Short Stories By Sherwood Anderson: Why They Are Worth Reading

I’m embarrassed to say: in spite of my almost philological education, I am not good at English-language literature.

At our faculty, we had been studying the literature of our country for the most part. 

A Writer Who Loves People…

It’s only now that I’m reading one book in English after another. You know, I just enjoy this period of my life!

Let me share the impressions of my recent discovery – short stories by Sherwood Anderson.

…Like Chekhov

Anderson has something in common with my favorite Russian writer, Anton Chekhov: he can feel sorry for every human being, even that one, who seems to be insignificant.

The first Anderson’s text I’ve read was Hands.

The main character, Wing Biddlebaum, is a local mystery. He got his nickname because of his unusual hands: they remind people of  ‘the wings of an imprisoned bird’. Biddlebaum always tried to keep them hidden away. ‘Forever frightened’, he didn’t think of himself as a part of the town where he lives. This man is old and fat, he is famous only for his ability to pick a hundred and forty quarts of strawberries in a day.

If we met such a person in real life, we would hardly pay attention to him, right?  ‘A poor thing, he is probably a nut,’ we’d probably think. 

The author convincingly shows that such a ‘little’ man may be amazingly ‘big’ in his heart.

Wing Biddlebaum is a talented teacher, but he had to give up his life’s work.

He taught children to dream. His hands played about the tousled heads, and under their caress ‘doubt and disbelief went out of the minds of the boys’. A half-witted boy made up he is in love with the schoolmaster and all the parents believed the lie with ease.

They ‘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’.

What if he was absolutely normal? What if the ‘normal people’ who wanted to kill him were nuts?

…And Like Steinbeck

I’d also compare Sherwood Anderson with John Steinbeck. They both could detect people’s weaknesses yet love people at the same time.

Read, for example, An Awakening by Anderson. The author depicted a few characters there – I mean, a few combinations of qualities in a person. 

Cruel Belle Carpenter uses George Willard to gain the love of Ed Handby. George is a spineless dreamy boy, Ed is an impetuous lout. The participants of this drama aren’t paragons of virtue at all. However, each of them suffers from true strong feelings…

Anderson is both a prose-writer and a poet in a sense. The plots of his stories are often much less important than images and figures of speech. Here is a passage from Motherhood:

‘He had been a farm boy all his life and had plowed many acres of rich black land.

He became sure of himself.

He plowed her deeply.

He planted the seeds of a son in the warm rich quivering soil.’

The anaphora defines the rhythm and the image of a woman resembling the soil does the real scope of what’s going on.

Andersen helps us to realize that human life is a kind of miracle.

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Natalia Usanova
I am a poet and an amateur artist. A few years ago, it seemed to me creating works of art is a much more important occupation than reading books, visiting galleries, or listening to music. Now I don't think so. Let me share with you the masterpieces which have changed my life and can change yours. Follow me on Twitter!

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