Winesburg, Ohio

Winesburg, Ohio Summary and Analysis of Godliness Parts I-IV

"Godliness" Summary Part I:

The Bentley family had bought land in Northern Ohio many years before the Civil War and worked hard to clear away trees and make it into suitable farmland. By the time Jesse Bentley's father owned the land, much of the work had been accomplished but they still worked with great determination and brute to make the land their own. Jesse had four brothers, all who were big and strong, while he was the odd one, small and feminine, who had gone to school to become a minister instead of work on the farm. The men in those days had only the saloon to express their passions and fights would arise. Enoch Bentley almost killed his father in such a pursuit. When his father had lived, he returned to work as usual.

When the Civil War came, Enoch and Jesse's three other brothers went off to fight and were all killed. Mr. Bentley then had to turn the farm over to his weak, small son and Jesse returned. His mother had died so no one remained who understood him. He brought a gentle wife from the city, Katherine, and ignorantly watched her overwork her delicate body and die from childbirth. His father retreated to die in the background. Jesse was weak in frame but strong in spirit. All through his life, he had an aura emanating from him which was very alive. The whole farm was scared of him, including his wife. They all never worked so hard in their lives. He would sit all day in a wing of the house he had built and think of ways to improve his farm.

Jesse liked to equate himself to the Jesse of the Old Testament, believing that he was the ruler of land and men and would give forth to a long line of succeeding rulers. He would ask God to look on him in favor, as God's servant, and to protect his interests. His fervor is difficult to imagine after the advance of the industrial age which had occurred between the Civil War and the time Anderson's book was published fifty years later. Yet at that time, men in the Midwest worked very hard and were often too tired to read. Churches were the center of their lives. At a young age, Jesse had given himself wholeheartedly to God and thus his imagination and passions were directed to this end. He loved the idea of power and would jump about his farm imagining that God would soon give him the kingdom he desired. On a night Katherine was expecting to give birth, Jesse ran through the woods and thought of how all of the land he touched should be given to him by God. His brothers had failed him. He imagined God's coming to the biblical Jesse. Jesse pleaded with God for his new baby to be a son which he could name David. The two of them could ward off the Ohio farmers who, like the Philistines, were after their lands and were enemies of God.

"Godliness" Summary Part II:

David Hardy was Jesse Bentley's grandson, born to Louise, the daughter Katherine had given birth to instead of the son Jesse had prayed for, and her husband, John Hardy, a banker. Because of his mother, he had not enjoyed a very happy childhood. Louise's life was half as a recluse when she would hide herself away and half as a raving lunatic. Her husband's influence in the town saved her many times from arrest. David was sent occasionally to visit his grandfather on the farm. He loved these times and once after returning from the farm, run away back to the farm. It became dark and David was lost. His imagination pictured horrible things and he was not sure if he would ever find his grandfather. A farmer overheard him crying and brought him back to town. John Hardy had found out that he was missing and sent out a search team. Only his mother knew when David returned and she took him in her arms and cleaned and fed him. When men from town came by, she hid him so she could continue caring for him. He felt that being lost was worth it to find such a caring, changed mother waiting for him at home.

Jesse came to speak with John about bringing David to live with him. They were afraid that Louise would protest but she recognized that he would be happier away from her influence and that the farm would be kinder to David than it had been to her. David barely remembered living with his mother and was much happier on the farm. Each morning he would awake excitedly and run out to see the farm. Two of Jesse's sisters still lived in the house and one became David's caretaker. Since she sat near his bed as he fell asleep, he would dream of his mother and a silent bond grew between them. David made the house cheerier and his relationship with his grandfather grew very close. Jesse believed that his prayers had finally been answered.

Jesse still held the belief that he was God's servant. He had also adapted to the material age which had ensued since Louise's birth. He invented machines and tried to persuade John Hardy to become involved with the moneymaking. After David's arrival, Jesse's dreams revived regarding his connection to God. One day, while riding in the buggy, Jesse became very thoughtful. He looked at David for moments and then forgot David was present. He seemed to be filled with the desires which had wrought his body on the night Katherine gave birth. Suddenly, he stopped the buggy. Jesse felt that if the two knelt to God, the miracle he had waited for would finally occur. The boy became very frightened. The old man rose from the ground and grabbed him by the shoulders. Jesse screamed, calling for a sign from God. David believed it was no longer his grandfather and ran into the woods. He stumbled and hit his head very hard, falling to the ground. When he awoke, he was in his grandfather's arms and his fear melted. As they drove away, Jesse cried out sadly to God: what had he done to cause God's disproval?

"Surrender" Summary Part III: "Surrender"

Louise Bentley, Jessie's daughter, was born into a house where she was immediately unwanted. She wanted love but did not receive it and was unhappy and moody. At fifteen, she was sent to live with Albert Hardy and his family in Winesburg so that she could attend school. Albert was a man who believed that education was going to be essential in the coming years. He pressed this point repeatedly upon his two daughters, Mary and Harriet, and his young son, John. His daughters rebelled against him and did very little school work. When Louise moved into the house, she did not know how the Hardy girls felt about school. She was shy and over the first weeks, she made no friends. She did her best to impress the teacher and her classmates, studying hard and answering all of the questions. The Hardy girls resented her effort in school greatly. When Albert Hardy lectured them on how much better Louise was doing, they were furious. They stopped speaking with her and Louise dissolved into tears.

With their company completely absent, Louise began to look at John Hardy for companionship. He carried wood up to the stove in her room every evening. She would try to make conversation with him but she was too shy. She hoped that the coldness of her life was not permanent. She only thought of John as a possible friend, but she soon related friendship to sex after encountering Mary Hardy with a boy caller. Nice girls in the Midwest were allowed to entertain boys in the house parlor and one evening when Albert had gone from home, Mary's gentleman came to visit. Louise had been in her room as usual but when John had left after bringing the wood, she called to him out the window. She then waited in silence for a few moments until she became anxious and crept downstairs. Hiding while Mary and the man entered the room, she was trapped in the darkness as Mary was held and kissed. Finally Louise escaped to her room and thought about how wonderful it would be to be loved. She quickly wrote a note to John about wanting to love him if he would come to her in the orchard. Her feelings darted back and forth between wanting him to call for her and wanting him not to.

Weeks went by and she had almost forgotten when she heard John's call. Only days before, Louise, on a strange impulse, had complained of the things she hated to a farm hand driving her. He did not know how to reply when she lowered her head onto his shoulder. Frustrated by his non-response, she threw his hat off the buggy and drove to the farm without him. When John called, Louise took John as her lover because John thought that was what Louise wanted. Months later, afraid that Louise was pregnant, they married. Louise had wanted them to share their dreams but every time she tried to talk to John, he kissed her instead. Frustrated, she no longer wanted to be kissed. The pregnancy was a false alarm causing Louise to feel further trapped by her new life. Later, David was born and she alternated between hating and loving him. She told John that a boy did not need her love. If the baby had been a girl, she would have done everything in her power to make the girl's life happy.

"Terror" Summary Part IV

In the spring of the year that David Hardy was fifteen years old, Jesse Bentley bought swamp land and turned it into farm land. His neighbors snickered at him, but he had the land drained and the cabbages and onions he planted brought in a surplus of money. Jesse then bought two new farms plus new machinery to cut the cost of labor. He gave gifts to David and his sisters. That fall, David spent all of his free time outdoors, typically in the woods gathering nuts. He would sometimes play with other boys from the countryside but he did not like to hunt with them. Occasionally he would think about what it meant that he was almost a man, but usually he was content as a boy. One day, he killed a squirrel with his slingshot and the Bentley sisters cooked it for dinner. After that, he carried his slingshot regularly.

His grandfather stopped him one morning and took David along on an important matter. Jesse allowed him to bring his bag of nuts because they were driving into the woods. He had that unfocused look in his eyes which scared David. The buggy paused near grazing sheep. Jesse and his grandson caught a lamb which had been born out of season and David was permitted to hold it as they continued along. His grandfather sat silently, thinking of his lifelong devotion to God. When Jesse had seen the lamb the day before, he realized it gave him the chance to make a sacrifice to God. He wished he had thought of it before Louise was born but hoped that the pyre they would make for the lamb would allow God to speak to Jesse. Jesse thought that God would alert David to the path he should follow as a man. As the buggy reached the same spot in the woods where Jesse's fanaticism had scared David once before, David's mind whirled with plans of escape for himself and the lamb.

In a clearing, Jesse prepared a pile of sticks and set them on fire. He decided he would have to put the blood of the lamb on David's forehead and he started toward the boy with a large knife. David froze with fear, letting go of the lamb. The lamb ran quickly away and David followed. He ran rapidly until reaching the creek and then turned with his slingshot in hand. Jesse was running after him with the knife, looking for the lamb. David shot a rock from his slingshot and hit Jesse in the head. As Jesse fell to the ground, David feared he had killed him. Weeping, he proclaimed that he did not care and that he would be a man and never return to Winesburg. Jesse woke groggily, unsurprised by David's absence, and began to speak about God. Jesse continued to speak only in this manner for the rest of his days. He claimed that a messenger from God had taken David because of Jesse's greediness for glory.

"Godliness" Analysis Part I:

Godliness is presented, as is typical in Anderson's stories, in an elegiac tone. The household picture is drawn with Jesse and his sisters out in front before we are transported into the past. The narrator gives the reader an historical summary of the Bentley property and the hard work ethic carried by the Bentley descendants. The picture of the Bentley man is established as we are told that Tom and his sons were tough and worked long hours. They would escape to the saloons where their passions could be released. Enoch had nearly killed his father once. This type of brute manliness was accepted and expected.

When Jesse is introduced, he immediately sets up a great contrast between the type of man he is and the the men his father and brothers were. Anderson writes, "By the standards of his day Jesse did not look like a man at all. He was small and very slender and womanish of bodyŠ" In comparison to the imagery of strong tall trees and hard labor which encompassed the word choice in the description of Jesse's father and brothers, the character description of Jesse contrasts drastically. And yet Jesse turns out to be the strongest of all the men. He outlives the other men in his family and builds the farm up to work more productively and efficiently than ever before. Ironically, Jesse is the character who more befits the symbolism of a tree. He is hard to his dying father and his overworked wife, allowing them to slip into the background. He overwhelms all of the space around him.

Jesse's tragedy is his tendency to ignore all human life around him and all of his emotional sensibilities in order to drive toward a goal of money or power. He is a metaphor for the theme of disillusioned modern man, driven to a point where his senses have been anesthetized and his communal bonds are broken. Jesse is the only brother who left the farm to live in the city. When he returns to the farm, he is an emotional brute. Overcome by a need for power, Jesse ignores the living and reaches out toward God. He had chosen a life of religion before he was called back to the farm. With the power the farm gives him, his ego grows to huge proportions and Jesse calls out to God, expecting Him to answer. The allusions to the biblical Jesse highlight Anderson's satirical view regarding religion in this context. Jesse's religiosity has made him a monster more than a man. He is driven by a selfish desire to control his own destiny, foreshadowing David's need to knock him down. Anderson gives us the hint in the text, "'Suppose,' [Jesse] whispered to himself, 'there should come from among them one who, like Goliath the Philistine of Gath, could defeat me and take from me my possessions.'"

"Godliness" Analysis Part II:

David Hardy symbolizes the chosen one. He has the power to make everyone in Jesse's farm happy and symbolizes to Jesse that his luck has changed with God. As a young boy, David tries to run away from the unhappiness in his life and return to the farm. For David, the farm represents the archetypal patterns of existence, rebirth, fertility, initiation, sacrifice and so on. He is allowed to start over, barely remembering his birth mother,and is given a new mother in Jesse's sister. The pastoral theme is in effect as the young boy experiences the wonders of living out on the farm among the farm animals and green, open spaces. There had been a void in David's life because of his mother's noninvolvement and this void is filled at the Bentley farm.

David also represents the Biblical David from David and Goliath. Yet he does not yet know that his grandfather is the one he will destroy. To Jesse, David fulfills the void in his life left by an unfulfilled prayer to God on the night of Louise's birth. David is reborn as Jesse's child. Yet Jesse cannot leave good enough alone. When he takes David out into the woods, Davis is able to see the monster in Jesse's artificial religiosity. He cloaks it on hoping to bring himself power and recognition from God. David looks into his eyes and runs away. Wanting love, David is presented hunger and a pastoral he had found at the farm is broken and grotesque.

"Surrender" Analysis Part III:

The title seems oddly out of place because at no point in the story does Louise Bentley or Hardy surrender to live the life she is pressed upon to live. As a young girl she strives to please and be loved. As she is not by first her family, she looks to the Hardy girls and again is let down. Finally she looks to John Hardy and makes him come to her. Again, she is not happy but she refuses to be quiet. Instead of surrendering to a drab, half-dead existence as Elizabeth Willard leads, Louise strikes out against the society who has failed her and trapped her in a position of subordination. She is not successful in her protest other than causing a stir but the reader gains extreme respect for her.

Louise supplies some of the most forward thinking and liberated comments of the collection of short stories. She is insightful and tells her husband, without pretense, that a man had a better chance in the world which is why she did not need to give her son love. We cannot agree with her treatment of David, but the ironic title allows the reader to experience how little Louise allows herself to surrender to the sexual mores and gender stereotypes of the time.

Louise is, thematically, a universal character. She is grotesque as we are all grotesque because she wishes to be loved. Her outreach to the many different characters are not rewarded and this makes her crazy in the end. The narrator establishes this universal feel when remarking, "Before such women as Louise can be understood and their lives made livable, much will have to be done. Thoughtful books will have to be written and thoughtful lives lived by people about them." Louise was a product of her environment and society. She is looked at by Winesburg as a lunatic, a grotesque monster. The description of this woman as a monster gives the reader a barometer by which to judge the true monstrous representation of man and extreme religiosity in "Godliness", Jesse Bentley.

"Terror" Analysis Part IV:

The simple storytelling of the mock narrator underlies the current of this story. The beginning draws a parallel in David's life to the life of his mother. Each at fifteen, took an adventure. During the analysis of "Nobody Knows" we examined how Anderson often employs this term in as hyperbole, exaggerating the experience to be had by the character. The characters feel that they are undertaking a gigantic journey or life changing activity whereas normally each short story is a static episode where nothing changes. The characters intend to take a change or a move but usually fell short because of their own grotesquerie. As for David's adventure, he would leave Winesburg, running from his family forever. In this case, the term "adventure" is no hyperbole but actually functions as an understatement taking advantage of our preconceived expectations. However, David does not intend to take any adventure. He is content in his place in life, a boy's place, and is thrown abruptly out of this.

The narrator foreshadows the negative experience to come by using foreboding adjectives, like "heavy" to describe the crops, and by locating the story in late fall. Symbolically this represents a time of death and darkness. Jesse had made money in the spring by using machinery to take over more and more land. He has replaced his workers with machines. The machines are a metaphor for the modernization that was dehumanizing the face of society. In this atmosphere, David learns to shoot animals emphasizing the tone of death and decay. Ironically, the more Jesse employed machinery to his land, the more he also reconnected himself to God and the claims to God he had held when David was younger. The parallel elements in his interests were control and power. Jesse's wish to sacrifice a young lamb is a harbinger of bad luck as Jesse will sever his relationship with his beloved grandson. Spring and rebirth are symbolized by the young lamb. Ironically, David becomes the David of the Bible as Jesse had always wished only as a result of Jesse's monstrous attempt of sacrifice. The archetypal patterns of rebirth and sacrifice collide and David uses his slingshot, aptly provided for him by the clever narrator, to knock down his grandfather. David believes Jesse is dead because to him, and allegorically, Goliath must be killed by David. David is symbolically made into a man with this action and this textually runs off to become a man as well. The allegorical story illuminates the downfall of a man willing to sacrifice societal ritual for his own gain and the modern rite of passage as a boy breaks from his communal bonds to a live a life alone and stripped of his past.