The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941), Winesburg, Ohio (1969)

The book's orginal title was "A Book of Grotesques"? Do you think Anderson was wise to change the title, and why?

What binds these stories together? How significant is plot in their creation? Characterization? Authorial commentary? Repetition of similar situations and incidents?

How does the book's style affect the reader? In what ways is it simple and in what ways complex?

"A Book of Grotesques": What is meant by a "grotesque"? In what senses can the book claim to present a collection of "grotesques"? Is the term entirely derogatory?

Why was the figure of an old man chosen to represent the author and his intentions? Is it significant that the old man is never able to publish his book?

What does he believe about the people whose forms appear to him in the night? (each represents a partial truth)

"Hands"--What seems the narrator's relationship to the figure of Wing Biddlebaum? Does he arrange the story to increase our sympathy for him?

What symbolic importance is seen in Biddlebaum's hands? Under what circumstances are they at peace?

Of what has he been accused? Is he presented as guilty?

What traumatic event has caused him to change his name and avoid others?

Would this have been a difficult topic to discuss at the time this book was published?

Does the motif of hands appear elsewhere in the sequence?

"Paper Pills": What prompts the doctor to write his thoughts and then discard them?

What is the significance of the metaphor of the old and rejected apples?

What has been the source of the young woman's attachment to him? What has been her prior experience of men?

What relationship do they share? What do you make of her early death?


What are his mother's emotions toward George Willard, and how does she express them?

What have been her prior experiences of life, and how have they affected her? What had she once wanted from life, and what does she want now?

What do we know about Mr. Willard? How does he behave to his son, and what response does this evoke in George? In his wife?

Why does the mother dress in her best finery? What stops her plan of attacking her husband with scizzors?

Do George and his mother communicate in the final scene? What emotion does she feel on hearing of his plans? Is she able to convey this to him?

"The Philosopher": Who is the "philosopher"? Is the title ironic? What do we learn about Dr. Parcival's present? His past?

What response has he had to his father's insanity and death, his brother's selfishness, his mother's preference for the brother, and his brother's death?

What messages does he wish George to learn? What does he hope George will complete if he himself is unable to do so?

"Nobody Knows": To what does the title refer? What are we supposed to think of the assignation between George and Louise?

To whom does George wish to talk after leaving Louise? Does either value their relationship?

"Godliness": What had Jesse originally intended to do? What events cause Jesse to become a farmer instead? How does he interpret his unexpected inheritance of a farm?

How are we to interpret his character? His relationship to his wife and daughter? His employees? What are his ambitions?

What attitude does the author seem to have toward him? Is he an expression of the pioneer/settler ethic? Of a destructive sort of patriarchy?

What is his view of God, and his relationship with him?

"Godliness II": What do we learn about his daughter Louise? What effect does she have on her son? Under what circumstances does she show fondness for him?

Why does David move to the farm to live with his grandfather and great aunts? What changes does this create in his life?

What happens when his grandfather attempts to pray with him? What distresses David about this scene? What is the grandfather's reaction to what has happened?

"Surrender": Under what circumstances had Louise married John Hardy? What had been her desires? Are these fulfilled? How does she react to the birth of her son David?

Why do you think this story is placed out of chronological sequence in the series?

"Terror": Why does David leave town? What has the grandfather tried to do, and what unfortunate events did this precipitate?

Are there any Biblical suggestions in the fact that David defends himself against his grandfather Jesse with a slingshot?

Why do you think the old man never tells anyone that his grandson had attacked him? What lesson does he take from the experience?

Is the theme of failed communication important to this story? To others?

How do you interpret the ending--is David's departure a tragic loss, or a personal liberation?

"A Man of Ideas": Who is the "man of ideas," and what kind of ideas does he have? Whom does he convince of the importance of his thoughts?

Is he a booster figure? How are we to judge his relationship with Sarah King?

What points does the author seem to wish to make in this vignette?

"Adventure": What is the fate of Alice Hindman? Why did Jessie Currie desert her, and why couldn't she also leave town?

What effect does loneliness have on her, and how does she seek to overcome it?

What impulse overcomes her in the story's final scenes? How does her "adventure" turn out? What conclusion does she draw from this episode?

"Respectability": What opinions toward women does the telephone operator express? What views on women does he press George to adopt?

What in the telephone operator's history has caused his bitterness? What is especially shocking about this tale? About his response?

Is this episode is expected to explain a lifelong hatred of women?

Why do you think he attacks his mother-in-law rather than his wife? Who bears responsibility for this episode?

Why do you think this tale is called "Respectability"?

"The Thinker": What do you make of Seth Richmond's character?

His relationship with George Willard and with Helen White?

Is the title ironic? Sincere? How has the young man benefitted or suffered from his thoughts?

To what extent do his problems and/or doubts resemble those of other characters in the book?

"Tandy": How do you interpret the choice of a hopeless alcoholic as the bearer of the tale's message?

Why does he choose this particular girl as the recipient of his message?

What does he suggest to the young child that she should aspire to? Is this a reasonable ideal?

"The Strength of God": To what extent is the title ironic? What is the minister's problem?

Does the ending suggest that his problem may have been mitigated, and if so, how?

"The Teacher": What do we learn about Kate Swift's behavior and emotions? Do these parallel those of any other characters in the series?

Are there parallels to the inner struggles of the minister and Kate Swift?

To what extent is she sympathetically presented?

What does her inconsistent behavior toward George reveal?

What is ironic in the fact that the minister rushes to convey his supposed insight to George Willard? About the fact that it is Kate who is the object of the minister's obsession?

Why is it fitting that George is the last person in Winesburg, Ohio to fall asleep?

"Loneliness": What prompts Enoch Robinson to tell the story of his aborted human relationships to George?

What has caused the failure of his marriage? Of his later friendship with a neighbor woman?

What causes him to leave the former? To berate the latter? What does he fear in the relationship?

What final loss confounds his loneliness?

"An Awakening": What "awakening" is referred to by the title?

What are we to think of the characters of Belle Carpenter and Ed Hanby?

How does George interpret the incident?

"Queer": What does the storekeeper's son resent, and what motivates him to seek revenge?

What is his relationship with George Willard? Why does he feel pride at having been able to beat the latter before his departure from town?

What are we to make of his final expression of satisfaction?

"Drink": What motivates Tom Foster to drink? What has been his relationship with Helen White?

On what grounds does he express satisfaction to George about his behavior? What tone concludes the story? (low expectations!)

"Death": Why do you think this episode is presented toward the end of the series?

What had been her relationship with Dr. Reefy? What motivates him to embrace her?

What are the circumstances of her death? What does the narrator see as the significant moments of her life?

"Departure": What role in the tale is played by the newpaper reporter? What difference will it make when he leaves town?

What point is made about his thoughts as he leaves? Why does the author remind us of important things he does not consider?

What do we infer from the final paragraph about his future? Does the allusion to "dreams" suggest the opening frame? Are there ways in which this claim is self-referential?

Does this episode provide an appropriate ending for the book?

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