Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson’s 1919 work, “Mother,” uses the same setting of the previous story (“Hands”) – that is, the sleepy town of Winesburg, Ohio.  Here we meet George Willard’s mother, Elizabeth, a woman who reminded me starkly of the woman in the Yellow Wall-paper.  Elizabeth describes the opportunities that lay within George as “those based on a girlhood dream that had long ago died” (1983).  Both express their desire for excitement amid their banal environments.  “Personally,” the woman of the Yellow Wall-paper states, “I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good” (1684).  Similarly, Elizabeth describes her “uneasy desire for change” (1986).  The way in which Elizabeth is forced to silently scurry around the house reminds me of what could have happened to the woman in the Yellow Wall-paper had she allowed her confining conditions to break her spirit.

I truly enjoyed these stories and watching as each character’s inner turmoil revealed itself to me, the reader.  When Elizabeth prays for the welfare of her son, she asks:  “Even though I die, I will in some way keep defeat from you,” and then:  “And do not let him become smart and successful either” (1983).  Elizabeth seems to view defeat as the squelching of intellectual creativity by her husband, Tom, but also as the exploitation of those creative faculties by business people and industrial society.

Elizabeth so fears this fate for her son that when he tells her that all he wants to do is “go away and look at people and think” that she nearly cries with joy (1987).  He intends to use his creativity to observe and create rather than turning his talents into mechanical “tools” to be “used.”  The intense emotional reaction Elizabeth has in this scene may be due to the fact that Elizabeth prizes the few human relationships she has been allowed to retain.  I thought these connections, which Elizabeth seems to be mostly denied, seemed to come up often in this piece.  Besides the obvious deep emotional connection with her son, she describes holding hands thusly:  “she thought that something unexpressed in herself came forth and became a part of an unexpressed something in them” (1986).  How does the joining of hands mimic the connection in thought process that she and her son seem to share?

Why do characters who are limited in expressing themselves, such as Elizabeth Willard and Wing Biddlebaum, both form deep connections with George Willard?  Wing prevents himself from expression because he fears the power of his hands, while the woman in the Yellow-Wallpaper is held there against her will.  Why does the woman in the Yellow Wall-paper find time to write whenever she can, while Elizabeth has resigned herself to her fate?  Though they both seem to be in a permanent condition, both live in temporary residences – the Yellow Wall-paper woman in a country home, and Elizabeth in a hotel.  In both of the works, how does the indoors work to represent creative oppression and what may be considered the shallow, temporal concerns of both their husbands?    What would Emerson have to say about this?  Though I feel that Elizabeth’s strong desire to protect her son lies in her lack of other relationships and emotional connections, some may call her protection of her son disproportionate and obsessive, especially when she threatens to kill Tom.  Is Elizabeth Willard obsessed with George Willard?

And finally:

Does the woman in the Yellow Wall-paper have more or less hostility towards her husband than Elizabeth does towards Tom?  Which man is more responsible for his wife’s condition?

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3 Responses to Sherwood Anderson

  1. dmsda says:

    I believe Elizabeth’s obsession with George is rooted in the fact that George is her male identity. An identity that is free to interact with the outside world without discouragement. Parents who are forced to take on a parental role without fulfilling their personal lives first tend to live through their children. Thus, any negative discourse between Tom and George Elizabeth takes as a personal attack, a possible replaying of past events.

  2. ldhare says:

    I think the connection Elizabeth and Wing share with George is that he represents them in their youth; different and with endless possibility. These characters urge him to embrace his differences, to follow his own path. However, Elizabeth lives vicariously through George and tends to stunt him. Wing urges George to make his own path, to “try to forget all [he] has learned … to begin to dream” (1980). It seems that both are warning him against society’s marginalizing effect on the individual.

  3. jnikol12 says:

    Perhaps Wing finds it easy to befriend George because George himself is unsure of his own future, and is thus very malleable. His mother and father wish to live vicariously through him, each of them wishing upon him their own interpretations of what is best. Distraught by two conflicting advisors and too unsure to make a choice either way, George says he simply desires to look at people and think. Such a reflective, intrinsic, and irresolute individual could be the perfect plunder; Wing can possibly influence him and guide him just like he did to his students when he was still a teacher. If we assume that Wing is indeed guilty of some sort of indecent behavior or is at least restrained by his inability to express himself in some way through his hands the way he wishes, then George, who is even told by Wing to “forget everything he knows” and think for himself, could be easy “prey” for this lonely, repressed man.

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