"The Teacher" Summary
Snow lay heavily on Winesburg, Ohio and the town was talking about it. George Willard was pleased that he had no work to do. He took a pair of skates up to the pond but did not skate. He built a fire to sit by and think of Kate Swift, his former teacher. The previous night, she had invited George to borrow a book from her. They had spent an hour together and she gave him the feeling that she may be in love with him. He was excited and annoyed. Soon he returned home and hugged a pillow as if it were Kate. The pillow then became Helen White in his eyes, whom he half loved.
As the night grew later, it grew bitterly colder and the streets emptier. Hop Higgins was the night watchman and he quickly checked all of the doors along Main Street. After he had made sure all were locked, he retired to the New Willard House to tend the stove. Hop would sit half awake for the entire night, reflecting on his dream to breed ferrets. George sat in his office at the Eagle pretending to work but thinking of love. Reverend Hartman sat alone in the bell tower. Kate Swift began a walk, driven into the streets by her bewildering thoughts. Her doctor had warned her to watch her health to avoid becoming deaf but Kate forgot about this warning now. Feeling bold and anxious, Kate walked around much of the town in the cold. Her character tended to be stern but the townspeople and her pupils seemed to like her. Her students would experience moments where Kate Swift was happy and charismatic. During these periods, her stories would incite great laughter. Largely though she was cold toward the children in her class, and to life in general.
A passion burned inside of her, though heavily guarded, and struggled inside of her on this night. She had seen a genius inside of George Willard while he was her student and had since then attempted to persuade him to do something with his genius. Kate felt that she could do it. She encouraged George to take his writing seriously and to work toward understanding people's thoughts. The evening before, Kate had spoke to George in great earnestness and her intensity had become mixed with a sort of passion. Kate's passion was directed at helping George understand the important lessons of life. Kate noticed how George was growing into a man and, leaning forward, she kissed him. George was confused and Kate embarrassed. She quickly reprimanded him for being too young to understand.
On this next night, Kate was lonely after her walk so acted when she saw a light on at the newspaper. The fire burning inside of her poured out into words and she spoke to George about life, hoping to open the door of understanding for him. The passion she felt became physical again and Kate tried to leave. But looking at George, she saw a man and wanted to be loved. He came toward her and she fell against him. After a moment, George felt Kate's fists beat against his face before she ran away. George stood stunned as Reverend Hartman stumbled in. He told George how he had been delivered by Kate Swift, a messenger of truth sent by God. George went home, undressed in the dark, and got into bed thinking of the minister's insane words. His resentment passed and he tried to understand what had happened with Kate. George finally decided that he must have missed what she was trying to tell him.
"The Teacher" Analysis
Another grotesque with a passion inside of her which she cannot express comes to us in the form of Kate Swift, the teacher. It is important to examine her role in the town as teacher. Her profession is one which requires that she relay information to people on a daily basis. She is responsible for their attaining knowledge. In this manner, she symbolizes a medium of communication in much the same way as George Willard does in the collection of short stories. She must aid children as they absorb and expand knowledge. This comparison draws an implicit literary connection between the characters of Kate Swift and George Willard which is solidified textually as they struggle to understand each other.
Their parallel roles place George in a different light to Kate. She sees him as a genius. The reason he seems like a genius to her is because of way in which he was able to use words. A manipulation of words endears his character to her. Words speak to her, communicate to her, through the figure of George Willard who is functioning as Anderson's medium for the grotesques. The importance of words and the significance Kate places on George's desire to be a writer illuminates the language of the story. The time the two are standing together as Kate tries to impress George with the difficulty of becoming a writer, the narrator describes the scene lyrically and notes that "a passer-by might have thought them about to embrace." The scene becomes a love scene because of the influence of language and the artistry of words.
Kate's words to George symbolize the tragic life in death theme which Anderson has constructed throughout the text. She states, "You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say." She is voicing the problem which had come about because of the isolation and disillusionment of modern man. Words are artifice unless they express the inner being of man. The language Anderson and his narrator employ hope to leave the reader with a message. The message is not absolute. It cannot be in order to follow Anderson's theory of life. Yet the reader is given the symbolism and commentary which can lead them to draw their conclusions based on the themes Anderson feels are the most important to discuss. Kate is looking to George to share her hunger for life and language but she does not know how to tell him explicitly.
As the confusion of modern communal bonds grew, Kate's passion becomes transformed into a physical desire to satisfy her loneliness. The narrator relates, "A great eagerness to open the door of life to the boy, who had been her pupil and who she thought might possess a talent for the understanding of life, had possession of her." She yearns for someone to understand her. However, in her loneliness, she grasps for George absolutely and for the wrong reasons. She is not in love with him. She lusts for personal contact and understanding. The static moments illustrated in the short stories usually end in disappointment and disillusionment, The grotesque's mission fails and nothing in reality has changed. Ironically, it is within this story, not "The Strength of God" where Kate symbolizes the message of truth. She is the truth of a generation who has a passion without a place and a self displaced from the universe. George is unable to make the mental leap from self to the universal and misses her message. Though a medium, he is not released from being a boy. Through his memory and experience, however, the reader is able to watch the struggle Kate Swift undertakes.
Enoch Robinson lived with his mother, Mrs. Al Robinson, as a boy and was known during his time at Winesburg High School as quiet and intellectual. After high school, Enoch moved to New York City, took a French class, and attended art school. He wanted to be an artist but never applied the necessary effort or showed the necessary maturity. Enoch would forever be a child who could not get things right. He was made lame in a street car accident. One time he was arrested for drunkenness and another time he tried to start an affair with a woman on the street but became frightened and ran away. Young artists would gather in his room and talk passionately for hours about the trends of art and artists. Enoch would sit off to the side, rarely participating in the conversation. The discussion of his own paintings would annoy him especially and Enoch wished he could cry out. There were stories and people which were hidden behind the life in his paintings and the visitors always missed them. After a while, because Enoch began to doubt the ideas expressed in his paintings, he stopped inviting over his artist friends. He replaced them with friends of his imagination who would say the right things. They were many of the people he had run into in the past now molded into characters whose company he enjoyed. In their company, Enoch could speak last and best.
When Enoch got lonely for flesh and blood, he married a girl who sat next to him at art school. They moved to Brooklyn and had two children. After his marriage, Enoch played a responsible adult. He found a permanent job illustrating for advertisements. He voted in elections, paid taxes, and felt very proud of his efforts. However, after a while, Enoch began to feel trapped in his family life. He would invent engagements to allow him more free time to walk by himself. His mother died and Enoch inherited eight thousand dollars. This money allowed him to escape. He gave his family the money and told his wife he could no longer live with them. Secretly relieved, his wife took their children to Connecticut. Enoch moved into his old apartment and happily revisited his imagined friends. Then, something happened to transform Enoch into the old, bumbling man later seen around Winesburg. Old Enoch chose George Willard to tell his story because he empathized with a sadness which had invaded George's life.
It was a rainy night which pleased George because of his mood. After talking to Enoch for ten minutes, George was asked to accompany him to his room to talk. George was very curious and wished he could comfort the lonely, old man. Enoch told George about the woman who entered his apartment in New York and ruined his imaginary life. She lived in the building with Enoch and would visit him occasionally. Enoch was worried that she would drive everything away but he was overcome by a desire for her. As she kept coming to visit, Enoch would try to resist but always let her in. One night, Enoch snapped and yelled at the woman, trying to explain to her how big and important he was in his room. After ranting for awhile, Enoch noticed a look of recognition in the woman's eyes and it horrified him that she understood. At this point, Enoch drew back from George, not able to continue his story. George insisted he finish. Enoch told him how he had sworn and called this woman horrible names. When she left, all of his imagined people went with her. Enoch stopped and George Willard exited the room. As he left, George heard Enoch whimpering that his room had been comfortable and warm but now he was all alone.
The narrator tells the reader, "The story of Enoch is in fact the story of a room almost more than it is the story of a man." Thus the descriptions of Enoch's little room in Manhattan must be understood as synecdoche. As we read about the room and its inhabitants we must apply it to Enoch and his character. As Enoch grew up in Winesburg, his mother's house lay dark because all the window blinds were kept closed. At this point, Enoch was described as a quiet, dense child. Thus Enoch's home symbolizes his personality and his outlook toward others. Enoch would walk to school with his nose in a book, not seeing the passing traffic. The darkness of his home is reflected in his character. As Enoch moves to New York, his surroundings become greater and so does his company. His interests expand and he is noted to have a circle of friends who joined him in his room often to discuss art. It is in the city as well where Enoch will push society away and create his own room of figures. The city here is a symbol of modern industrialism, forming an isolated disoriented man, detached from society.
By telling the reader, that "nothing ever turned out for Enoch Robinson," the reader then absorbs the rest of the story with narrower expectations. The tone is admittedly elegiac and the plot becomes one which will explain how Enoch has repeatedly failed instead of the discovery that he will fail. When we are told that his room is narrow, this symbolizes the type of life Enoch will lead in the city. He can stand the group of artist friends for awhile but he soon grows tired of their continuous talking about technique. His paintings are metaphors for Enoch's existence. The visitors only see the lines and technique inherent in each of Enoch's drawings and paintings. Enoch becomes increasingly annoyed by their oversight because in each painting he sees a people and events which were not drawn but implied. His imagination determines the story beyond each painting and the company has a blindness toward this sort of understanding. When he gets rid of all of his real visitors he creates a room full of imagined friends. In this environment Enoch's surreal existence can continue with him as a leader, the best speaker and the smartest artist.
Enoch is a creator paralleling the old writer of the prologue who has created the grotesque figures about which we read. He creates a universe and becomes master of it.Yet his belief in the fairy tale land is too absolute and he is unable to meld a life of reality and the surreal. Anderson believed that one must never lose sight of dreams or reality but should work with both. Thematically, he warns against grasping a truth as too absolute. Enoch personifies this quality of the absolute. He lives in an imaginary world until he grows weary of loneliness. Then he "plays" at being a husband and father in the real world, holding a real job and contemplating politics. This artifice cannot be retained by Enoch and he grows tired of this life and returns to the fantasy life. When a woman invades this life, he cannot compromise the two worlds once again and one must be destroyed. We knew that Enoch's attempts at happiness would be destroyed but the lesson lies in the story of Enoch's absolute hold on his particular truths which cannot be maintained.
"An Awakening" Summary
Belle Carpenter was a strong woman who sometimes wished that she was a man so that she could fight when angry. She lived with her father, Henry Carpenter, a bookkeeper who had made Belle's life miserable for years. He was petty and needed every detail of his life in complete order. As Belle grew older, the bully became frightened by her, mainly because she knew how he had treated her mother, and left her alone. Some evenings, Belle would walk out with George Willard although she secretly loved the bartender at Ed Griffith's saloon, Ed Handby. She was not sure she could control Ed and so relieved her built up passion through George. Ed Handby was a large, strong man who had inherited a farm when twenty-five. When sold, the farm brought in eight thousand dollars. He frivolously spent this money in six months on women, parties, and gambling. He also had a tendency to get into fights. However, Ed had recently decided that Belle was the woman he was meant to have. He wanted to settle down and support her as his wife but did not know how to tell her of his intentions. They had spent only one date together. Ed had rented a buggy and tried to express himself to Belle through his body, kissing her continuously against her will. Ed told Belle that he would have her no matter what.
Ed Handby saw George Willard as his only obstacle to Belle. One night, George stood in a pool hall talking loudly about women. He spoke for awhile until Art Wilson took over. George walked out into the streets and down by the frame houses, talking aloud and pretending he was an inspector of soldiers. He scolded the imaginary men, telling them how important order was. His own words hypnotized him as he continued to speak, commanding that he too must be in order with the motions of life. George paused, amazed by his thought process when alone. He had read many books lately. The books appeared to be brought to life as George walked behind the shed houses of the day laborers, looking in on their homes. He felt detached from existence. His thoughts had made him feel large and George rolled large words, like "death" and "fear", off of his tongue to represent this feeling. He walked to Belle Carpenter's house, hoping that she might understand him. George generally felt used by her but finally felt large enough change that.
George arrived at Belle's house after Ed Handby. Ed had threatened Belle, warning her to stay away from George or he would beat them both. Ed had visited Belle hoping to propose, but was unable. Belle was content to go with George because she saw Ed sitting in front of a neighbor's house and hoped he would watch her with George and suffer. She and George walked along for an hour and George told her of the changes in himself and how she would have to treat him like a man. When George kissed her, Belle did not resist but looked over his shoulder, waiting. George whispered more words into the air, words like "lust". Thinking of his newly found power, George had led Belle to a clearing in the brush and kneeled down beside her. Suddenly, Ed Handby appeared. Ed swept the boy into a nearby bush and bullied Belle. Humiliated, George tried to jump Ed three times but was thrown back into the brush. As he lay on the ground, George watched Ed lead Belle away by the arm. George walked home sullenly, surrounded by a world suddenly less magical. Later, George only felt anger and hate.
"An Awakening" Analysis
Though Anderson's table of contents focuses this short story on Belle Carpenter, the title refers mainly to an awakening had by George Willard. We experience his awakened sensibility through his relationship to Belle. We are able to contextualize George's awakening when we witness his encounters with Belle and how he is driven from her life. The irony of the awakening is that the story ends with George headed home, unchanged. The world seems less bright and he is discouraged. As with all of Anderson's tales, we must understand a title like this in the context of a static episode. The story illustrates a moment in the life of a grotesque figure, but not progress or productive revelation. Being static, often the stories are cyclical in nature. In this case, the plot is not actually cyclical but it does begin and end with the same solemn, elegiac tone.
The first paragraph foreshadows a dark time to come in the story because most of the imagery and adjectives employed are dark and foreboding. Belle is described as physically dark and strong. We are told how she feels when a "black thought" came to her mind. Her desire to be a man when angry is contrasted with her position in life as a hat trimmer in a woman's store. The implication is that she is trapped in this job. She lives in a "gloomy old house" far from town, surrounded by trees with "no grass beneath." The absence of the grass is a metaphor for the absence of the pastoral and of the fertile. The ground is dry and shaded. It is devoid of life. Lastly, "a rusty tin eaves-trough had slipped from its fasteningsmaking a dismal drumming noise that sometimes persisted all through the night." Thus Belle lived in a world ironically far from her name, which in French means beautiful. It was dark and dismal, devoid of life.
The next paragraph describes her bully father. She overcomes him however and after getting revenge on him, feels "relieved and happy". The word choice here symbolizes a small awakening for Belle. We read next about her pursuing a lover. Her relationship with Ed Handby is unsure so she uses George to relieve her sexual repression. Ed is a classic example of the grotesque unable to express himself. George again serves as a medium for Ed because he gives Ed an obstacle to focus on. Ed believes that Belle, for some reason or another, is the right girl for him. When he speaks to Belle, his words often get stuck inside, characteristic of a grotesque. He can then rally his thoughts around George. Belle also uses George to make Ed jealous. Thus although George's awakening comes to no good end for him, he is a medium for expression which allows Belle and Ed to come together by the end.
George's awakening is not as subtle as the awakening alluded to for Belle and Ed. After leaving the boys behind at the pool hall, George begins to play with imaginary figures in his mind, much as Enoch Robinson had done. Yet he does not allow this figures to take over and instead uses them to apply to his real life. His realization that the world is based on order and that he too must become aligned with the world is pivotal for him and leads him to another mock rite of passage, as he experienced in "Nobody Knows". George states, "I must get myself in touch with something orderly and big that swings through the night like a star. In my little way I must begin to learn something, to give and swing and work with life, with the law." By comparing himself to the orderliness of a star and the swing of the law, George's is making a claim to the universal. He realizes he is a creature of the world and must work among its rules. This mental rite of passage, when an adolescent acknowledges his greater place in the universe and his need to grow along with it, is a universal theme of maturation. Anderson himself often spoke of the order of the universe and was dismayed that the ordered nature of things was disconnected and disunited by the modern mechanization of society.
The reason it is a mock rite is the tone in which Anderson describes the experience. George trembles after his realization and needs to say big, meaningful words in order to express himself. These symbolize the archetypal patterns of existence, such as rebirth and initiation. Their lack of meaning when stated hollowly is symbolized by the narrator's intentional contradiction. He reports, "The desire to say words overcame him and he said words without meaning, rolling them over on his tongue and saying them because they were brave words, full of meaning." This satirical tone arises again at the climactic moment when the narrator mentions that George was awoke. He describes, "The very rankness of the smell of manure in the clear sweet air awoke something heady in [George's] brain." The smell of manure causes the awakening because George's attempt to grasp the truths of the universe is not realized. As he and Belle walk, the narrator illustrates, "Up and down the quiet streets under the new moon went the woman and the boy." Even though the moon is fresh and Belle the woman walks beneath it, the air is rank and George remains a boy. Nothing has really changed.