Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Deal Me in Challenge: Adventure by Sherwood Anderson (1919)

Card Drawn:

I'm singin' in the rain...just singin' in the rain! What a glorious feeling, I'm happy again!

Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio reminds me a great deal of Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, in which both works contain a series of different short stories (not always interrelated) that are set in a fictional small town at the turn of the 20th century. However, there are some clear differences in their aesthetic approach: Anderson is not so much interested in 'plot' but rather the engendering of powerful emotions that often reflect a wistful poignancy. What we often get in his writing (at least from what I can discern from the handful of stories that I have read from this particular collection) is dark humor and a distorted type of 'realism' that contains more abstraction than verisimilitude. In contrast, Leacock is like the Canadian version of Mark Twain, using irony and satire to poke fun at small-town life. While both authors cogently depict the experiences of ordinary life in a rural town, Anderson is more keen to evoke feelings of loneliness and isolation.

In Adventure, Anderson gives us the sad story of Alice Hindman, a 27-year old woman who works at the dry-goods store and is a spinster. Of course, at the time, women were expected to marry young and have children but Alice is unable to settle down after being spurned by her first love named Ned Curie who promised to marry her after finding work outside of Winesburg, Ohio but he never returned. Years go by and she has the opportunity to fall in love again when another male suitor takes an interest in her but she still cannot get over the emotional trauma of being abandoned by Ned. She is stuck in the past and Alice's loneliness begins to take a toll on her psyche. She yearns for an adventure (hence, the title of the story) but feels trapped--as an unmarried woman with very little education, the opportunities to better herself are limited. Female gender roles, sexuality and patriarchy are key themes here although the ending is ambiguous as to whether or not Alice achieves a sense of autonomy. While many might see her final act of running through the streets naked during a rain storm to be symbolic of re-birth or a pronouncement of sexual liberation, Anderson diminishes the seriousness of this profound moment by injecting humor. She encounters an old man who is deaf and seems surprisingly unperturbed by this naked woman. She is desperate for an form of human contact and emotional connection but the old man's bewildered indifference knocks her out of this trance. Utterly ashamed and embarrassed for her promiscuity, she literally crawls back in defeat to her home. The story ends with Alice resigning to the depressing fact that she will die alone which undermines the significance of her catharsis. She is right back where she started at the beginning of the story, stuck in paralysis and consumed by unrequited love. Anderson's cynical and bleak representation of rural life recurs throughout the entire collection so if you are looking for something a little less depressing, Stephen Leacock's  Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town would be a perfect alternative. 

You can read this story HERE.

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