A self-deprecating storyteller is used by Anderson to present a mock oral narration. He/she holds a stern objectivity but yet is always involved in the stories. The implication is that the narrator is also a resident of Winesburg and a grotesque figure, which adds an ironic tilt to the precise voice detailing the stories. The accounts are given ironically, but gently. Absolute truths or messages are never provided by the narrator though at times, he/she will act as he/she is displaying an absolute to the reader. The narrator often addresses the reader directly as "you" but is also capable of providing insight into a character's personal decision-making or dreams. The reader must assume much of the information is only guessed at.
the old writer
The main character of the prologue, "The Book of the Grotesque". The old writer dreams of grotesque figures while in bed because his fear of a heart attack makes him feel more alive. The living passion inside of him is described as a young woman. His figures try to possess absolute truths which destroy them. The implication is that the rest of the tales are created by the old writer around the figures he has imagined.
Hired by the old writer to raise his bed, he fought in the Civil War. He looks ridiculous crying over a brother who died at the Andersonville Prison. He is noted as the first grotesque character of the book.
Wing's former name before moving to Winesburg was Adolf Myers. As a schoolteacher, he had expressed his fervor to the boys he taught through his hands. His actions twisted by a boy of the town and he was condemned and driven out. In Winesburg, he tries to hide his hands and is viewed by the town as a novelty act. George Willard is the only person in Winesburg Wing feels somewhat comfortable expressing himself to.
The hero of the book, George is the only character who is woven through most of the stories. He acts like a medium of communication to the figures he encounters, allowing them to express their desires, thoughts, etc. Many figures seek him out as the only person in Winesburg to whom they can release their pent up frustrations and emotions. Several stories also center around George and his attempts to find love and mature into a man. He works as a reporter at the age of eighteen for the Winesburg Eagle. This brings him into close contact with the townspeople as he searches for stories. He wants to be a writer and finally decides to leave Winesburg for the city after his mother's death.
The Doctor marries a young wealthy girl who comes to him pregnant. He writes his thoughts down on scraps of paper and shoves them into his pockets where they form balls of truth. As the truth is believed to be absolute, it must be destroyed and he begins again. After his wife's death, he sits in his old office all day and thinks. Years earlier, he had a brief love affair with Elizabeth Willard. The two were similar souls who could meet and find release for their emotions and dreams.
George's mother, Elizabeth owns the New Willard House but she is worn out and drab. An illness took the life out of her, though she had been passionate in youth and still retains some life inside. She and George have a deep bond which is rarely expressed. She nearly kills Tom Willard for pressing George to be ambitious and hopes that George will be able to express meaning for both of them. She had a brief love affair with Doctor Reefy. The two were similar souls who could meet and find release for their emotions and dreams.
George's father, Elizabeth married him against her father's wishes. Tom is proud and ashamed of his wife. He is proud to be the leading Democrat in a Republican town. He hopes that his son will wake up from his dreaminess and approach the world with ambition so he can succeed like Tom has convinced himself he has.
The baker, he has a daily struggle with a cat who sneaks into his shop. Groff, known for his fits of anger, throws the cat out and swears. It makes Elizabeth Willard weep because she empathizes with the cat.
This Doctor has a practice in Winesburg with few patients but plenty of money. He cares very little for his appearance or what he eats. He seeks George out regularly to tell him stories about himself and try to convince him to be a superior being like his brother. His philosophy is that all people are Christ and all are crucified.
Biff owns the Lunch Room where much of the town eats. Parcival tells Biff to give him any of the food that is left over or that he otherwise would not be able to sell.
Editor-in-chief of the Winesburg Eagle, he is George's boss. Most afternoons he leaves the office for Ed Griffith's saloon. He rarely wakes up early but does the day of George's departure.
Louise sends George a letter saying she will be his girlfriend if he wants her. She is cold when he replies in person but then walks with him. With Louise, George tries to act like a man and is very satisfied with himself.
Louise's father, he is partially deaf. Louise must clear her walking with Jake before she can leave the kitchen to meet George.
He is the man George speaks to after his affair with Louise Trunnion. He is the clerk of West's Drug Store.
Jesse is Tom Bentley's weak son who must be called in to run the farm after his four strong sons are killed in the Civil War. Jesse is feminine in appearance but strong in spirit and runs the farm very hard. He allows his wife to work too hard and his father to retreat and die. He believes he has a connection to God, having trained to be a minister in the city, and runs about asking God for preference and strength. He wants a son but gets a daughter and is saddened to never connect with God. As he gets older, he buys more farm land and uses modern machinery to make it more efficient. When his grandson, David, comes to live with him, he believes his prayers have been answered and tries to use the boy to gain God's favor. Going too far, David finally runs away.
One of Jesse's brother, Enoch almost killed his father in a barroom brawl. Once he knows his father is fine, he acts as if nothing ever happened. He is killed in the Civil War.
Jesse's father, old Tom is a coarse, strong farmer. He is forced to allow Jesse to run the farm after the war and retreats to the background in his presence to die.
Jesse's wife, Katherine is a delicate woman from the city not fit for the demands of life on the farm. She works hard to try to please Jesse and strains herself. She dies after giving birth to their daughter, Louise.
Jesse and Katherine's daughter, Louise is unloved from the start. As a teenager she is sent to the Hardy family to attend school but alienates the Hardy daughters with her hard work. She turns to the son, John for companionship and love. After courting him for awhile, he responds and they become lovers. Louise had more wanted a friend but John wants sex. They marry because Louise may be pregnant but Louise feels trapped by her situation. After David's birth, she alternates between loving and hating her son. She spends half her time as a recluse and the other as a raving lunatic. She feels she was cheated from love because she was a woman.
The Hardy boy Louise marries, John becomes a banker in Winesburg. He is well respected in town and it is because of him that his wife has never been arrested. He is partly responsible for Louise's craziness as he cared much more for a physical relationship than an emotional one.
The son of Louise and John Hardy, David's childhood is unhappy and he moves out to his grandfather's farm. He is much happier with Jesse and enjoys a normal boy's life. Soon after arriving Jesse tries to pray to God and screams into the sky in David's presence. David is very frightened. When fifteen, his grandfather again takes him into the woods and this time tries to sacrifice a lamb. David shoots Jesse with a slingshot and thinking he has killed him, runs away.
The father in the family Louise is sent to live with, Albert was a stickler for education. He would use Louise's accomplishments to try to guilt his daughters into doing better but it always backfired.
One of the Hardy daughters who hated school, Mary has a gentleman caller come visit her. Louise Bentley witnesses this event, causing her to relate love to sex.
An agent for the Standard Oil Company in Winesburg, Joe lived with his mother and suffered from verbal seizures. He was silent and polite except when his outbursts hit. He then would pounce on the nearest bystander and and spew on them a flood of words concerning some ludicrous theory he had thought up. He felt he should have George Willard's job. After his mother died, he moved into the New Willard House, began a love affair, and formed the Winesburg Baseball Club, coaching them to victory.
Joe Welling's love interest, she is a sullen women who lived with her father and brother. The town laughed at her affair with Joe, especially at his loud love protestations to Sarah.
Edward and Tom King
Sarah's father and brother, respectively, the men had a bad reputation and were thought to be dangerous. They have a meeting with Joe at the New Willard House which the town awaited anxiously. Joe wins them over with one of his verbal seizures.
As a girl, she had a love affair with Ned Currie and he promised to marry her. He left town and never came back but she was unable to give her body to anyone else and so lived in waiting and loneliness for years. She became so isolated she would talk to herself. She worked at the Dry Goods Store to keep busy and finally at twenty-five, joined some social and religious organizations. At twenty-seven, she was so restless for companionship, she ran outside naked. Finally she accepted being alone forever.
Alice's lover when she is young, Ned promises to protect her but then makes love to her before he leaves. Even though he promises to return, he moves to Cleveland and then Chicago and makes new friends and lovers. Alice never forgets him or her loyalty to him because of the night they spent together before he left.
A middle-aged man, Will walks Alice Hindman home from the Methodist Church meetings. He is a clerk at the drug store. Alice wants to befriend him for companionship but never knows how to ask him to stay after walking her home.
An ugly bloated man, like a monkey, Wash hates the people of Winesburg, especially women. He tells George the story of his wife's betrayal so that George will not make the same mistake. His wife took three lovers during their marriage before he sent her home. He wanted to take her back until, while visiting her house, her mother sends her to him naked. He tries to kill her mother but is stopped.
A strong dark woman, Belle loves Ed Handby, a bartender. She walks out with George Willard to make Ed suffer and to release her suppressed sexuality, often causing George to feel used though he does not know why. Belle finally goes off with Ed, which is what she wanted the most.
A quiet, intense boy, the town believes he is very deep like his father was. Yet Seth wishes he was able to feel excited or impassioned. He is frustrated by the amount people talk and how little they do, especially his friend George Willard who wants him to talk to Helen White for him. He feels isolated from town life so decides to go to a city where he can work. By trying to impress Helen with his ambition, he succeeds in pushing her away and is confused when she walks home without him.
The daughter of the wealthy banker, she is considered the richest, prettiest girl in town. Helen has a relationship with Seth Richmond during their youth where she writes him love letters and such. As they grow older, George still expects them to be together but wishes Helen loved him because he likes her and he wants to write a love story. After Seth's decision to leave Winesburg, Helen does prefer George. The fall before George leaves Winesburg, he and Helen share a silent night walking and playing which signifies the death of their childhood. George leaves Winesburg before Helen can say good-bye.
Seth's mother, she refused to believe the rumors about her dead husband. She adores Seth but does not understand why he does not act like a normal boy and is thus slightly frightened of him and incapable of reprimanding him.
Seth's father, he was killed in an argument with a newspaper editor over a story which connected him to a woman school teacher. The town believed he was passionate and intense in the same manner as his son.
The half dangerous old wood chopper, he would wheel his boards loudly through town to gain attention. Seth looks at him as an example of man who could feel passion. He also thinks George Willard would have something to say to Turk, or anybody in Winesburg, whereas Seth does not.
The young forgotten daughter of Tom Hard, she has a significance her father cannot see. A stranger to town notices and makes a prophecy concerning her. He tells her that she may be the woman who is coming who will have a quality that is stronger than man or woman. The quality is Tandy and he tells her to be it. She refuses to be called anything but Tandy Hard after the incident.
Tandy's father, Tom is an agnostic who spends his time trying to destroy the religious views of his neighbors. He ignores his daughter largely but befriends the stranger in town and witnesses the prophecy. He soon forgets though and is surprised at his daughter's reaction.
A drunkard, he comes to Winesburg to kick his drinking habit but fails. He befriends Tom Hard. One day, drunken, the man prophesies to Tom's daughter that she may be the woman coming who can be Tandy. He admits that he is addicted to love but has missed his chance. He understands the woman who is coming, her struggles and defeats. He kneels beside the girl and kisses her hand ecstatically before leaving.
The Reverend of the Presbyterian Church of Winesburg for ten years, he enjoyed a good salary and prestige. He was a quiet man who would pray for God's help with his sermons. He wished he felt more passion for his job. After seeing Kate Swift's bare shoulders through his bell tower window, he becomes consumed by a passion he has never known and his sermons improve. He tries to resist thinking of sin but does break the window so he can watch Kate again. Finally deciding to give himself to sin, he wants her to appear through the window, but when she does, he sees her pray. He feels delivered by this view and thinks that Kate was God's messenger of truth.
Curtis's wife, she is the daughter of an underwear manufacturer who gives them money at their marriage and promises them more at his death. She feels secretly proud when she and her husband ride through Winesburg in their carriage. Curtis resents her for a time because she is ashamed of passion.
Kate Swift had been to Europe and lived in New York City. Winesburg's school teacher, Kate is a strong woman who is often cold, though her students have seen a passion in her. The passion is strong. She believes that George Willard is a genius and wants to illuminate life to him. Her passion becomes physical and she allows George to kiss her. The same night that the minister waits for her, she strikes George after kissing him and then runs back and prays in her room.
Aunt Elizabeth Swift
Kate's mother, the older woman draws the shade when the minister first returns hoping to see Kate. This causes him to feel that he has been saved from sin. However, Curtis watches Kate many more times. Aunt worries about Kate's intensity and hopes she is not like her father.
A lonely man who never grew up, Enoch moves to New York for art school. Nothing he does ever turns out right. His tires of his friends so creates imaginary friends which say the right things and allow him to be the cleverest. Getting lonely, Enoch marries, has a family, and holds a practical job until he grows tired again. He moves back to his apartment and his imaginary friends and is happy until a woman visitor drives them out. Telling George his story, he has grown old and lonely in Winesburg without his invented friends.
Mrs. Al Robinson
Enoch's mother, her death and the inheritance she leaves him allows Enoch to escape from his family life. Enoch gives his wife the money and moves back to his apartment alone.
Belle Carpenter's father, he bullies Belle until she grows up. He realizes that she knows what he did to her mother and is then frightened by her. He is a very petty little man whom Belle finally gets revenge upon when she smears mud all over his pressed trousers.
The bartender who has decided that Belle is the proper wife for him, he is thirty years old with a tendency to get into fights. His voice though is soft and he wishes he was able to better express his love to Belle. Instead he mainly threatens her about George Willard. The night Ed finds Belle with George, Belle was hoping it would make Ed jealous. He throws George aside three times and leaves with Belle.
The son of Ebenezer, he helps his father run the store, Cowley & Sons, but is frustrated that he and his family act so queer. Elmer wishes he were normal like George Willard and the rest of town but when he tries to tell George he fails. He decides to leave Winesburg for a city where he can be indistinguishable. Trying to talk to George before he leaves, he still cannot express himself so finally punches George instead. He is proud that he showed George that he is not queer.
Elmer's father, he is frightened by the salesmen who come into his shop so he either buys whatever they bring him or does not allow the salesman to talk and misses an item he might actually want. He regularly says an expression he got from Mook which frustrates Elmer and represents how he is queer.
A half-witted farm hand on the farm the Cowleys owned before moving to town, Mook is the one person Elmer feels comfortable talking to. Mook talks to animals. He was the first to say the expression Ebenezer and then Elmer say: "I'll be washed and ironed and starched."
A quiet man who is a farm hand with Hal Winters. He is deeply affected by the beauty of the land and it reminds of life dreams he had lost or forgotten. He had never wanted to be a farm hand and resents his wife and children. He wants to tell Hal not to get trapped by the same life but loses his nerve. He then convinces himself that it would have been a lie if he told Hal that marriage was not worth the sacrifice.
A farm hand with Ray, he is a fiery young man from a bad family. Hal has a reputation for getting women in trouble. He admits to Ray that he got Nell Gunther in trouble and wonders if Ray really believes he should do the right thing. After Ray cannot answer, he decides to be responsible because he wants to marry Nell.
The woman Hal Winters gets pregnant, she does not ask Hal to marry her. Hal decides even after talking to Ray that he wants to marry Nell and settle down.
A quiet young man, Tom moves to Winesburg with his grandmother and fits in because he never asserts himself. In Cincinnati, he was exposed to sinful lives and thus tries to avoid any vice. However he falls in love with Helen White. Tom likes to experience things to learn how they feel but then does not need to do them again. In this manner, he gets very drunk. George Willard finds him and Tom says that he made love to Helen which makes George angry since it is a lie. Tom explains that he wanted to learn what it was like to suffer and that is like making love.
Having to care for Tom after her daughter and son-in-law die, his grandmother moves to Cincinnati and works as a washer woman. When she finds a pocket-book, she moves Tom to Winesburg where she had grown up but is shocked to find how large it has grown. She and Tom find jobs with Banker White's family. She visits Tom regularly in his apartment. Her hands are twisted from years of working but she is very strong and speaks in very animated manner.
Banker White's wife, she is a wealthy woman. As Helen's mother, she feels that no one in town is good enough for her daughter. She invites one of Helen's college instructors to visit when Helen comes home for the Winesburg County Fair because he is of a higher society
Helen's college instructor
In Helen and Mrs. White's presence he feels he must act very cosmopolitan to impress them. Helen finds him tiresome though she likes to be seen with him at the Fair.
A woman who had never paid attention to George, she arrives at his departure from Winesburg and wishes him good luck. She expresses what the rest of the townspeople who had come wanted to say. She works at the Winesburg post office.
A friendly man, he is the conductor of the train George takes leaving Winesburg. His run is easy because he is home by evening and has Sundays off in the fall and spring. George's departure does not strike him as especially eventful as he see boys leave Winesburg for similar journeys all the time.
Winesburg, Ohio Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Winesburg, Ohio is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.