Essay The Nature of Humanity in the Work of Sherwood Anderson

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The Nature of Humanity in the Work of Sherwood Anderson

A common staple of horror stories—in film and on the page—is the scene of the frightened and indignant villagers chasing the monster who has been terrorizing the townsfolk. In Sherwood Anderson’s “Hands,” the protagonist, Adolph Myers (Wing Biddlebaum) is a well-intentioned individual whose actions the people around him contort so that he becomes more fiend than friend. In Wing Biddlebaum, the very aspects of his character that make him human are those that society distorts to make him into a maladapted monster: first, the mystery that surrounds him causes the townspeople to misunderstand him; second, because of the accusations of his pedophilic homosexuality stemming from this
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Wing’s major distinguishing characteristic—for which he gained his epithet “Wing” from a poet—is his incessant gesturing with his hands. At the same time that the “movement of Wing’s hands [exhibits] a manifestation of his inner turmoil,” in the more formal setting of his having to pick berries, they remain steady and inexpressive of any influence of nervousness (Elledge 13).

Wing’s hands represent the crucial theater of war in the tension between the truth of his character and its imprecise perception by his compeers. Thus, Gwendolyn Morgan correctly notes that his gesticulations “are the expression of all Wing feels and thinks, indeed the very index of his humanity [which] is succinctly expressed [in his] method of communicating his vision and his affection to his students” (46). However, when Morgan writes that an “inconsistency appears when the hands that are representative of such sensitivity and affection are compared to the most inhuman of all symbols in Anderson’s writing—machinery,” her appraisal of Anderson’s intentions is inaccurate (46). Morgan juxtaposes Wing’s private silence with his conversations with George Willard, arguing that the “first level of symbolism bleeds into the second and produces a stylistic inconsistency” which is “surely an oversight on the author’s part”

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