Structure and unity in the novels of Sherwood Anderson
Wood, Marilee May
Isle, Walter W.
Master of Arts
The purpose of this thesis is to study Sherwood Anderson's novels, showing how the unity of the works is destroyed by the author's limited ability to develop and sustain characterizations and themes. Anderson was uniquely limited by personal experience, and when he stepped beyond the bounds of this experience in his development of themes and characterizations, his writing became inconsistent and unconvincing. Chapter I shows how in his first novel, Windy McPherson’s Son. Anderson worked within his limitations as he wrote the first section of the work. The early part of Windy deals with the small town milieu, and Anderson's writing is coherent, unified, and forceful. However, in the second half of the novel, the emphasis falls on the intellectual and social problems of an urban society of which Anderson was not really a part. Thus the unity of the novel is broken as the author deals with unfamiliar material. In Chapter II Anderson's fourth novel, Poor White, is analyzed. This is another novel in which the opening sections succeed as Anderson tells the story of Hugh McVey and shows the effects of industrialization on a small Midwestern town. In the midst of this novel Anderson suddenly begins to develop a new set of characters and crops the themes of social and economic development. This break in the unity of the novel is never healed although Anderson does try to return to his original themes as the novel ends. Chapter III deals entirely with Winesburg. Ohio. Anderson’s most artistically successful work. In Winesburg Anderson developed a form which allowed him more freedom than he had found in the conventional novel. In this volume of loosely bound but closely related sketches Anderson created a unity of tone and theme which makes Winesburg his most unified and coherent piece of work. In dealing with a small town and the problems of its people, Anderson developed symbols, themes, characters, mood, and tone to produce a real sense of unity in the book. The last chapter of this thesis deals briefly with Anderson's six other novels, Marching Men, Many Marriages. Dark Laughter. Tar, Beyond Desire, and Kit Brandon. Anderson's use of characters and themes is discussed, and the role which his personal experience played in causing disunity in the novels is evaluated. Patterns of development similar to those found in Windy McPherson’s Son and Poor White are pointed out, and lack of unity in development of characters and themes is noted as the fault which causes each of these novels to fail to be artistically satisfying.