Winesburg, Ohio

Ostracism and Identity Intertwined: Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio

Perhaps the most poignant dichotomy of the American social condition is the juxtaposition between a tight-knit community and the inevitable outcasts it relies upon to maintain itself amid a changing world. Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, published in 1919, explores this paradox from the bottom-up — that is, through the individual tragedies of characters who find themselves estranged from the communities in which they live. Anderson highlights the complexity of estrangement by presenting characters that seem to be alienated by their own merits: Wing Biddlebaum by his unwavering guilt, Jesse Bentley by his messianic ambition, and Enoch Robinson by his immense egotism. The ostracism, whether brought on by a communal effort or self-imposed, is the leading contributor to their identity, and furthermore, the cause of a fundamental character flaw that drives them even further from the Winesburg community.

In Ostracism: The Power of Silence, social psychologist Kipling D. Williams argues that the idiosyncrasies of an ostracized person often play a large role in the origin of their alienation. “Some individuals may simply possess certain undesirable characteristics or behave in ways that cause others to ostracize them … Some...

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