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The Past Is Always Present

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The Past is Always Present

One theme constantly confronts the reader of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio: The past will constantly impose itself on the present. Many of the grotesques in the novel, such as Wing Biddlebaum, are living in self-imposed isolation because of something tragic that had occurred. In Wing's case the tragic past is raised any time he realizes that his hands are out of control. Two characters whose past play a key role in their unhappy present lives are Wash Williams and Elizabeth Willard. To understand the grotesque nature of their present lives, the reader is exposed to their past experiences. For both Elizabeth Willard and Wash Williams the past has had a powerful effect on their present, and their future seems based on the message they feel compelled to deliver to George Willard.

Elizabeth Willard, mother of Winesburg, Ohio's central character George Willard, had watched helplessly as all of her girlhood dreams of adventure and freedom had died away, leaving only her hope and determination that George succeed where she had failed and escape Winesburg. In her youth Elizabeth had been a free spirit dreaming of traveling the world as a stage actress, and in the process gaining a reputation in Winesburg for spending her evenings with the men of the theatrical companies who stayed at her father's hotel. However as time passed, so did the notion of acting and Elizabeth began her search for love and marriage which lead her to Tom Willard, a clerk at her father's hotel. Against her father's wishes she marries Tom only to realize later that she did not really love him, but was simply in love with the idea of marriage. It is after her marriage that Elizabeth seems to give up on both her life and her dreams and in her depressed, defeated state is described as a "tall ghostly figure moving slowly through the halls" (39)...

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