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Grotesque Depression

In: English and Literature

Submitted By Jakeconover
Words 2098
Pages 9
Professor Ostrom
ENGL 210
7 December 2012 A Grotesque Depression There are a lot of things throughout life that could make a person depressed. They could have lost someone close to them, problems in their work place or schooling, or just a mind set that the person has. What exactly is depression? Depression is a disorder that is feeling sad, guilty, and helplessness. It can lead to changes in a person’s diet, or sleeping patterns.
According to Dr. Prentis Price, 19.5 million Americans are affected by depression in a single year. A few important symptoms of depression are: feelings of helplessness, guilt, hopelessness, and worthlessness. Writers often use depression as a tool to establish a certain tone, style, or even to describe the whole setting. That is how the book Winesburg, Ohio, written by Sherwood Anderson, is set up. Sherwood uses depression in almost every form possible throughout these stories to portray his idea. The biggest use of depression in his book is when he talks about the truths that make the each character grotesque. Each truth a character has changes the character into an unnatural character. Each hidden truth presents another level of depression for each character. A truth can be destructive in its own way. A truth will always try to fight its way out of the person and the longer a person holds in that truth, the more damaging it can become on, not only the character themselves, but also to people around them. Hiding a truth makes a person feel anxious that someone is out to get the truth from them. If that person is overwhelmed with the feeling of anxiety, it leads to the feeling of helplessness that send them spiraling down into depression. In Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson describes all the characters as grotesque, saying that each character had a hidden truth that made them unique. The way Sherwood Anderson uses his word choice to describe the characters has an underlying hint towards a depression. Grotesque is a word that sounds like it has a dark, deep meaning to it. It means odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character, fantastically ugly or absurd, bizarre. Grotesque has a deep, beauty to its meaning and concealed message. Sherwood Anderson also uses his depressing word choice to name the stories that he puts into Winesburg, Ohio. The one that sticks out the most, is the story titled, “Loneliness”. Loneliness ends up being the perfect name for this story, because Enoch goes throughout his life with limited interaction with other people. Even during his marriage, he would always think of ways to get away from his family. “He began to tell little lies about business engagements that would give him freedom to walk alone in the street at night and, the chance offering, he secretly re-rented the room facing Washington Square” (95). This passage shows that Enoch Robinson did not want to be around people, even his wife and children that he loved. Once Enoch had the opportunity to get out of his marriage, he took it as quickly as possible. That opportunity arouse when Enoch’s mother passed away and he inherited eight thousand dollars. He was so desperate to end it, that he gave his wife and children the eight thousand dollars and ran. “He gave the money to his wife and told her he could not live in the apartment any more. She cried and was angry and threatened, but only he stared at her and went his own way”(95). Enoch goes back to his pervious apartment that he lived in and created imaginary people base on people from Winesburg, Ohio. Towards the end of the story, he starts getting these visits from the girl down the hall. Enoch enjoys and hates the visits at the same time. He enjoys them, because he has deep, burning feelings for this woman and he hated the visits, because he hates human interaction and he enjoys being by himself. His mixed emotions get to crazy for him to handle that first, he explains the imaginary people to this mysterious woman and when he notices that she is understanding of all of it, he goes on to yell and curse at her. This drives her away from him and when she leaves, his imaginary people walk out the door with her.
Like the characters that were grotesque, Sherwood Anderson had his dark, unnatural characteristic. Sherwood had his own truths that he hid from world and even, his wife. Throughout Sherwood’s life, he went through many depressing events. According to Sherwood’s Biography, while he was married, he suffered a mental breakdown and was missing for four days. He was later found in Cleveland, Ohio, disheveled and disoriented. This episode that he went through, unfortunately ended his marriage. These unfortunate events helped lead him to writing in his depressing style. Sherwood Anderson does not just use depressing word choice to describe his characters; he also uses it to describe objects in the stories. For example, in the story “Paper Pills” he uses a twisted metaphor, with an interesting choice of words, to describe the balls of paper that Doctor Reefy. Sherwood Anderson goes on to illustrate how the balls of paper, that Doctor Reefy writes, what most readers think to be his hidden truths, are like the “gnarled” apples left on the ground. “The apples have been taken from the trees by the pickers. They have been put into barrels and are shipped to the cities where they will be eaten in apartments that are filled with books, magazines, furniture, and people. On the trees are only a few gnarled apples that the pickers have rejected. They look like the knuckles of Doctor Reefy’s hands. One nibbles at them and they are delicious [...] Only few know the sweetness of the twisted apples”(14). This passage shows that even if the apples are gnarled or messed up, that they can still taste good, if the person were to eat around the gnarled areas. This compares to Doctor Reefy’s balls of paper, because he does not like what he has written on them, so he balls them up and throws them away. Doctor Reefy’s hands are like the pickers who come around and pick the good apples and let the bad apples fall to the ground. Eventually his wife comes along and finds these “paper pills” and reads them, even though the balls of paper are rough around the edges. Once she got past the wrinkled mess, she liked what had been written on them. Sherwood Anderson then makes hints that after the wife is done reading the notes, she eats them hoping to “absorb” the truths that Doctor Reefy has written down.
Sherwood Anderson first describes these “truths” in the book, “The Book of the Grotesque”. “And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them. It was the truths that made the people grotesque. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood” (6-7) This was a dream that the old man had about the people in his life and he was trying to understand how one truth affected one person. Once that person embraced a certain truth, that truth could distort that person’s life, which could eventually lead to depression in the right order of events.
Not only does Sherwood Anderson use word choice to provoke the feeling of depression, but he also uses characters attitudes and appearance to develop the feeling of depression. In the story “Adventure”, Alice Hindman loses the love of her life, when Ned Currie goes off to find a job. Ned tells Alice that he will be back for her after he finds a good job. Unfortunately for Alice, Ned never comes back and gets lost in the city life. Everyday, he pops up in her thoughts and she cries for him to come back. Each time she gets upset with him being gone, she loses a little more faith in his return. This put a strain on, not only her relationship with him, but also a strain on her relationships with other men. Soon, she gets to the point of hopelessness and that is when she falls in to a depression. “Getting out of bed, she arranged a blanket so that in the darkness it looked like a form lying between the sheets and, kneeling beside the bed, she caressed it, whispering words over and over, like a refrain. ‘Why does not something happen? Why am I left here alone?’ she muttered”(63) Sherwood Anderson wrote this passage to show how the only thing Alice looks for is love and affection. Sherwood Anderson uses the loss of a loved one to develop the depressing feeling for this town and this book.
When Sherwood Anderson goes into the description of a new character, he likes to first describe their appearance. When describing the characters appearance, he goes into another style that is depressing. Each time he depicts a character, they all have at least one feature that is hideous or ugly. Going back to Alice’s story, Sherwood describes her saying, “At twenty seven Alice was tall and somewhat slight. Her head was large and overshadowed her body. Her shoulders were a little stooped and her hair and eyes were brown. She was very quiet but beneath a placid exterior a continual ferment went on”(59). She is like a tall girl that is skinny, but her head is too large for her body. Stooped shoulders show a girl that is slouched in her stance. Her posture sounds like that of a person that is unmotivated and either upset or depressed. The last five words of that passage are what solidify the reader’s image of depressed girl; “a continual ferment went on”(59). Sherwood Anderson use that last bit of the line to inform the readers that Alice had a dark feeling growing insider her.
Sherwood Anderson does a great job in representing depression through the use of word choice and through characters attitude and appearance, but the most impressive way that he creates the underlying feeling of depression, is through the way he designs the setting. The setting of this book takes place in a small town, isolated from the real world. It is the type of community where everyone knows everyone. When there is a town that is isolated from the outside world and nothing new is coming or going, it can mess with people’s heads and may make them feel lonely even when they know the people around them. “They have been put into barrels and shipped to the cities where they will be eaten in apartments that are filled with books, magazines, furniture, and people”(14). This is a good passage to show the loneliness of, at least, the narrator and other characters. The narrator describes what is going to happen to the good apples, but he gets caught up describing the apartment and starts to get more detailed about its description. The characters long for human interaction with people outside of their community.
Each writer has his or her own style that they like to write with, when it comes to their own books. Some write about the brighter side in life, while other try to create a story through a normal life circumstances. What most writes have troubles with, is the ability to expose the dark sides of emotions. Sherwood Anderson’s book, Winesburg, Ohio, does an amazing job capturing the depressing side of life. Sherwood Anderson is able to write this type of book, because he has had those personal life events that could and possibly did lead to depression. When there is a life that goes through these types of tragic events, it is easier to come up with the word choice, describe the characters, and describing the setting in a depressing style. All these factors of depression in this book, that underlying connection the characters and the town.

Work Cited
"Biography of Sherwood Anderson". Grade Saver. n.p. 2012.
8 December 2012. < http://www.gradesaver.com/author/sherwood-anderson / >

Prentiss Price Ph.D. "What is Depression". All About Depression.
2010. 8 December 2012. < http://www.allaboutdepression.com/gen_01.html >

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