Life in Death
The stories written by Sherwood Anderson are aimed to
reveal many life problems that probably for some people can seem very ordinary
and obvious. But when we start looking deeper into the very idea that the
author tries to transmit through the whole story, we realize that those "easy
and clear things” fill our life and make it more complicated and sophisticated.
Every story narrates about a situation that can occur in any family, probably
that is why the author chooses a small town, an unknown family and at first
sight, an ordinary family problem. But looking deeper, we can see that this
misunderstanding between a husband and a wife can be in any family; every
mother wants to bring up a child in a good way but the end is different for
every family. Some are ready to improve and can find a solution in order to
continue leading a more or less happy life, other families are doomed to be
crashed forever. But this war between parents always influences children. So in
this story George represents that very kid. We does not know what he wants but
we clearly see that this child wants to live and will always struggle for that.
The story is limited by certain borders; it helps the
author to concentrate on one problem and describe it, characterizing George,
Elizabeth and Tom Willard, their life and their vision of this life. These two
people face many hardships of life but they did not manage to find their own
truth. The only person who seeks for love, compassion and understanding is
Though it is clear that Elizabeth is a central figure
in the story. She used to be a happy girl but years passed and she turned to be
an obsessed woman who mainly feels weak since she can’t overcome anything that
happens in her life. She hates her husband and tries to tight her son at
herself. She is the one who does not want to act and does not want other people
to live as well. She is the one who creates this atmosphere of desperation and
depression. She lives only sticking to some obsessed ideas and does not want to
listen to anyone.
Tom Willard wants to help the child; he tries to
convince George that only if he struggles, he will achieve things. And probably
the author exaggerates some things, nevertheless the father is that very person
whose vision of his son’s life is closer to realistic.
Spade Will Never Shine
The story begins with a detailed
description of the main characters – the Willards, a mother, a father and a
son. They own a hotel – the place which in itself a sort of grotesque – a piece
of reality to which the parents are clinging. The Mother, Elizabeth Willard,
who is only 45, is stricken with a disease depriving her from liveliness and
any intention. Tom Willard, a convinced Democrat in a Republican community,
wants his son to awake from peaceful life, stop acting like a gawky girl. Their
son George is going to be a journalist but he is still unsure of his future and
This is a brief way of introducing
the characters but in fact the inner struggle (perhaps it is rather moral than
physical) that is going inside them is really immense.
Tom Willard is disillusioned about
his way of life; he’s ashamed of his wife and their business. He strongly wants
to get rid of any responsibilities about the hotel because it reminds him of
his failure in life. His ambitions are still restless but he is not able to
take up anything new. Tom Willard devoted his life to expression of his
political views and could burst with blistering tirades if anyone disagrees. He
exaggerates his influence in this small town but this is the only way he can
Elizabeth is another sort of character. All
she can do is to clench her fists. She feels she is weak and the present
doesn’t belong to her, but her inner struggle is like a combustion engine –
roaring, forcing, however there’s no driver to direct her impulses. Her
disappointment in life maddens her; she is not mentally agile any more. It
makes her feel weak, pressed, intimidated by emptiness of life. Though there
was strong bond between the mother and the son as the author puts it, George
still felt awkward and confused with his mother. It is evident that there is a
gaping wound in their relations; it is a gap between them that makes them feel
The effectiveness of the story
depends on the specifically chosen details that support the message of the
story. It is not by chance that the author introduces the image of the hotel
here. It symbolizes Elizabeth
and her inner and outer state. "The hotel was continually losing patronage
because of its shabbiness and she thought of herself as also shabby”. This very
notion of shabbiness and decay is the key concept in the characters’ lives. There
is no remedy for a rusty spade to shine up again and the characters perfectly
know it. The surprising moment in the story is the sudden impulse of Elizabeth to kill her
husband. But she lacks stamina to carry her intention out. She is corroded
inside and every action eats her away even more.
Elizabeth Willard is the only
character in the story who is tongueless. She doesn’t know the ways to express
her longing for a certain change – a dim desire, uncontrolled and irrational. The
only ‘but’ here – her changes exist in her imagination. She is unable to let
her son go, she is afraid of development, of novelties. She tries to be a
caring mother presuming a good-natured attitude to the awkwardness arising
between her and George. There is no one to stop her, to tell her – this is the
world of limitless opportunities, get gold of them! There is no one to tell her
these words because everyone is rotten.
Investigation of the Plot as a Key to the Perception of the Story
One of the most important things we
pay attention to when reading a book is the plot. Is the story rich in events?
Where does the action take place? Who are the main characters? These and some
questions of the kind influence our perception of the book and acceptance of
its main idea greatly.
When speaking about the plot of the
story "Mother” I would like to say that it is not rich in events due to the
fact that the incidents involve inner, moral struggle rather than physical
feelings to Tom and George are altering, George’s life position is only forming
up. That is why the effect of the story depends mainly on characters.
I would also like to say that the
plot is made up from pieces, minor plots, for example, the story of the past
and the events of the present. Therefore, the incidents are given in inverted
order for dramatic effect. Buy with all this inversion and flash-backs the
story finishes logically. It is a frame structure that makes it complete and
finished. "I thought I would go for a
walk” – this is the phrase repeated twice in the story. But the second time
we come across it we see the deeper, hidden sense of it. George is going to
leave home, to leave Winesburg. For a new start in life, a successful one.
So, as we can see, the plot
structure is, on the one hand, influenced by the general message of the story
and, on the other hand, predetermines the perception of the story.
A Drama of a grotesque person
The story "Mother” is a drama of a grotesque person. From the very beginning of the story we see a grotesque figure of a usual woman. She works despite her being ill, we may say that she even leads a normal life, but there is something more in the subtext, we feel great tension in everything around. She owns a hotel, that is rather old and dirty, shows no return and just few guests stay here, but this hotel is something, that belongs only to her, so they are coming to a close together.
She knows that her hotel represents her life, that’s why she feels the necessity of changing something at least in her son’s life, because her wishes and aspirations were already broken.
When she was young she was full of ideas and impulses, but she wasn’t strong enough, to follow her truth, she dashed around the life and find her truth. She tried to realize herself in her son and was absolutely sure that she was right in doing it. It was her truth and she was ready to kill her husband in order to follow it. She became a grotesque, and it affected her in a dramatic way estranging her from the life, and I think from her son too.
The plot of the story consists of few events and all of them are closely connected. They are not used accidentally. The relations in the family are far from being good. But no one is strong enough to begin an open struggle. They keep their feelings inside, and we see that it even may have led to physical action of Elisabeth. But again she checked her impulse and didn’t change anything. This woman dashed around the life, and the plot of the story proves it. The events are not given in a chronological order for a dramatic effect. Sometimes the story seems to be cry up about the past and the present. But we feel the hope of the future. Mother offers her sun to go out at the beginning and at the end of the story and this frame shows that something may be changed by her son. He is the way out. This story narrates about the situation, when everyone is eager to struggle, but they afraid of themselves, so they failed, and just continued to lead their half-life.
woman who has lost her_self
small town Winesburg is a model of the world we live in. As a model
it represents the layers of human society, shows how it functions.
The whole population is reduced to several characters that are
referred to certain types of people. You know, in any town there is a
man whose past is a riddle for other citizens, a woman whose marriage
made her a shabby old bat, a couple whose love-story is a wonder for
their neighbours. These basic characters without whom one can't
imagine a real town are gathered together in Winesburg – the place
the whole world is reduced to.
in this miniaturized world lives Elizabeth Willard – a middle-aged
but spiritually old woman, shabby and listless. She hates her life
and her husband, being unable to change anything and even having no
desire to act. The only joy she has is her son George. Elisabeth
believes that there is a deep bond of sympathy between them, she
doesn't want her son to lose the very vital force she had lost years
ago. As far as she hates everything about her husband and his
life-style, she doesn't want George to follow his advice and "wake
up”, leave the town and become a successful man. Elisabeth believes
that it can do nothing but ruin George's life, she's absolutely
unable to understand that her egoism just can't allow her son to
leave her. Elisabeth is a woman who wants to make her son happy, but
she doesn't even know how, because she has no idea what happiness is.
of the most important motives of the story is the characters' hidden
life and how it influences their public life and appearance. We
usually judge people's deeds by their present state but we seldom
think about their past. The author reveals the secrets that shape
character's personality, he proves the idea that everybody has his
own skeleton in the cupboard. As for the main character of the story,
Elisabeth's skeleton is her past. "In
her girlhood and before her marriage with Tom Willard, Elizabeth had
borne a somewhat shaky reputation in Winesburg. For years she had
been what is called "stage-struck" and had paraded through
the streets with travelling men guests at her father's hotel, wearing
loud clothes and urging them to tell her of life in the cities out of
which they had come. Once she startled the town by putting on men's
clothes and riding a bicycle down Main Street”.
But when she faced reality, when other people broke her dreams, she
gave up . Elisabeth believes that there's no place in the world for
that vivid, emotional girl she used to be and she deletes this
Elisabeth. Now she's reserved, downtrodden, exhausted, she's just a
body without soul, because her soul is hidden in her wardrobe where
it substitutes an ordinary skeleton.
A frustrated dreamer
Winesburg as a microcosm of the universal. The figures
of Winesburg were forced to handle issues and events which people universally
underwent. Many common threads between man and between the self in relation to
the world exist which the grotesque figures deal with in a manner to which any
reader could relate.
Sherwood Anderson’s ”Mother” is a short story which
tells us about strong mother attachment and sense of possessiveness towards her son. Elizabeth Willard is the
main character in this story. She is an unhappy woman of forty-five. "Mother"
presents an unhappy marriage in which husband and wife are alienated from one
another. An atmosphere of decay permeates the family. Elizabeth is frequently
ill and has become a pale, ghostly figure, wandering aimlessly through their
home. Anderson tells us that Elizabeth feels an enormous
bond with her son George, a reporter for the local paper, a bond that she
cannot express in words. In loneliness and despair, Elizabeth turned her dreams
on her son George hoping that he might "be allowed to express something
for us both." In this story we can
see that Elizabeth is a frustrated dreamer who hopes that her son can discover
the opportunities and outlets for creative impulses which she couldn't find.
Elizabeth's unhappiness and helplessness is sensed almost in every her action.
Life like a dark decrepit hotel
In "Mother” Sherwood Anderson describes an ordinary family and its
relationships. Elizabeth and Tom Willard and their son George live in an old
hotel. Their life there is dull and depressing. This influences the
relationships among the family members. Tom and Elizabeth can’t be called a
wonderful couple. Their relationships are far from being full of mutual
understanding and love. Elizabeth is a kind of wives who are absolutely
oppressed by their husbands, their only right is to exist and to born children,
they have only duties, they are slaves in modern civilized families. Actually,
Mrs. Willard is a key person in the story.
Elizabeth tolerates her
relationships with Tom, his attitude to her, their mutual dislike. The only
thing she can’t stand is a broad gap between her and her son. George is closer
to his father, and that’s natural. The only strange thing is that the
relationships between Tom and his son have always been warmer, than between George
and Elizabeth. The son has never discussed with his mother his problems, has
never expressed his inner wishes and thoughts. On the other hand, Elizabeth has
always felt the gap between them, that’s why she can’t cope with a kind of
psychological barrier in order to adjust her relationships with George, to tell
him that she is really interested in his future life, to share her anxiety with
Elizabeth wants her son
to escape from their dark hotel, otherwise it will absorb George. But she can’t
tell him about this, because she is afraid that her son will not believe her or
something else. When the son tells Elizabeth that his father thinks he should
leave their hotel and experience real adult life, this strikes her with pain. Again
she faces the most terrible thing in her life – the understanding that the relationships
with her son and her husband are much better than hers. And that means that the
only thing to live for is completely lost. Her life as a wife has not been successful,
and now the last hope for the so-to-say lucky life as a mother is also ruined. So
what is her life? Elizabeth’s life is like a dark decrepit hotel.
The "Mother” is another grotesque
story from the book of short stories by Sherwood Anderson. The plot of the
story is made up of few incidents. These incidents involve moral struggle. This
struggle evolves inside one of the main characters – Elizabeth. The character
of the story contributes to its effect. Though we may feel compassion towards Elizabeth,
her inner world is complicated and this is the grotesque un the story – her mentality
that mixes up a loving care for her child and blunt struggle with obviously
happy future. Again the story sends us back to the past, which explains many
things about the present. It seems that Anderson hints about the present state
of his characters. Just as in "Hands” we see why the mother behaves this way.
The grotesque of the story consists
in the image of Elizabeth who’s lost all her dreams living all her life in
Wnesburg. Now she is sorry for this, and she understands that it’s all her
fault. Her love to her son projects onto her desire to help him be happy. She’s
afraid at the same time that the son will go away. This struggle between two
desires leaves her with her weaknesses so that she can’t choose any and leaves
everything as it is. Her life is ruined, and there is no sense to struggle
anymore, as it’s been since she’s lost her dreams. All that is left for her is
praying and thinking of her wasted life. She imposed on her the idea that she’s
weak, though she is not, as no one is.
The story Mother tells
us about the family, which owns a shabby and unprofitable hotel in Winesburg,
Ohio. They are: a permanently sick woman about 45 – Elizabeth, her husband Tom,
the leading Democrat in the town and their son George – a reporter of the
Winesburg Eagle. Elizabeth hates her husband and he’s ashamed of her, but the
one thing that unites them, is the fact they both love their son, and mean well
to him. Tom wants George to succeed and Elizabeth didn’t want Tom to influence
the son, because he was the only man that made her happy. Once she went to her
son’s room and heard him talk in low tones. She thought that that he was
talking to himself and it pleased her, because she used to do the same. But
then she finds out that George was talking to his father, who suggested George
to move to another place and become successful like him. Elizabeth’s hatred
towards her husband became direct in one moment, and she even decided to kill
him. She felt broken and frustrated. But in fact, she’s happy – she really
wants her son to leave that place and begin a normal life, but she was too
afraid to tell him about it, that’s why she’s so angry about Tom – he managed
to find the right words instead of her.
The plot of the
story is made of few incidents. It mainly describes Elizabeth’s emotional
stress, her thoughts and her view of her life and George’s role in it.
Elizabeth has a severe moral struggle inside and is anxious about her Son too
much. She prays for her son but at the same time she doesn’t understand what
she wants. This peculiarity makes her a very bright character full of fears and
doubts, on which the story depends for its dramatic effect.
Willard is a woman of a restless past, a mindless present and a hopeless future
– and this is the fact that makes her eccentric – she doesn’t live her own life
– for her it means nothing, but there is still one idea that means everything
to her – she doesn’t want George to become drab like herself. It is a mix of
motherly love, insanity and pity for the lost life that makes her think and
behave in such a way. Her love for her
son is a great as her hatred of her husband. But if the first can be explained
by the simple fact, that every mother loves her children, the second at the
same time is not so easy to apprehend. "Although for years she had hated her
husband, her hatred had always before been a quite impersonal thing. He had
been merely a part of something else that she hated.” This is another thing that makes her
eccentric – she’s full of hatred toward practically everything and everybody
that surrounds her, but all this hatred is unmotivated and exaggerated. She
even hates herself but cannot change anything, and begins to hate everything
more and more. I regret to admit, that the story can hardly be called unnatural
or strange – I’m sure that situations like this very often happen in rural
families and not only in the USA of that time.