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Winesburg, Ohio

Sherwood Anderson

"Godliness," Parts III-IV: "Surrender," "Terror;" "A Man of Ideas"

"Godliness," Parts I-II

"Adventure," "Respectability," "The Thinker"

Summary

Part Three of "Godliness," which is entitled "Surrender," flashes back to the girlhood of Louise Bentley, Jesse Bentley's daughter and David Hardy's mother. As a young woman, she leaves her father's farm and goes to live with the Hardy family, a well-to do clan that lives within the town of Winesburg. The two girls in the household hate Louise for being such a goody-goody and a successful pupil in school, while they struggle along with poor grades; to make matters worse, Mr. Hardy frequently points out Louise's achievements in order to criticize his own daughters. Louise hates her environment, and longs for escape and for love. She watches the Hardy girls necking with their boyfriends, and abruptly decides to pursue their brother, John. She sends him a note, asking him to come to her window and call if he wants her to come to him. After a while, he does call to her, and a little while later she mistakenly thinks that she is pregnant, and they get married. She quickly realizes that marriage to John Hardy will not provide happiness, and when her son David is born, she neglects the baby. Her husband criticizes her, but she says that "It is a man child and will get what it wants anyway. Had it been a woman child there is nothing in the world I would not have done for it."

The final section in "Godliness," called "Terror," returns to David Hardy and his grandfather Jesse. Jesse has just bought a new piece of land, along with new machinery for clearing it. David, meanwhile, has just turned fifteen, and has taken to going on long, introspective walks in the woods. One day, Jesse makes another foray with David deep into the woods, bringing a lamb with them this time, hoping that if they pray and burn the lamb together, God will finally appear with a message for them. He does not tell this plan to David, and when they come to a clearing and Jesse pulls out a knife, again David becomes terrified and flees. Jesse chases him, and his grandson throws a stone and hits the old man in the forehead. Jesse falls over, and David believes that he has killed him; he resolves to flee Winesburg forever. He is never seen again in the neighborhood. When he wakes up, Jesse is upset and insists endlessly that an angel of God took the boy "because I was too greedy for glory."

The "The Man of Ideas," tells of Joe Welling, the Standard Oil agent in Winesburg. He is described as a volcano, always ready to burst out with an odd speech on the subject of some new idea that has caught his fancy. During George Willard's first year working for the Winesburg Eagle, Joe Welling organizes a local baseball team, and his remarkable energy makes him a successful and well-respected manager. Meanwhile, he begins courting Sarah King, a "lean, sad-looking woman" whose father and brother are widely considered dangerous. Everyone thinks that Joe Welling will end up getting beaten up or killed by the King men for being involved with Sarah, but when he finally has a meeting with them, he sweeps them off their feet, as he does everyone, with a "tidal wave of words."

Commentary

"Surrender" demonstrates the unfortunate consequences of an Old Testament father's possessing only a daughter. Louise Bentley is a relatively simple character, since all of her complaints stem from a single cause--the absence of love in her life. Anderson labels her "one of the race of over-sensitive women," but her neurosis is understandable. She moves from her father's farm, where she found herself "wanting love more than anything else in the world and not getting it," to the home of another man's family. There, she immediately makes enemies of the two people closest to her own age, and the possibility of bonding with them over the trials of adolescence vanishes. As a result, Louise becomes even more miserable, and still more eager for love, which remains alien to her. Her clumsy seduction of, and marriage to, John Hardy fails to fulfill Louise, and by the time her son is born, she is unable to give him any kind of genuine affection, having never received any genuine affection herself. She imagines, perhaps correctly, that she could love a female child more, probably because of her own girlhood memories. Since, however, she has had no success in her relationships with males, learning how to love her son would require a selfless devotion which Louise is incapable of.

In "Terror," the saga of the Bentleys winds to its tragic conclusion. Stubbornly ignoring the failure of his previous attempt, Jesse again sets out with David to find God in the forest. He plans to sacrifice a lamb--an important practice in the Old Testament. He resembles an Old Testament patriarch, and his trip into the woods with David parallels the Biblical story of Abraham, who is called upon to go into the wilderness and sacrifice his only son Isaac. In the Biblical story, God is merely testing Abraham, and sends him a lamb to sacrifice in place of the boy. This paradigm is turned on its head here, as Jesse sets out to sacrifice a lamb and ends up losing his grandson. David hits the old man in the head with a stone, alluding to the story of David and Goliath, and then runs away. Upon David's departure, Jesse is transformed into a Job-like figure, bereft of all offspring. "I was too hungry for glory," he tells everyone, having slipped into a kind of dazed madness. He has sought God's favor so desperately that he ends up destroying his family.

After this tragic section, "The Man of Ideas" comes as a relief. The tale of Joe Welling is one of the book's few cheerful, optimistic sections, during which the reader is more inclined to chuckle than to weep. Joe Welling may be eccentric, but his quirkiness does not truly alienate him from society, because he is likable and harmless. His perpetual fervor seems more blessing than handicap, since they result in the baseball team and his courtship of Sarah King. The latter is really Joe's attempt to curry the favor of Ed and Tom King; Anderson presents a truly wonderful scene in which these two rough, unpleasant men are utterly carried away by Joe Welling's enthusiasm for one of his ridiculous ideas. "Suppose," he tells them, "all of the wheat, the corn, the oats, the peas, the potatoes, were all by some miracle swept away. Now here we are, you see, in this country. There is a high fence built all around us. We'll suppose that. No one can get over the fence and all the fruits of the earth are destroyed, nothing left but these wild things, these grasses. Would we be done for? I ask you that. Would we be done for?" The answer is no, of course, and as Joe Welling rattles on about eating milkweed, and breeding up new vegetables, it is hard not to share in his enthusiasm. He is, it seems, one of the few genuinely happy characters in Winesburg, Ohio.

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