrassment in the pulpit and the necessity
of prayer in the study on Sunday mornings.
Reverend Hartman's experience with women had been somewhat limited.
He was the son of a wagon maker from Muncie, Indiana, and had worked his way
through college. The daughter of the underwear manufacturer had boarded in a
house where he lived during his school days and he had married her after a formal
and prolonged courtship, carried on for the most part by the girl herself. On his
marriage day the underwear manufacturer had given his daughter five thousand dollars
and he promised to leave her at least twice that amount in his will. The minister had
thought himself fortunate in marriage and had never permitted himself to think of
other women. He did not want to think of other women. What he wanted was to do
the work of God quietly and earnestly.
In the soul of the minister a struggle awoke. From wanting to reach the ears
of Kate Swift, and through his sermons to delve into her soul, he began to want also
to look again at the figure lying white and quiet in the bed. On a Sunday morning
when he could not sleep because of his thoughts he arose and went to walk in the
streets. When he had gone along Main Street almost to the old Richmond place he
stopped and picking up a stone rushed off to the room in the bell tower. With the
28 • Sherwood Anderson
stone he broke out a corner of the window and then locked the door and sat down at
the desk before the open Bible to wait. When the shade of the window to Kate Swift's
room was raised he could see, through the hole, directly into her bed, but she was not
there. She also had arisen and had gone for a walk and the hand that raised the shade
was the hand of Aunt Elizabeth Swift.
The minister almost wept with joy at this deliverance from the carnal desire
to "peep" and went back to his own house praising God. In an ill moment he forgot,
however, to stop the hole in the window. The piece of glass broken out at the corner
of the window just nipped off the bare heel of the boy standing motionless and
looking with rapt eyes into the face of the Christ.
Curtis Hartman forgot his sermon on that Sunday morning. He talked to
his congregation and in his talk said that it was a mistake for people to think of their
minister as a man set aside and intended by nature to lead a blameless life. "Out of
my own experience I know that we, who are the ministers of God's word, are beset by
the same temptations that assail you," he declared. "I have been tempted and have
surrendered to temptation. It is only the hand of God, placed beneath my head, that
has raised me up. As he has raised me so also will he raise you. Do not despair. In
your hour of sin raise your eyes to the skies and you will be again and again saved."
Resolutely the minister put the thoughts of the woman in the bed out of his
mind and began to be something like a lover in the presence of his wife. One evening
when they drove out together he turned the horse out of Buckeye Street and in the
darkness on Gospel Hill, above Waterworks Pond, put his arm about Sarah Hartman's
waist. When he had eaten breakfast in the morning and was ready to retire to his
study at the back of his house he went around the table and kissed his wife on the
cheek. When thoughts of Kate Swift came into his head, he smiled and raised his
eyes to the skies. "Intercede for me, Master," he muttered, "keep me in the narrow
path intent on Thy work."
And now began the real struggle in the soul of the brown-bearded minister.
By chance he discovered that Kate Swift was in the habit of lying in her bed in the
evening and reading a book. A lamp stood on a table by the side of the bed and the
light streamed down upon her white shoulders and bare throat. On the evening
when he made the discovery the minister sat at the desk in the study from nine until
after eleven and when her light was put out stumbled out of the church to spend two
more hours walking and praying in the streets. He did not want to kiss the shoulders
and the throat of Kate Swift and had not allowed his mind to dwell on such thoughts.
He did not know what he wanted. "I am God's child and he must save me from
myself," he cried, in the darkness under the trees as he wandered in the streets. By a
tree he stood and looked at the sky that was covered with hurrying clouds. He began
to talk to God intimately and closely. "Please, Father, do not forget me. Give me
power to go tomorrow and repair the hole in the window. Lift my eyes again to the
skies. Stay with me, Thy servant, in his hour of need."
Up and down through the silent streets walked the minister and for days
and weeks his soul was troubled. He could not understand the temptation that had
come to him nor could he fathom the reason for its coming. In a way he began to
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 29
blame God, saying to himself that he had tried to keep his feet in the true path and
had not run about seeking sin. "Through my days as a young man and all through
my life here I have gone quietly about my work," he declared. "Why now should I be
tempted? What have I done that this burden should be laid on me?"
Three times during the early fall and winter of that year Curtis Hartman
crept out of his house to the room in the bell tower to sit in the darkness looking at
the figure of Kate Swift lying in her bed and later went to walk and pray in the
streets. He could not understand himself. For weeks he would go along scarcely
thinking of the school teacher and telling himself that he had conquered the carnal
desire to look at her body. And then something would happen. As he sat in the study
of his own house, hard at work on a sermon, he would become nervous and begin to
walk up and down the room. "I will go out into the streets," he told himself and even
as he let himself in at the church door he persistently denied to himself the cause of
his being there. "I will not repair the hole in the window and I will train myself to
come here at night and sit in the presence of this woman without raising my eyes. I
will not be defeated in this thing. The Lord has devised this temptation as a test of
my soul and I will grope my way out of darkness into the light of righteousness."
One night in January when it was bitter cold and snow lay deep on the
streets of Winesburg Curtis Hartman paid his last visit to the room in the bell tower
of the church. It was past nine o'clock when he left his own house and he set out so
hurriedly that he forgot to put on his overshoes. In Main Street no one was abroad
but Hop Higgins, the night watchman, and in the whole town no one was awake but
the watchman and young George Willard, who sat in the office of the Winesburg
Eagle trying to write a story. Along the street to the church went the minister, plowing
through the drifts and thinking that this time he would utterly give way to sin. "I
want to look at the woman and to think of kissing her shoulders and I am going to
let myself think what I choose," he declared bitterly and tears came into his eyes. He
began to think that he would get out of the ministry and try some other way of life.
"I shall go to some city and get into business," he declared. "If my nature is such that
I cannot resist sin, I shall give myself over to sin. At least I shall not be a hypocrite,
preaching the word of God with my mind thinking of the shoulders and neck of a
woman who does not belong to me."
It was cold in the room of the bell tower of the church on that January
night and almost as soon as he came into the room Curtis Hartman knew that if he
stayed he would be ill. His feet were wet from tramping in the snow and there was no
fire. In the room in the house next door Kate Swift had not yet appeared. With grim
determination the man sat down to wait. Sitting in the chair and gripping the edge
of the desk on which lay the Bible he stared into the darkness thinking the blackest
thoughts of his life. He thought of his wife and for the moment almost hated her.
"She has always been ashamed of passion and has cheated me," he thought. "Man
has a right to expect living passion and beauty in a woman. He has no right to forget
that he is an animal and in me there is something that is Greek. I will throw off the
woman of my bosom and seek other women. I will besiege this school teacher. I will
fly in the face of all men and if I am a creature of carnal lusts I will live then for my
30 • Sherwood Anderson
The distracted man trembled from head to foot, partly from cold, partly
from the struggle in which he was engaged. Hours passed and a fever assailed his
body. His throat began to hurt and his teeth chattered. His feet on the study floor felt
like two cakes of ice. Still he would not give up. "I will see this woman and will think
the thoughts I have never dared to think," he told himself, gripping the edge of the
desk and waiting.
Curtis Hartman came near dying from the effects of that night of waiting
in the church, and also he found in the thing that happened what he took to be the
way of life for him. On other evenings when he had waited he had not been able to
see, through the little hole in the glass, any part of the school teacher's room except
that occupied by her bed. In the darkness he had waited until the woman suddenly
appeared sitting in the bed in her white nightrobe. When the light was turned up she
propped herself up among the pillows and read a book. Sometimes she smoked one
of the cigarettes. Only her bare shoulders and throat were visible.
On the January night, after he had come near dying with cold and after his
mind had two or three times actually slipped away into an odd land of fantasy so that
he had by an exercise of will power to force himself back into consciousness, Kate
Swift appeared. In the room next door a lamp was lighted and the waiting man
stared into an empty bed. Then upon the bed before his eyes a naked woman threw
herself. Lying face downward she wept and beat with her fists upon the pillow. With
a final outburst of weeping she half arose, and in the presence of the man who had
waited to look and not to think thoughts the woman of sin began to pray. In the
lamplight her figure, slim and strong, looked like the figure of the boy in the presence
of the Christ on the leaded window.
Curtis Hartman never remembered how he got out of the church. With a
cry he arose, dragging the heavy desk along the floor. The Bible fell, making a great
clatter in the silence. When the light in the house next door went out he stumbled
down the stairway and into the street. Along the street he went and ran in at the door
of the Winesburg Eagle. To George Willard, who was tramping up and down in the
office undergoing a struggle of his own, he began to talk half incoherently. "The
ways of God are beyond human understanding," he cried, running in quickly and
closing the door. He began to advance upon the young man, his eyes glowing and his
voice ringing with fervor. "I have found the light," he cried. "After ten years in this
town, God has manifested himself to me in the body of a woman." His voice dropped
and he began to whisper. "I did not understand," he said. "What I took to be a trial
of my soul was only a preparation for a new and more beautiful fervor of the spirit.
God has appeared to me in the person of Kate Swift, the school teacher, kneeling
naked on a bed. Do you know Kate Swift? Although she may not be aware of it, she
is an instrument of God, bearing the message of truth."
Reverend Curtis Hartman turned and ran out of the office. At the door he
stopped, and after looking up and down the deserted street, turned again to George
Willard. "I am delivered. Have no fear." He held up a bleeding fist for the young
man to see. "I smashed the glass of the window," he cried. "Now it will have to be
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 31
wholly replaced. The strength of God was in me and I broke it with my fist.
Concerning Kate Swift
Snow lay deep in the streets of Winesburg. It had begun to snow about ten o'clock in
the morning and a wind sprang up and blew the snow in clouds along Main Street.
The frozen mud roads that led into town were fairly smooth and in places ice covered
the mud. "There will be good sleighing," said Will Henderson, standing by the bar
in Ed Griffith's saloon. Out of the saloon he went and met Sylvester West, the druggist,
stumbling along in the kind of heavy overshoes called arctics. "Snow will bring the
people into town on Saturday," said the druggist. The two men stopped and discussed
their affairs. Will Henderson, who had on a light overcoat and no overshoes, kicked
the heel of his left foot with the toe of the right. "Snow will be good for the wheat,"
observed the druggist sagely.
Young George Willard, who had nothing to do, was glad because he did
not feel like working that day. The weekly paper had been printed and taken to the
post office on Wednesday evening and the snow began to fall on Thursday. At eight
o'clock, after the morning train had passed, he put a pair of skates in his pocket and
went up to Waterworks Pond but did not go skating. Past the pond and along a path
that followed Wine Creek he went until he came to a grove of beech trees. There he
built a fire against the side of a log and sat down at the end of the log to think. When
the snow began to fall and the wind to blow he hurried about getting fuel for the fire.
The young reporter was thinking of Kate Swift, who had once been his
school teacher. On the evening before he had gone to her house to get a book she
wanted him to read and had been alone with her for an hour. For the fourth or fifth
time the woman had talked to him with great earnestness and he could not make out
what she meant by her talk. He began to believe she must be in love with him and the
thought was both pleasing and annoying.
Up from the log he sprang and began to pile sticks on the fire. Looking
about to be sure he was alone he talked aloud pretending he was in the presence of
the woman. "Oh, you're just letting on, you know you are," he declared. "I am going
to find out about you. You wait and see."
The young man got up and went back along the path toward town leaving
the fire blazing in the woods. As he went through the streets the skates clanked in his
pocket. In his own room in the New Willard House he built a fire in the stove and lay
down on top of the bed. He began to have lustful thoughts and pulling down the
shade of the window closed his eyes and turned his face to the wall. He took a pillow
into his arms and embraced it thinking first of the school teacher, who by her words
had stirred something within him, and later of Helen White, the slim daughter of
the town banker, with whom he had been for a long time half in love.
By nine o'clock of that evening snow lay deep in the streets and the weather
had become bitter cold. It was difficult to walk about. The stores were dark and the
32 • Sherwood Anderson
people had crawled away to their houses. The evening train from Cleveland was very
late but nobody was interested in its arrival. By ten o'clock all but four of the eighteen
hundred citizens of the town were in bed.
Hop Higgins, the night watchman, was partially awake. He was lame and
carried a heavy stick. On dark nights he carried a lantern. Between nine and ten
o'clock he went his rounds. Up and down Main Street he stumbled through the
drifts trying the doors of the stores. Then he went into alleyways and tried the back
doors. Finding all tight he hurried around the corner to the New Willard House and
beat on the door. Through the rest of the night he intended to stay by the stove. "You
go to bed. I'll keep the stove going," he said to the boy who slept on a cot in the hotel
Hop Higgins sat down by the stove and took off his shoes. When the boy
had gone to sleep he began to think of his own affairs. He intended to paint his
house in the spring and sat by the stove calculating the cost of paint and labor. That
led him into other calculations. The night watchman was sixty years old and wanted
to retire. He had been a soldier in the Civil War and drew a small pension. He hoped
to find some new method of making a living and aspired to become a professional
breeder of ferrets. Already he had four of the strangely shaped savage little creatures,
that are used by sportsmen in the pursuit of rabbits, in the cellar of his house. "Now
I have one male and three females," he mused. "If I am lucky by spring I shall have
twelve or fifteen. In another year I shall be able to begin advertising ferrets for sale in
the sporting papers."
The nightwatchman settled into his chair and his mind became a blank. He
did not sleep. By years of practice he had trained himself to sit for hours through the
long nights neither asleep nor awake. In the morning he was almost as refreshed as
though he had slept.
With Hop Higgins safely stowed away in the chair behind the stove only
three people were awake in Winesburg. George Willard was in the office of the Eagle
pretending to be at work on the writing of a story but in reality continuing the mood
of the morning by the fire in the woods. In the bell tower of the Presbyterian Church
the Reverend Curtis Hartman was sitting in the darkness preparing himself for a
revelation from God, and Kate Swift, the school teacher, was leaving her house for a
walk in the storm.
It was past ten o'clock when Kate Swift set out and the walk was
unpremeditated. It was as though the man and the boy, by thinking of her, had
driven her forth into the wintry streets. Aunt Elizabeth Swift had gone to the county
seat concerning some business in connection with mortgages in which she had money
invested and would not be back until the next day. By a huge stove, called a base
burner, in the living room of the house sat the daughter reading a book. Suddenly
she sprang to her feet and, snatching a cloak from a rack by the front door, ran out of
At the age of thirty Kate Swift was not known in Winesburg as a pretty
woman. Her complexion was not good and her face was covered with blotches that
indicated ill health. Alone in the night in the winter streets she was lovely. Her back
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 33
was straight, her shoulders square, and her features were as the features of a tiny
goddess on a pedestal in a garden in the dim light of a summer evening.
During the afternoon the school teacher had been to see Doctor Welling
concerning her health. The doctor had scolded her and had declared she was in
danger of losing her hearing. It was foolish for Kate Swift to be abroad in the storm,
foolish and perhaps dangerous.
The woman in the streets did not remember the words of the doctor and
would not have turned back had she remembered. She was very cold but after walking
for five minutes no longer minded the cold. First she went to the end of her own
street and then across a pair of hay scales set in the ground before a feed barn and
into Trunion Pike. Along Trunion Pike she went to Ned Winters' barn and turning
east followed a street of low frame houses that led over Gospel Hill and into Sucker
Road that ran down a shallow valley past Ike Smead's chicken farm to Waterworks
Pond. As she went along, the bold, excited mood that had driven her out of doors
passed and then returned again.
There was something biting and forbidding in the character of Kate Swift.
Everyone felt it. In the schoolroom she was silent, cold, and stern, and yet in an odd
way very close to her pupils. Once in a long while something seemed to have come
over her and she was happy. All of the children in the schoolroom felt the effect of
her happiness. For a time they did not work but sat back in their chairs and looked at
With hands clasped behind her back the school teacher walked up and
down in the schoolroom and talked very rapidly. It did not seem to matter what
subject came into her mind. Once she talked to the children of Charles Lamb and
made up strange, intimate little stories concerning the life of the dead writer. The
stories were told with the air of one who had lived in a house with Charles Lamb and
knew all the secrets of his private life. The children were somewhat confused, thinking
Charles Lamb must be someone who had once lived in Winesburg.
On another occasion the teacher talked to the children of Benvenuto Cellini.
That time they laughed. What a bragging, blustering, brave, lovable fellow she made
of the old artist! Concerning him also she invented anecdotes. There was one of a
German music teacher who had a room above Cellini's lodgings in the city of Milan
that made the boys guffaw. Sugars McNutts, a fat boy with red cheeks, laughed so
hard that he became dizzy and fell off his seat and Kate Swift laughed with him.
Then suddenly she became again cold and stern.
On the winter night when she walked through the deserted snow-covered
streets, a crisis had come into the life of the school teacher. Although no one in
Winesburg would have suspected it, her life had been very adventurous. It was still
adventurous. Day by day as she worked in the schoolroom or walked in the streets,
grief, hope, and desire fought within her. Behind a cold exterior the most extraordinary
events transpired in her mind. The people of the town thought of her as a confirmed
old maid and because she spoke sharply and went her own way thought her lacking
in all the human feelings that did so much to make and mar their own lives. In reality
she was the most eagerly passionate soul among them, and more than once, in the
34 • Sherwood Anderson
five years since she had come back from her travels to settle in Winesburg and become
a school teacher, had been compelled to go out of the house and walk half through
the night fighting out some battle raging within. Once on a night when it rained she
had stayed out six hours and when she came home had a quarrel with Aunt Elizabeth
Swift. "I am glad you're not a man," said the mother sharply. "More than once I've
waited for your father to come home, not knowing what new mess he had got into.
I've had my share of uncertainty and you cannot blame me if I do not want to see the
worst side of him reproduced in you."
Kate Swift's mind was ablaze with thoughts of George Willard. In something
he had written as a school boy she thought she had recognized the spark of genius
and wanted to blow on the spark. One day in the summer she had gone to the Eagle
office and finding the boy unoccupied had taken him out Main Street to the Fair
Grounds, where the two sat on a grassy bank and talked. The school teacher tried to
bring home to the mind of the boy some conception of the difficulties he would have
to face as a writer. "You will have to know life," she declared, and her voice trembled
with earnestness. She took hold of George Willard's shoulders and turned him about
so that she could look into his eyes. A passer-by might have thought them about to
embrace. "If you are to become a writer you'll have to stop fooling with words," she
explained. "It would be better to give up the notion of writing until you are better
prepared. Now it's time to be living. I don't want to frighten you, but I would like to
make you understand the import of what you think of attempting. You must not
become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are
thinking about, not what they say."
On the evening before that stormy Thursday night when the Reverend Curtis
Hartman sat in the bell tower of the church waiting to look at her body, young
Willard had gone to visit the teacher and to borrow a book. It was then the thing
happened that confused and puzzled the boy. He had the book under his arm and
was preparing to depart. Again Kate Swift talked with great earnestness. Night was
coming on and the light in the room grew dim. As he turned to go she spoke his
name softly and with an impulsive movement took hold of his hand. Because the
reporter was rapidly becoming a man something of his man's appeal, combined with
the winsomeness of the boy, stirred the heart of the lonely woman. A passionate
desire to have him understand the import of life, to learn to interpret it truly and
honestly, swept over her. Leaning forward, her lips brushed his cheek. At the same
moment he for the first time became aware of the marked beauty of her features.
They were both embarrassed, and to relieve her feelings she became harsh and
domineering. "What's the use? It will be ten years before you begin to understand
what I mean when I talk to you," she cried passionately.
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 35
On the night of the storm and while the minister sat in the church waiting
for her, Kate Swift went to the office of the Winesburg Eagle, intending to have another
talk with the boy. After the long walk in the snow she was cold, lonely, and tired. As
she came through Main Street she saw the light from the printshop window shining
on the snow and on an impulse opened the door and went in. For an hour she sat by
the stove in the office talking of life. She talked with passionate earnestness. The
impulse that had driven her out into the snow poured itself out into talk. She became
inspired as she sometimes did in the presence of the children in school. A great
eagerness to open the door of life to the boy, who had been her pupil and who she
thought might possess a talent for the understanding of life, had possession of her. So
strong was her passion that it became something physical. Again her hands took hold
of his shoulders and she turned him about. In the dim light her eyes blazed. She arose
and laughed, not sharply as was customary with her, but in a queer, hesitating way. "I
must be going," she said. "In a moment, if I stay, I'll be wanting to kiss you."
In the newspaper office a confusion arose. Kate Swift turned and walked to
the door. She was a teacher but she was also a woman. As she looked at George
Willard, the passionate desire to be loved by a man, that had a thousand times before
swept like a storm over her body, took possession of her. In the lamplight George
Willard looked no longer a boy, but a man ready to play the part of a man.
The school teacher let George Willard take her into his arms. In the warm
little office the air became suddenly heavy and the strength went out of her body.
Leaning against a low counter by the door she waited. When he came and put a hand
on her shoulder she turned and let her body fall heavily against him. For George
Willard the confusion was immediately increased. For a moment he held the body of
the woman tightly against his body and then it stiffened. Two sharp little fists began
to beat on his face. When the school teacher had run away and left him alone, he
walked up and down the office swearing furiously.
It was into this confusion that the Reverend Curtis Hartman protruded
himself. When he came in George Willard thought the town had gone mad. Shaking
a bleeding fist in the air, the minister proclaimed the woman George had only a
moment before held in his arms an instrument of God bearing a message of truth.
George blew out the lamp by the window and locking the door of the
printshop went home. Through the hotel office, past Hop Higgins lost in his dream
of the raising of ferrets, he went and up into his own room. The fire in the stove had
gone out and he undressed in the cold. When he got into bed the sheets were like
blankets of dry snow.
George Willard rolled about in the bed on which he had lain in the afternoon
hugging the pillow and thinking thoughts of Kate Swift. The words of the minister,
who he thought had gone suddenly insane, rang in his ears. His eyes stared about the
room. The resentment, natural to the baffled male, passed and he tried to understand
what had happened. He could not make it out. Over and over he turned the matter
36 • Sherwood Anderson
in his mind. Hours passed and he began to think it must be time for another day to
come. At four o'clock he pulled the covers up about his neck and tried to sleep.
When he became drowsy and closed his eyes, he raised a hand and with it groped
about in the darkness. "I have missed something. I have missed something Kate
Swift was trying to tell me," he muttered sleepily. Then he slept and in all Winesburg
he was the last soul on that winter night to go to sleep.
Concerning Belle Carpenter
Belle Carpenter had a dark skin, grey eyes, and thick lips. She was tall and strong.
When black thoughts visited her she grew angry and wished she were a man and
could fight someone with her fists. She worked in the millinery shop kept by Mrs.
Nate McHugh and during the day sat trimming hats by a window at the rear of the
store. She was the daughter of Henry Carpenter, bookkeeper in the First National
Bank of Winesburg, and lived with him in a gloomy old house far out at the end of
Buckeye Street. The house was surrounded by pine trees and there was no grass
beneath the trees. A rusty tin eaves-trough had slipped from its fastenings at the back
of the house and when the wind blew it beat against the roof of a small shed, making
a dismal drumming noise that sometimes persisted all through the night.
When she was a young girl Henry Carpenter made life almost unbearable
for Belle, but as she emerged from girlhood into womanhood he lost his power over
her. The bookkeeper's life was made up of innumerable little pettinesses. When he
went to the bank in the morning he stepped into a closet and put on a black alpaca
coat that had become shabby with age. At night when he returned to his home he
donned another black alpaca coat. Every evening he pressed the clothes worn in the
streets. He had invented an arrangement of boards for the purpose. The trousers to
his street suit were placed between the boards and the boards were clamped together
with heavy screws. In the morning he wiped the boards with a damp cloth and stood
them upright behind the dining room door. If they were moved during the day he
was speechless with anger and did not recover his equilibrium for a week.
The bank cashier was a little bully and was afraid of his daughter. She, he
realized, knew the story of his brutal treatment of her mother and hated him for it.
One day she went home at noon and carried a handful of soft mud, taken from the
road, into the house. With the mud she smeared the face of the boards used for the
pressing of trousers and then went back to her work feeling relieved and happy.
Belle Carpenter occasionally walked out in the evening with George Willard.
Secretly she loved another man, but her love affair, about which no one knew, caused
her much anxiety. She was in love with Ed Handby, bartender in Ed Griffith's Saloon,
and went about with the young reporter as a kind of relief to her feelings. She did not
think that her station in life would permit her to be seen in the company of the
bartender and walked about under the trees with George Willard and let him kiss her
to relieve a longing that was very insistent in her nature. She felt that she could keep
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 37
the younger man within bounds. About Ed Handby she was somewhat uncertain.
Handby, the bartender, was a tall, broad-shouldered man of thirty who
lived in a room upstairs above Griffith's saloon. His fists were large and his eyes
unusually small, but his voice, as though striving to conceal the power back of his
fists, was soft and quiet.
At twenty-five the bartender had inherited a large farm from an uncle in
Indiana. When sold, the farm brought in eight thousand dollars, which Ed spent in
six months. Going to Sandusky, on Lake Erie, he began an orgy of dissipation, the
story of which afterwards filled his home town with awe. Here and there he went
throwing the money about, driving carriages through the streets, giving wine parties
to crowds of men and women, playing cards for high stakes and keeping mistresses
whose wardrobes cost him hundreds of dollars. One night at a resort called Cedar
Point, he got into a fight and ran amuck like a wild thing. With his fist he broke a
large mirror in the wash room of a hotel and later went about smashing windows and
breaking chairs in dance halls for the joy of hearing the glass rattle on the floor and
seeing the terror in the eyes of clerks who had come from Sandusky to spend the
evening at the resort with their sweethearts.
The affair between Ed Handby and Belle Carpenter on the surface amounted
to nothing. He had succeeded in spending but one evening in her company. On that
evening he hired a horse and buggy at Wesley Moyer's livery barn and took her for a
drive. The conviction that she was the woman his nature demanded and that he
must get her settled upon him and he told her of his desires. The bartender was ready
to marry and to begin trying to earn money for the support of his wife, but so simple
was his nature that he found it difficult to explain his intentions. His body ached
with physical longing and with his body he expressed himself. Taking the milliner
into his arms and holding her tightly in spite of her struggles, he kissed her until she
became helpless. Then he brought her back to town and let her out of the buggy.
"When I get hold of you again I'll not let you go. You can't play with me," he declared
as he turned to drive away. Then, jumping out of the buggy, he gripped her shoulders
with his strong hands. "I'll keep you for good the next time," he said. "You might as
well make up your mind to that. It's you and me for it and I'm going to have you
before I get through."
One night in January when there was a new moon George Willard, who
was in Ed Handby's mind the only obstacle to his getting Belle Carpenter, went for a
walk. Early that evening George went into Ransom Surbeck's pool room with Seth
Richmond and Art Wilson, son of the town butcher. Seth Richmond stood with his
back against the wall and remained silent, but George Willard talked. The pool room
was filled with Winesburg boys and they talked of women. The young reporter got
into that vein. He said that women should look out for themselves, that the fellow
who went out with a girl was not responsible for what happened. As he talked he
looked about, eager for attention. He held the floor for five minutes and then Art
Wilson began to talk. Art was learning the barber's trade in Cal Prouse's shop and
already began to consider himself an authority in such matters as baseball, horse
racing, drinking, and going about with women. He began to tell of a night when he
38 • Sherwood Anderson
with two men from Winesburg went into a house of prostitution at the county seat.
The butcher's son held a cigar in the side of his mouth and as he talked spat on the
floor. "The women in the place couldn't embarrass me although they tried hard
enough," he boasted. "One of the girls in the house tried to get fresh, but I fooled
her. As soon as she began to talk I went and sat in her lap. Everyone in the room
laughed when I kissed her. I taught her to let me alone."
George Willard went out of the pool room and into Main Street. For days
the weather had been bitter cold with a high wind blowing down on the town from
Lake Erie, eighteen miles to the north, but on that night the wind had died away and
a new moon made the night unusually lovely. Without thinking where he was going
or what he wanted to do, George went out of Main Street and began walking in
dimly lighted streets filled with frame houses.
Out of doors under the black sky filled with stars he forgot his companions
of the pool room. Because it was dark and he was alone he began to talk aloud. In a
spirit of play he reeled along the street imitating a drunken man and then imagined
himself a soldier clad in shining boots that reached to the knees and wearing a sword
that jingled as he walked. As a soldier he pictured himself as an inspector, passing
before a longline of men who stood at attention. He began to examine the
accoutrements of the men. Before a tree he stopped and began to scold. "Your pack
is not in order," he said sharply.""How many times will I have to speak of this matter?
Everything must be in order here. We have a difficult task before us and no difficult
task can be done without order."
Hypnotized by his own words, the young man stumbled along the board
sidewalk saying more words. "There is a law for armies and for men too," he muttered,
lost in reflection. "The law begins with little things and spreads out until it covers
everything. In every little thing there must be order, in the place where men work, in
their clothes, in their thoughts. I myself must be orderly. I must learn that law. I
must get myself into touch with something orderly and big that swings through the
night like a star. In my little way I must begin to learn something, to give and swing
and work with life, with the law."
George Willard stopped by a picket fence near a street lamp and his body
began to tremble. He had never before thought such thoughts as had just come into
his head and he wondered where they had come from. For the moment it seemed to
him that some voice outside of himself had been talking as he walked. He was amazed
and delighted with his own mind and when he walked on again spoke of the matter
with fervor. "To come out of Ransom Surbeck's pool room and think things like
that," he whispered. "It is better to be alone. If I talked like Art Wilson the boys
would understand me but they wouldn't understand what I've been thinking down
In Winesburg, as in all Ohio towns of twenty years ago, there was a section
in which lived day laborers. As the time of factories had not yet come, the laborers
worked in the fields or were section hands on the railroads. They worked twelve
hours a day and received one dollar for the long day of toil. The houses in which they
lived were small cheaply constructed wooden affairs with a garden at the back. The
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 39
more comfortable among them kept cows and perhaps a pig, housed in a little shed
at the rear of the garden.
With his head filled with resounding thoughts, George Willard walked into
such a street on the clear January night. The street was dimly lighted and in places
there was no sidewalk. In the scene that lay about him there was something that
excited his already aroused fancy. For a year he had been devoting all of his odd
moments to the reading of books and now some tale he had read concerning life in
old world towns of the middle ages came sharply back to his mind so that he stumbled
forward with the curious feeling of one revisiting a place that had been a part of some
former existence. On an impulse he turned out of the street and went into a little
dark alleyway behind the sheds in which lived the cows and pigs.
For a half hour he stayed in the alleyway, smelling the strong smell of animals
too closely housed and letting his mind play with the strange new thoughts that
came to him. The very rankness of the smell of manure in the clear sweet air awoke
something heady in his brain. The poor little houses lighted by kerosene lamps, the
smoke from the chimneys mounting straight up into the clear air, the grunting of
pigs, the women clad in cheap calico dresses and washing dishes in the kitchens, the
footsteps of men coming out of the houses and going off to the stores and saloons of
Main Street, the dogs barking and the children crying — all of these things made him
seem, as he lurked in the darkness, oddly detached and apart from all life.
The excited young man, unable to bear the weight of his own thoughts,
began to move cautiously along the alleyway. A dog attacked him and had to be
driven away with stones, and a man appeared at the door of one of the houses and
swore at the dog. George went into a vacant lot and throwing back his head looked
up at the sky. He felt unutterably big and remade by the simple experience through
which he had been passing and in a kind of fervor of emotion put up his hands,
thrusting them into the darkness above his head and muttering words. The desire to
say words overcame him and he said words without meaning, rolling them over on
his tongue and saying them because they were brave words, full of meaning. "Death,"
he muttered, "night, the sea, fear, loveliness."
George Willard came out of the vacant lot and stood again on the sidewalk
facing the houses. He felt that all of the people in the little street must be brothers
and sisters to him and he wished he had the courage to call them out of their houses
and to shake their hands. "If there were only a woman here I would take hold of her
hand and we would run until we were both tired out," he thought. "That would
make me feel better." With the thought of a woman in his mind he walked out of the
street and went toward the house where Belle Carpenter lived. He thought she would
understand his mood and that he could achieve in her presence a position he had
long been wanting to achieve. In the past when he had been with her and had kissed
her lips he had come away filled with anger at himself. He had felt like one being
used for some obscure purpose and had not enjoyed the feeling. Now he thought he
had suddenly become too big to be used.
When George got to Belle Carpenter's house there had already been a visitor
there before him. Ed Handby had come to the door and calling Belle out of the
40 • Sherwood Anderson
house had tried to talk to her. He had wanted to ask the woman to come away with
him and to be his wife, but when she came and stood by the door he lost his self-
assurance and became sullen. "You stay away from that kid," he growled, thinking of
George Willard, and then, not knowing what else to say, turned to go away. "If I
catch you together I will break your bones and his too," he added. The bartender had
come to woo, not to threaten, and was angry with himself because of his failure.
When her lover had departed Belle went indoors and ran hurriedly upstairs.
From a window at the upper part of the house she saw Ed Handby cross the street
and sit down on a horse block before the house of a neighbor. In the dim light the
man sat motionless holding his head in his hands. She was made happy by the sight,
and when George Willard came to the door she greeted him effusively and hurriedly
put on her hat. She thought that, as she walked through the streets with young
Willard, Ed Handby would follow and she wanted to make him suffer.
For an hour Belle Carpenter and the young reporter walked about under
the trees in the sweet night air. George Willard was full of big words. The sense of
power that had come to him during the hour in the darkness in the alleyway remained
with him and he talked boldly, swaggering along and swinging his arms about. He
wanted to make Belle Carpenter realize that he was aware of his former weakness and
that he had changed. "You'll find me different," he declared, thrusting his hands into
his pockets and looking boldly into her eyes. "I don't know why but it is so. You've
got to take me for a man or let me alone. That's how it is."
Up and down the quiet streets under the new moon went the woman and
the boy. When George had finished talking they turned down a side street and went
across a bridge into a path that ran up the side of a hill. The hill began at Waterworks
Pond and climbed upward to the Winesburg Fair Grounds. On the hillside grew
dense bushes and small trees and among the bushes were little open spaces carpeted
with long grass, now stiff and frozen.
As he walked behind the woman up the hill George Willard's heart began
to beat rapidly and his shoulders straightened. Suddenly he decided that Belle
Carpenter was about to surrender herself to him. The new force that had manifested
itself in him had, he felt, been at work upon her and had led to her conquest. The
thought made him half drunk with the sense of masculine power. Although he had
been annoyed that as they walked about she had not seemed to be listening to his
words, the fact that she had accompanied him to this place took all his doubts away.
"It is different. Everything has become different," he thought and taking hold of her
shoulder turned her about and stood looking at her, his eyes shining with pride.
Belle Carpenter did not resist. When he kissed her upon the lips she leaned
heavily against him and looked over his shoulder into the darkness. In her whole
attitude there was a suggestion of waiting. Again, as in the alleyway, George Willard's
mind ran off into words and, holding the woman tightly he whispered the words
into the still night. "Lust," he whispered, "lust and night and women."
George Willard did not understand what happened to him that night on
the hillside. Later, when he got to his own room, he wanted to weep and then grew
half insane with anger and hate. He hated Belle Carpenter and was sure that all his
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 41
life he would continue to hate her. On the hillside he had led the woman to one of
the little open spaces among the bushes and had dropped to his knees beside her. As
in the vacant lot, by the laborers' houses, he had put up his hands in gratitude for the
new power in himself and was waiting for the woman to speak when Ed Handby
The bartender did not want to beat the boy, who he thought had tried to
take his woman away. He knew that beating was unnecessary, that he had power
within himself to accomplish his purpose without using his fists. Gripping George
by the shoulder and pulling him to his feet, he held him with one hand while he
looked at Belle Carpenter seated on the grass. Then with a quick wide movement of
his arm he sent the younger man sprawling away into the bushes and began to bully
the woman, who had risen to her feet. "You're no good," he said roughly. "I've half a
mind not to bother with you. I'd let you alone if I didn't want you so much."
On his hands and knees in the bushes George Willard stared at the scene
before him and tried hard to think. He prepared to spring at the man who had
humiliated him. To be beaten seemed to be infinitely better than to be thus hurled
Three times the young reporter sprang at Ed Handby and each time the
bartender, catching him by the shoulder, hurled him back into the bushes. The older
man seemed prepared to keep the exercise going indefinitely but George Willard's
head struck the root of a tree and he lay still. Then Ed Handby took Belle Carpenter
by the arm and marched her away.
George heard the man and woman making their way through the bushes.
As he crept down the hillside his heart was sick within him. He hated himself and he
hated the fate that had brought about his humiliation. When his mind went back to
the hour alone in the alleyway he was puzzled and stopping in the darkness listened,
hoping to hear again the voice outside himself that had so short a time before put
new courage into his heart. When his way homeward led him again into the street of
frame houses he could not bear the sight and began to run, wanting to get quickly
out of the neighborhood that now seemed to him utterly squalid and commonplace.
Concerning Doctor Reefy and Elizabeth Willard
The stairway leading up to Doctor Reefy's office, in the Heffner Block above the
Paris Dry Goods store, was but dimly lighted. At the head of the stairway hung a
lamp with a dirty chimney that was fastened by a bracket to the wall. The lamp had
a tin reflector, brown with rust and covered with dust. The people who went up the
stairway followed with their feet the feet of many who had gone before. The soft
boards of the stairs had yielded under the pressure of feet and deep hollows marked
At the top of the stairway a turn to the right brought you to the doctor's
door. To the left was a dark hallway filled with rubbish. Old chairs, carpenters' horses,
42 • Sherwood Anderson
step ladders and empty boxes lay in the darkness waiting for shins to be barked. The
pile of rubbish belonged to the Paris Dry Goods Company. When a counter or a row
of shelves in the store became useless, clerks carried it up the stairway and threw it on
Doctor Reefy's office was as large as a barn. A stove with a round paunch sat
in the middle of the room. Around its base was piled sawdust, held in place by heavy
planks nailed to the floor. By the door stood a huge table that had once been a part of
the furniture of Herrick's Clothing Store and that had been used for displaying custom-
made clothes. It was covered with books, bottles, and surgical instruments. Near the
edge of the table lay three or four apples left by John Spaniard, a tree nurseryman
who was Doctor Reefy's friend, and who had slipped the apples out of his pocket as
he came in at the door.
At middle age Doctor Reefy was tall and awkward. The grey beard he later
wore had not yet appeared, but on the upper lip grew a brown mustache. He was not
a graceful man, as when he grew older, and was much occupied with the problem of
disposing of his hands and feet.
On summer afternoons, when she had been married many years and when
her son George was a boy of twelve or fourteen, Elizabeth Willard sometimes went
up the worn steps to Doctor Reefy's office. Already the woman's naturally tall figure
had begun to droop and to drag itself listlessly about. Ostensibly she went to see the
doctor because of her health, but on the half dozen occasions when she had been to
see him the outcome of the visits did not primarily concern her health. She and the
doctor talked of that but they talked most of her life, of their two lives and of the
ideas that had come to them as they lived their lives in Winesburg.
In the big empty office the man and the woman sat looking at each other
and they were a good deal alike. Their bodies were different, as were also the color of
their eyes, the length of their noses, and the circumstances of their existence, but
something inside them meant the same thing, wanted the same release, would have
left the same impression on the memory of an onlooker. Later, and when he grew
older and married a young wife, the doctor often talked to her of the hours spent
with the sick woman and expressed a good many things he had been unable to express
to Elizabeth. He was almost a poet in his old age and his notion of what happened
took a poetic turn. "I had come to the time in my life when prayer became necessary
and so I invented gods and prayed to them," he said. "I did not say my prayers in
words nor did I kneel down but sat perfectly still in my chair. In the late afternoon
when it was hot and quiet on Main Street or in the winter when the days were
gloomy, the gods came into the office and I thought no one knew about them. Then
I found that this woman Elizabeth knew, that she worshipped also the same gods. I
have a notion that she came to the office because she thought the gods would be
there but she was happy to find herself not alone just the same. It was an experience
that cannot be explained, although I suppose it is always happening to men and
women in all sorts of places."
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 43
On the summer afternoons when Elizabeth and the doctor sat in the office
and talked of their two lives they talked of other lives also. Sometimes the doctor
made philosophic epigrams. Then he chuckled with amusement. Now and then after
a period of silence, a word was said or a hint given that strangely illuminated the life
of the speaker, a wish became a desire, or a dream, half dead, flared suddenly into
life. For the most part the words came from the woman and she said them without
looking at the man.
Each time she came to see the doctor the hotel keeper's wife talked a little
more freely and after an hour or two in his presence went down the stairway into
Main Street feeling renewed and strengthened against the dullness of her days. With
something approaching a girlhood swing to her body she walked along, but when
she had got back to her chair by the window of her room and when darkness had
come on and a girl from the hotel dining room brought her dinner on a tray, she let
it grow cold. Her thoughts ran away to her girlhood with its passionate longing for
adventure and she remembered the arms of men that had held her when adventure
was a possible thing for her. Particularly she remembered one who had for a time
been her lover and who in the moment of his passion had cried out to her more than
a hundred times, saying the same words madly over and over: "You dear! You dear!
You lovely dear!" The words, she thought, expressed something she would have liked
to have achieved in life.
In her room in the shabby old hotel the sick wife of the hotel keeper began
to weep and, putting her hands to her face, rocked back and forth. The words of her
one friend, Doctor Reefy, rang in her ears. "Love is like a wind stirring the grass
beneath trees on a black night," he had said. "You must not try to make love definite.
It is the divine accident of life. If you try to be definite and sure about it and to live
beneath the trees, where soft night winds blow, the long hot day of disappointment
comes swiftly and the gritty dust from passing wagons gathers upon lips inflamed
and made tender by kisses."
Elizabeth Willard could not remember her mother who had died when she
was but five years old. Her girlhood had been lived in the most haphazard manner
imaginable. Her father was a man who had wanted to be let alone and the affairs of
the hotel would not let him alone. He also had lived and died a sick man. Every day
he arose with a cheerful face, but by ten o'clock in the morning all the joy had gone
out of his heart. When a guest complained of the fare in the hotel dining room or
one of the girls who made up the beds got married and went away, he stamped on the
floor and swore. At night when he went to bed he thought of his daughter growing
up among the stream of people that drifted in and out of the hotel and was overcome
with sadness. As the girl grew older and began to walk out in the evening with men
he wanted to talk to her, but when he tried was not successful. He always forgot what
he wanted to say and spent the time complaining of his own affairs.
In her girlhood and young womanhood Elizabeth had tried to be a real
adventurer in life. At eighteen life had so gripped her that she was no longer a virgin
but, although she had a half dozen lovers before she married Tom Willard, she had
44 • Sherwood Anderson
never entered upon an adventure prompted by desire alone. Like all the women in
the world, she wanted a real lover. Always there was something she sought blindly,
passionately, some hidden wonder in life. The tall beautiful girl with the swinging
stride who had walked under the trees with men was forever putting out her hand
into the darkness and trying to get hold of some other hand. In all the babble of
words that fell from the lips of the men with whom she adventured she was trying to
find what would be for her the true word.
Elizabeth had married Tom Willard, a clerk in her father's hotel, because he
was at hand and wanted to marry at the time when the determination to marry came
to her. For a while, like most young girls, she thought marriage would change the
face of life. If there was in her mind a doubt of the outcome of the marriage with
Tom she brushed it aside. Her father was ill and near death at the time and she was
perplexed because of the meaningless outcome of an affair in which she had just been
involved. Other girls of her age in Winesburg were marrying men she had always
known, grocery clerks or young farmers. In the evening they walked in Main Street
with their husbands and when she passed they smiled happily. She began to think
that the fact of marriage might be full of some hidden significance. Young wives with
whom she talked spoke softly and shyly. "It changes things to have a man of your
own," they said.
On the evening before her marriage the perplexed girl had a talk with her
father. Later she wondered if the hours alone with the sick man had not led to her
decision to marry. The father talked of his life and advised the daughter to avoid
being led into another such muddle. He abused Tom Willard, and that led Elizabeth
to come to the clerk's defense. The sick man became excited and tried to get out of
bed. When she would not let him walk about he began to complain. "I've never been
let alone," he said. "Although I've worked hard I've not made the hotel pay. Even
now I owe money at the bank. You'll find that out when I'm gone."
The voice of the sick man became tense with earnestness. Being unable to
arise, he put out his hand and pulled the girl's head down beside his own. "There's a
way out," he whispered. "Don't marry Tom Willard or anyone else here in Winesburg.
There is eight hundred dollars in a tin box in my trunk. Take it and go away."
Again the sick man's voice became querulous. "You've got to promise," he
declared. "If you won't promise not to marry, give me your word that you'll never tell
Tom about the money. It is mine and if I give it to you I've the right to make that
demand. Hide it away. It is to make up to you for my failure as a father. Sometime it
may prove to be a door, a great open door to you. Come now, I tell you I'm about to
die, give me your promise."
In Doctor Reefy s office, Elizabeth, a tired gaunt old woman at forty-one,
sat in a chair near the stove and looked at the floor. By a small desk near the window
sat the doctor. His hands played with a lead pencil that lay on the desk. Elizabeth
talked of her life as a married woman. She became impersonal and forgot her husband,
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 45
only using him as a lay figure to give point to her tale. "And then I was married and
it did not turn out at all," she said bitterly. "As soon as I had gone into it I began to
be afraid. Perhaps I knew too much before and then perhaps I found out too much
during my first night with him. I don't remember.
"What a fool I was. When father gave me the money and tried to talk me
out of the thought of marriage, I would not listen. I thought of what the girls who
were married had said of it and I wanted marriage also. It wasn't Tom I wanted, it was
marriage. When father went to sleep I leaned out of the window and thought of the
life I had led. I didn't want to be a bad woman. The town was full of stories about
me. I even began to be afraid Tom would change his mind."
The woman's voice began to quiver with excitement. To Doctor Reefy, who
without realizing what was happening had begun to love her, there came an odd
illusion. He thought that as she talked the woman's body was changing, that she was
becoming younger, straighter, stronger. When he could not shake off the illusion his
mind gave it a professional twist. "It is good for both her body and her mind, this
talking," he muttered.
The woman began telling of an incident that had happened one afternoon
a few months after her marriage. Her voice became steadier. "In the late afternoon I
went for a drive alone," she said. "I had a buggy and a little grey pony I kept in
Moyer's Livery. Tom was painting and repapering rooms in the hotel. He wanted
money and I was trying to make up my mind to tell him about the eight hundred
dollars father had given to me. I couldn't decide to do it. I didn't like him well enough.
There was always paint on his hands and face during those days and he smelled of
paint. He was trying to fix up the old hotel, and make it new and smart."
The excited woman sat up very straight in her chair and made a quick
girlish movement with her hand as she told of the drive alone on the spring afternoon.
"It was cloudy and a storm threatened," she said. "Black clouds made the green of
the trees and the grass stand out so that the colors hurt my eyes. I went out Trunion
Pike a mile or more and then turned into a side road. The little horse went quickly
along uphill and down. I was impatient. Thoughts came and I wanted to get away
from my thoughts. I began to beat the horse. The black clouds settled down and it
began to rain. I wanted to go at a terrible speed, to drive on and on forever. I wanted
to get out of town, out of my clothes, out of my marriage, out of my body, out of
everything. I almost killed the horse, making him run, and when he could not run
anymore I got out of the buggy and ran afoot into the darkness until I fell and hurt
my side. I wanted to run away from everything but I wanted to run towards something
too. Don't you see, dear, how it was?"
Elizabeth sprang out of the chair and began to walk about in the office. She
walked as Doctor Reefy thought he had never seen anyone walk before. To her whole
body there was a swing, a rhythm that intoxicated him. When she came and knelt on
the floor beside his chair he took her into his arms and began to kiss her passionately.
"I cried all the way home," she said, as she tried to continue the story of her wild ride,
but he did not listen. "You dear! You lovely dear! Oh you lovely dear!" he muttered
and thought he held in his arms not the tired-out woman of forty-one but a lovely
46 • Sherwood Anderson
and innocent girl who had been able by some miracle to project herself out of the
husk of the body of the tired-out woman.
Doctor Reefy did not see the woman he had held in his arms again until
after her death. On the summer afternoon in the office when he was on the point of
becoming her lover a half grotesque little incident brought his love-making quickly
to an end. As the man and woman held each other tightly heavy feet came tramping
up the office stairs. The two sprang to their feet and stood listening and trembling.
The noise on the stairs was made by a clerk from the Paris Dry Goods Company.
With a loud bang he threw an empty box on the pile of rubbish in the hallway and
then went heavily down the stairs. Elizabeth followed him almost immediately. The
thing that had come to life in her as she talked to her one friend died suddenly. She
was hysterical, as was also Doctor Reefy, and did not want to continue the talk.
Along the street she went with the blood still singing in her body, but when she
turned out of Main Street and saw ahead the lights of the New Willard House, she
began to tremble and her knees shook so that for a moment she thought she would
fall in the street.
The sick woman spent the last few months of her life hungering for death.
Along the road of death she went, seeking, hungering. She personified the figure of
death and made him now a strong black-haired youth running over hills, now a stern
quiet man marked and scarred by the business of living. In the darkness of her room
she put out her hand, thrusting it from under the covers of her bed, and she thought
that death like a living thing put out his hand to her. "Be patient, lover," she whispered.
"Keep yourself young and beautiful and be patient."
On the evening when disease laid its heavy hand upon her and defeated her
plans for telling her son George of the eight hundred dollars hidden away, she got
out of bed and crept half across the room pleading with death for another hour of
life. "Wait, dear! The boy! The boy! The boy!" she pleaded as she tried with all of her
strength to fight off the arms of the lover she had wanted so earnestly.
Elizabeth died one day in March in the year when her son George became
eighteen, and the young man had but little sense of the meaning of her death. Only
time could give him that. For a month he had seen her lying white and still and
speechless in her bed, and then one afternoon the doctor stopped him in the hallway
and said a few words.
The young man went into his own room and closed the door. He had a
queer empty feeling in the region of his stomach. For a moment he sat staring at the
floor and then jumping up went for a walk. Along the station platform he went, and
around through residence streets past the high-school building, thinking almost
entirely of his own affairs. The notion of death could not get hold of him and he was
in fact a little annoyed that his mother had died on that day. He had just received a
note from Helen White, the daughter of the town banker, in answer to one from
him. "Tonight I could have gone to see her and now it will have to be put off," he
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 47
thought half angrily.
Elizabeth died on a Friday afternoon at three o'clock. It had been cold and
rainy in the morning but in the afternoon the sun came out. Before she died she lay
paralyzed for six days unable to speak or move and with only her mind and her eyes
alive. For three of the six days she struggled, thinking of her boy, trying to say some
few words in regard to his future, and in her eyes there was an appeal so touching
that all who saw it kept the memory of the dying woman in their minds for years.
Even Tom Willard, who had always half resented his wife, forgot his resentment and
the tears ran out of his eyes and lodged in his mustache. The mustache had begun to
turn grey and Tom colored it with dye. There was oil in the preparation he used for
the purpose and the tears, catching in the mustache and being brushed away by his
hand, formed a fine mist-like vapor. In his grief Tom Willard 's face looked like the
face of a little dog that has been out a long time in bitter weather.
George came home along Main Street at dark on the day of his mother's
death and, after going to his own room to brush his hair and clothes, went along the
hallway and into the room where the body lay. There was a candle on the dressing
table by the door and Doctor Reefy sat in a chair by the bed. The doctor arose and
started to go out. He put out his hand as though to greet the younger man and then
awkwardly drew it back again. The air of the room was heavy with the presence of
the two self-conscious human beings, and the man hurried away.
The dead woman's son sat down in a chair and looked at the floor. He again
thought of his own affairs and definitely decided he would make a change in his life,
that he would leave Winesburg. "I will go to some city. Perhaps I can get a job on
some newspaper," he thought, and then his mind turned to the girl with whom he
was to have spent this evening and again he was half angry at the turn of events that
had prevented his going to her.
In the dimly lighted room with the dead woman the young man began to
have thoughts. His mind played with thoughts of life as his mother's mind had played
with the thought of death. He closed his eyes and imagined that the red young lips of
Helen White touched his own lips. His body trembled and his hands shook. And
then something happened. The boy sprang to his feet and stood stiffly. He looked at
the figure of the dead woman under the sheets and shame for his thoughts swept over
him so that he began to weep. A new notion came into his mind and he turned and
looked guiltily about as though afraid he would be observed.
George Willard became possessed of a madness to lift the sheet from the
body of his mother and look at her face. The thought that had come into his mind
gripped him terribly. He became convinced that not his mother but someone else lay
in the bed before him. The conviction was so real that it was almost unbearable. The
body under the sheets was long and in death looked young and graceful. To the boy,
held by some strange fancy, it was unspeakably lovely. The feeling that the body
before him was alive, that in another moment a lovely woman would spring out of
the bed and confront him, became so overpowering that he could not bear the
suspense. Again and again he put out his hand. Once he touched and half lifted the
white sheet that covered her, but his courage failed and he, like Doctor Reefy, turned
48 • Sherwood Anderson
and went out of the room. In the hallway outside the door he stopped and trembled
so that he had to put a hand against the wall to support himself. "That's not my
mother. That's not my mother in there," he whispered to himself and again his body
shook with fright and uncertainty. When Aunt Elizabeth Swift, who had come to
watch over the body, came out of an adjoining room he put his hand into hers and
began to sob, shaking his head from side to side, half blind with grief. "My mother is
dead," he said, and then forgetting the woman he turned and stared at the door
through which he had just come. "The dear, the dear, oh the lovely dear," the boy,
urged by some impulse outside himself, muttered aloud.
As for the eight hundred dollars the dead woman had kept hidden so long
and that was to give George Willard his start in the city, it lay in the tin box behind
the plaster by the foot of his mother's bed. Elizabeth had put it there a week after her
marriage, breaking the plaster away with a stick. Then she got one of the workmen
her husband was at that time employing about the hotel to mend the wall. "I jammed
the corner of the bed against it," she had explained to her husband, unable at the
moment to give up her dream of release, the release that after all came to her but
twice in her life, in the moments when her lovers Death and Doctor Reefy held her
in their arms.
Concerning Helen White
It was early evening of a day in the late fall and the Winesburg County Fair had
brought crowds of country people into town. The day had been clear and the night
came on warm and pleasant. On the Trunion Pike, where the road after it left town
stretched away between berry fields now covered with dry brown leaves, the dust
from passing wagons arose in clouds. Children, curled into little balls, slept on the
straw scattered on wagon beds. Their hair was full of dust and their fingers black and
sticky. The dust rolled away over the fields and the departing sun set it ablaze with
In the main street of Winesburg crowds filled the stores and the sidewalks.
Night came on, horses whinnied, the clerks in the stores ran madly about, children
became lost and cried lustily — an American town worked terribly at the task of
Pushing his way through the crowds in Main Street, young George Willard
concealed himself in the stairway leading to Doctor Reefy 's office and looked at the
people. With feverish eyes he watched the faces drifting past under the store lights.
Thoughts kept coming into his head and he did not want to think. He stamped
impatiently on the wooden steps and looked sharply about. "Well, is she going to
stay with him all day? Have I done all this waiting for nothing?" he muttered.
George Willard, the Ohio village boy, was fast growing into manhood and
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 49
new thoughts had been coming into his mind. All that day, amid the jam of people at
the Fair, he had gone about feeling lonely. He was about to leave Winesburg to go
away to some city where he hoped to get work on a city newspaper and he felt grown
up. The mood that had taken possession of him was a thing known to men and
unknown to boys. He felt old and a little tired. Memories awoke in him. To his mind
his new sense of maturity set him apart, made of him a half-tragic figure. He wanted
someone to understand the feeling that had taken possession of him after his mother's
There is a time in the life of every boy when he for the first time takes the
backward view of life. Perhaps that is the moment when he crosses the line into
manhood. The boy is walking through the streets of his town. He is thinking of the
future and of the figure he will cut in the world. Ambitions and regrets awake within
him. Suddenly something happens; he stops under a tree and waits as for a voice
calling his name. Ghosts of old things creep into his consciousness; the voices outside
of himself whisper a message concerning the limitations of life. From being quite
sure of himself and his future he becomes not at all sure. If he be an imaginative boy
a door is torn open and for the first time he looks out upon the world, seeing, as
though they marched in procession before him, the countless figures of men who
before his time have come out of nothingness into the world, lived their lives and
again disappeared into nothingness. The sadness of sophistication has come to the
boy. With a little gasp he sees himself as merely a leaf blown by the wind through the
streets of his village. He knows that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must
live and die in uncertainty, a thing blown by the winds, a thing destined like corn to
wilt in the sun. He shivers and looks eagerly about. The eighteen years he has lived
seem but a moment, a breathing space in the long march of humanity. Already he
hears death calling. With all his heart he wants to come close to some other human,
touch someone with his hands, be touched by the hand of another. If he prefers that
the other be a woman, that is because he believes that a woman will be gentle, that
she will understand. He wants, most of all, understanding.
When the moment of sophistication came to George Willard his mind turned
to Helen White, the Winesburg banker's daughter. Always he had been conscious of
the girl growing into womanhood as he grew into manhood. Once, on a summer
night when he was eighteen, he had walked with her on a country road and in her
presence had given way to an impulse to boast, to make himself appear big and
significant in her eyes. Now he wanted to see her for another purpose. He wanted to
tell her of the new impulses that had come to him. He had tried to make her think of
him as a man when he knew nothing of manhood and now he wanted to be with her
and to try to make her feel the change he believed had taken place in his nature.
As for Helen White, she also had come to a period of change. What George
felt, she in her young woman's way felt also. She was no longer a girl and hungered to
reach into the grace and beauty of womanhood. She had come home from Cleveland,
where she was attending college, to spend a day at the Fair. She also had begun to
have memories. During the day she sat in the grand-stand with a young man, one of
the instructors from the college, who was a guest of her mother's. The young man
50 • Sherwood Anderson
was of a pedantic turn of mind and she felt at once he would not do for her purpose.
At the Fair she was glad to be seen in his company as he was well dressed and a
stranger. She knew that the fact of his presence would create an impression. During
the day she was happy, but when night came on she began to grow restless. She
wanted to drive the instructor away, to get out of his presence. While they sat together
in the grand-stand and while the eyes of former schoolmates were upon them, she
paid so much attention to her escort that he grew interested. "A scholar needs money.
I should marry a woman with money," he mused.
Helen White was thinking of George Willard even as he wandered gloomily
through the crowds thinking of her. She remembered the summer evening when
they had walked together and wanted to walk with him again. She thought that the
months she had spent in the city, the going to theaters and the seeing of great crowds
wandering in lighted thoroughfares, had changed her profoundly. She wanted him
to feel and be conscious of the change in her nature.
The summer evening together that had left its mark on the memory of both
the young man and woman had, when looked at quite sensibly, been rather stupidly
spent. They had walked out of town along a country road. Then they had stopped by
a fence near a field of young corn and George had taken off his coat and let it hang
on his arm. "Well, I've stayed here in Winesburg — yes — I've not yet gone away but
I'm growing up," he had said. "I've been reading books and I've been thinking. I'm
going to try to amount to something in life.
"Well," he explained, "that isn't the point. Perhaps I'd better quit talking."
The confused boy put his hand on the girl's arm. His voice trembled. The
two started to walk back along the road toward town. In his desperation George
boasted. "I'm going to be a big man, the biggest that ever lived here in Winesburg,"
he declared. "I want you to do something, I don't know what. Perhaps it is none of
my business. I want you to try to be different from other women. You see the point.
It's none of my business I tell you. I want you to be a beautiful woman. You see what
The boy's voice failed and in silence the two came back into town and went
along the street to Helen White's house. At the gate he tried to say something
impressive. Speeches he had thought out came into his head, but they seemed utterly
pointless. "I thought — I used to think — I had it in my mind you would marry Seth
Richmond. Now I know you won't," was all he could find to say as she went through
the gate and toward the door of her house.
On the warm fall evening as he stood in the stairway and looked at the
crowd drifting through Main Street, George thought of the talk beside the field of
young corn and was ashamed of the figure he had made of himself. In the street the
people surged up and down like cattle confined in a pen. Buggies and wagons almost
filled the narrow thoroughfare. A band played and small boys raced along the sidewalk,
diving between the legs of men. Young men with shining red faces walked awkwardly
about with girls on their arms. In a room above one of the stores, where a dance was
to be held, the fiddlers tuned their instruments. The broken sounds floated down
through an open window and out across the murmur of voices and the loud blare of
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 51
the horns of the band. The medley of sounds got on young Willard's nerves.
Everywhere, on all sides, the sense of crowding, moving life closed in about him. He
wanted to run away by himself and think. "If she wants to stay with that fellow she
may. Why should I care? What difference does it make to me?" he growled and went
along Main Street and through Hern's Grocery into a side street.
George felt so utterly lonely and dejected that he wanted to weep but pride
made him walk rapidly along, swinging his arms. He came to Wesley Moyer's livery
barn and stopped in the shadows to listen to a group of men who talked of a race
Wesley's stallion, Tony Tip, had won at the Fair during the afternoon. A crowd had
gathered in front of the barn and before the crowd walked Wesley, prancing up and
down boasting. He held a whip in his hand and kept tapping the ground. Little puffs
of dust arose in the lamplight. "Hell, quit your talking," Wesley exclaimed. "I wasn't
afraid, I knew I had 'em beat all the time. I wasn't afraid."
Ordinarily George Willard would have been intensely interested in the
boasting of Moyer, the horseman. Now it made him angry. He turned and hurried
away along the street. "Old windbag," he sputtered. "Why does he want to be bragging?
Why don't he shut up?"
George went into a vacant lot and, as he hurried along, fell over a pile of
rubbish. A nail protruding from an empty barrel tore his trousers. He sat down on
the ground and swore. With a pin he mended the torn place and then arose and went
on. "I'll go to Helen White's house, that's what I'll do. I'll walk right in. I'll say that
I want to see her. I'll walk right in and sit down, that's what I'll do," he declared,
climbing over a fence and beginning to run.
On the veranda of Banker White's house Helen was restless and distraught.
The instructor sat between the mother and daughter. His talk wearied the girl.
Although he had also been raised in an Ohio town, the instructor began to put on
the airs of the city. He wanted to appear cosmopolitan. "I like the chance you have
given me to study the background out of which most of our girls come," he declared.
"It was good of you, Mrs. White, to have me down for the day." He turned to Helen
and laughed. "Your life is still bound up with the life of this town?" he asked. "There
are people here in whom you are interested?" To the girl his voice sounded pompous
Helen arose and went into the house. At the door leading to a garden at the
back she stopped and stood listening. Her mother began to talk. "There is no one
here fit to associate with a girl of Helen's breeding," she said.
Helen ran down a flight of stairs at the back of the house and into the
garden. In the darkness she stopped and stood trembling. It seemed to her that the
world was full of meaningless people saying words. Afire with eagerness she ran through
a garden gate and, turning a corner by the banker's barn, went into a little side street.
"George! Where are you, George?" she cried, filled with nervous excitement. She
stopped running, and leaned against a tree to laugh hysterically. Along the dark little
52 • Sherwood Anderson
street came George Willard, still saying words. "I'm going to walk right into her
house. I'll go right in and sit down," he declared as he came up to her. He stopped
and stared stupidly. "Come on," he said and took hold of her hand. With hanging
heads they walked away along the street under the trees. Dry leaves rustled underfoot.
Now that he had found her George wondered what he had better do and say.
At the upper end of the Fair Grounds, in Winesburg, there is a half decayed
old grand-stand. It has never been painted and the boards are all warped out of
shape. The Fair Grounds stand on top of a low hill rising out of the valley of Wine
Creek and from the grand-stand one can see at night, over a cornfield, the lights of
the town reflected against the sky.
George and Helen climbed the hill to the Fair Grounds, coming by the
path past Waterworks Pond. The feeling of loneliness and isolation that had come to
the young man in the crowded streets of his town was both broken and intensified by
the presence of Helen. What he felt was reflected in her.
In youth there are always two forces fighting in people. The warm unthinking
little animal struggles against the thing that reflects and remembers, and the older,
the more sophisticated thing had possession of George Willard. Sensing his mood,
Helen walked beside him filled with respect. When they got to the grand-stand they
climbed up under the roof and sat down on one of the long bench-like seats.
There is something memorable in the experience to be had by going into a
fair ground that stands at the edge of a Middle Western town on a night after the
annual fair has been held. The sensation is one never to be forgotten. On all sides are
ghosts, not of the dead, but of living people. Here, during the day just passed, have
come the people pouring in from the town and the country around. Farmers with
their wives and children and all the people from the hundreds of little frame houses
have gathered within these board walls. Young girls have laughed and men with
beards have talked of the affairs of their lives. The place has been filled to overflowing
with life. It has itched and squirmed with life and now it is night and the life has all
gone away. The silence is almost terrifying. One conceals oneself standing silently
beside the trunk of a tree and what there is of a reflective tendency in his nature is
intensified. One shudders at the thought of the meaninglessness of life while at the
same instant, and if the people of the town are his people, one loves life so intensely
that tears come into the eyes.
In the darkness under the roof of the grand-stand, George Willard sat beside
Helen White and felt very keenly his own insignificance in the scheme of existence.
Now that he had come out of town where the presence of the people stirring about,
busy with a multitude of affairs, had been so irritating, the irritation was all gone.
The presence of Helen renewed and refreshed him. It was as though her woman's
hand was assisting him to make some minute readjustment of the machinery of his
life. He began to think of the people in the town where he had always lived with
something like reverence. He had reverence for Helen. He wanted to love and to be
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 53
loved by her, but he did not want at the moment to be confused by her womanhood.
In the darkness he took hold of her hand and when she crept close put a hand on her
shoulder. A wind began to blow and he shivered. With all his strength he tried to
hold and to understand the mood that had come upon him. In that high place in the
darkness the two oddly sensitive human atoms held each other tightly and waited. In
the mind of each was the same thought. "I have come to this lonely place and here is
this other," was the substance of the thing felt.
In Winesburg the crowded day had run itself out into the long night of the
late fall. Farm horses jogged away along lonely country roads pulling their portion of
weary people. Clerks began to bring samples of goods in off the sidewalks and lock
the doors of stores. In the Opera House a crowd had gathered to see a show and
further down Main Street the fiddlers, their instruments tuned, sweated and worked
to keep the feet of youth flying over a dance floor.
In the darkness in the grand-stand Helen White and George Willard
remained silent. Now and then the spell that held them was broken and they turned
and tried in the dim light to see into each other's eyes. They kissed but that impulse
did not last. At the upper end of the Fair Grounds a half dozen men worked over
horses that had raced during the afternoon. The men had built a fire and were heating
kettles of water. Only their legs could be seen as they passed back and forth in the
light. When the wind blew the little flames of the fire danced crazily about.
George and Helen arose and walked away into the darkness. They went
along a path past a field of corn that had not yet been cut. The wind whispered
among the dry corn blades. For a moment during the walk back into town the spell
that held them was broken. When they had come to the crest of Waterworks Hill
they stopped by a tree and George again put his hands on the girl's shoulders. She
embraced him eagerly and then again they drew quickly back from that impulse.
They stopped kissing and stood a little apart. Mutual respect grew big in them. They
were both embarrassed and to relieve their embarrassment dropped into the animalism
of youth. They laughed and began to pull and haul at each other. In some way
chastened and purified by the mood they had been in, they became, not man and
woman, not boy and girl, but excited little animals.
It was so they went down the hill. In the darkness they played like two
splendid young things in a young world. Once, running swiftly forward, Helen tripped
George and he fell. He squirmed and shouted. Shaking with laughter, he rolled down
the hill. Helen ran after him. For just a moment she stopped in the darkness. There
was no way of knowing what woman's thoughts went through her mind but, when
the bottom of the hill was reached and she came up to the boy, she took his arm and
walked beside him in dignified silence. For some reason they could not have explained
they had both got from their silent evening together the thing needed. Man or boy,
woman or girl, they had for a moment taken hold of the thing that makes the mature
life of men and women in the modern world possible.
54 • Sherwood Anderson
Concerning George Willard
Young George Willard got out of bed at four in the morning. It was April and the
young tree leaves were just coming out of their buds. The trees along the residence
streets in Winesburg are maple and the seeds are winged. When the wind blows they
whirl crazily about, filling the air and making a carpet underfoot.
George came downstairs into the hotel office carrying a brown leather bag.
His trunk was packed for departure. Since two o'clock he had been awake thinking
of the journey he was about to take and wondering what he would find at the end of
his journey. The boy who slept in the hotel office lay on a cot by the door. His mouth
was open and he snored lustily. George crept past the cot and went out into the silent
deserted main street. The east was pink with the dawn and long streaks of light
climbed into the sky where a few stars still shone.
Beyond the last house on Trunion Pike in Winesburg there is a great stretch
of open fields. The fields are owned by farmers who live in town and drive homeward
at evening along Trunion Pike in light creaking wagons. In the fields are planted
berries and small fruits. In the late afternoon in the hot summer, when the road and
the fields are covered with dust, a smoky haze lies over the great flat basin of land. To
look across it is like looking out across the sea. In the spring when the land is green
the effect is somewhat different. The land becomes a wide green billiard table on
which tiny human insects toil up and down.
All through his boyhood and young manhood George Willard had been in
the habit of walking on Trunion Pike. He had been in the midst of the great open
place on winter nights when it was covered with snow and only the moon looked
down at him; he had been there in the fall when bleak winds blew and on summer
evenings when the air vibrated with the song of insects. On the April morning he
wanted to go there again, to walk again in the silence. He did walk to where the road
dipped down by a little stream two miles from town and then turned and walked
silently back again. When he got to Main Street clerks were sweeping the sidewalks
before the stores. "Hey you, George. How does it feel to be going away?" they asked.
The westbound train leaves Winesburg at seven forty-five in the morning.
Tom Little is conductor. His train runs from Cleveland to where it connects with a
great trunk line railroad with terminals in Chicago and New York. Tom has what in
railroad circles is called an "easy run." Every evening he returns to his family. In the
fall and spring he spends his Sundays fishing in Lake Erie. He has a round red face
and small blue eyes. He knows the people in the towns along his railroad better than
a city man knows the people who live in his apartment building.
George came down the little incline from the New Willard House at seven
o'clock. Tom Willard carried his bag. The son had become taller than the father.
On the station platform everyone shook the young man's hand. More than
a dozen people waited about. Then they talked of their own affairs. Even Will
Henderson, who was lazy and often slept until nine, had got out of bed. George was
embarrassed. Gertrude Wilmot, a tall thin woman of fifty who worked in the
Selections from Winesburg, Ohio • 55
Winesburg post office, came along the station platform. She had never before paid
any attention to George. Now she stopped and put out her hand. In two words she
voiced what everyone felt. "Good luck," she said sharply and then turning went on
When the train came into the station George felt relieved. He scampered
hurriedly aboard. Helen White came running along Main Street hoping to have a
parting word with him, but he had found a seat and did not see her. When the train
started Tom Little punched his ticket, grinned and, although he knew George well
and knew on what adventure he was just setting out, made no comment. Tom had
seen a thousand George Willards go out of their towns to the city. It was a
commonplace enough incident with him. In the smoking car there was a man who
had just invited Tom to go on a fishing trip to Sandusky Bay. He wanted to accept
the invitation and talk over details.
George glanced up and down the car to be sure no one was looking, then
took out his pocket-book and counted his money. His mind was occupied with a
desire not to appear green. Almost the last words his father had said to him concerned
the matter of his behavior when he got to the city. "Be a sharp one," Tom Willard
had said. "Keep your eyes on your money. Be awake. That's the ticket. Don't let
anyone think you're a greenhorn."
After George counted his money he looked out of the window and was
surprised to see that the train was still in Winesburg.
The young man, going out of his town to meet the adventure of life, began
to think but he did not think of anything very big or dramatic. Things like his
mother's death, his departure from Winesburg, the uncertainty of his future life in
the city, the serious and larger aspects of his life did not come into his mind.
He thought of little things — Turk Smollet wheeling boards through the
main street of his town in the morning, a tall woman, beautifully gowned, who had
once stayed overnight at his father's hotel, Butch Wheeler, the lamp lighter of
Winesburg, hurrying through the streets on a summer evening and holding a torch
in his hand, Helen White standing by a window in the Winesburg post office and
putting a stamp on an envelope.
The young man's mind was carried away by his growing passion for dreams.
One looking at him would not have thought him particularly sharp. With the
recollection of little things occupying his mind he closed his eyes and leaned back in
the car seat. He stayed that way for a long time and when he aroused himself and
again looked out of the car window the town of Winesburg had disappeared and his
life there had become but a background on which to paint the dreams of his manhood.
56 • Sherwood Anderson