Sherwood Anderson often wrote of other people’s misery in his short stories and used it in ironic ways when writing his endings. After reading several of his these stories and reading several biographies of his life, I have come to the conclusion that Anderson’s life experiences greatly influence the method in which he wrote them. Also, when comparing some of his stories to his life, you will see that many of them can be closely compared to difficult times in which he went through while growing up and as a grown man.
Sherwood Anderson was born into a rather impoverished circumstance in a small Ohio village named Camden. His father was a heavy drinker and had a particular hard time keeping a job. His mother was a hard working woman with strict religious beliefs and always taught her children to work as hard as they could. Anderson was the third of seven children, making his family large and hard to support. Anderson was not an exceptional student, but rather was average grade wise. He graduated grammar school and completed nine months of highschool.
Anderson was forced to drop out because he needed to work for his family and bring in more income than his mother and two brothers were making. Anderson worked as a laborer in 1896- 1898, then served in the Spanish American War. He attended Wittenburg Academy in Springfield, Ohio, in 1900, then went to Chicago. In Chicago he worked at a produce warehouse, and when he was in his teens he began working as an editor for an advertising agency. In 1904 he began to display unusual talent for success in the mail- order paint business. In addition to having financial problems Anderson also had numerous family problems.
I believe that this is the reason that Anderson would use love in his stories and have his characters unable to be with that love. Anderson was first married on May 16, 1904, to Cornelia Lane of Toledo. He fathered two sons, Robert Lane and John Sherwood, and a daughter, Marion with her. On July 27, 1916, Anderson divorced his current wife and married Tennessee Claflin Mitchell on July 31, at Chateaugay, New York. This marriage had many difficulties since Anderson and Claflin did not agree on most things such as business and family life.
Because of this, they divorced in 1924, and after this Anderson married Elizabeth Prall. Elizabeth and Anderson moved to New Orleans and in the summer of 1925 they went vacationing in Troutdale, VA. Anderson liked the Grayson County Area so much that he bought farmland beside Ripshin Creek, and built a house that he named Ripshin. In the fall of 1927, he purchased the Marion Publishing Company, in Marion, VA. He became editor and publisher of two weekly newspapers; articles from were collected in a 1929 book entitled “Hello Towns”.
Anderson and Elizabeth separated in late 1928 and in 1933 Anderson married Eleanor Copenhaver. With her he traveled throughout the South, touring factories and studying labor conditions. Because of his tours with her, he began writing about labor conditions in the 1930’s. The four short stories I read by Sherwood Anderson were “Hands”, “The Triumph of the Egg”(1921), “The Door of the Trap”, and “The Rabbit Pen”. I chose three of these (“Triumph of the Egg”, “The Door of the Trap”, and “The Rabbit Pen”) to base my report on.
In “The door of the Trap”, Hugh Walker, a teacher, husband, and father, falls in love with a student of his, Mary Cochran. He invites her to his house and she immediately takes a liking to him and his family. As she grows closer to Hugh and his family, Hugh realizes more and more that he can never be with her because he has responsibilities. One evening he asks her to his room and tells her that he is going to kiss her but after he does, she is to leave and never come back, because they could never be together. In the story “The Rabbits Pen” a man named Fordyce is walking in a garden and passes by a wire pen.
In the pen are baby rabbits and the father rabbit is killing them he yells for help and a tall woman, Gretchen, comes running out of the house and stops the father rabbit from continuing his murders. Fordyce is drawn to this woman and her no nonsense take charge attitude. Her name is Gretchen and she is Joe’s housekeeper. Fordyce is at the house to see Joe, who is a good friend of his. He tells Joe that he is attracted to Gretchen, and over the next few months he decides that he would like to marry her. One day Gretchen expresses her unhappiness of being at the house.
She feels that she is not noticed and her hard work is not completely appreciated. She leaves the house and goes back to Germany. When Fordyce talks to Joe, Joe says that she was a great asset to the house and will be greatly missed. And of course, Fordyce is heart broken. These two stories both have one thing in common. The main characters, both males, end up losing a love and being heart broken at the end of the story. I believe that Anderson’s marriages and divorces greatly influenced this use of love misery. Both of these stories were written after he had been divorced twice.
Also, both were told from a man’s point of view, rather then the woman’s, hinting that this was how Anderson had felt when these things had happened to him and he had lost his wives. The last story, “The Triumph of the Egg”, is, in my opinion, the best example to support my thesis. The story is told from a child’s point of view. He tells how he sees his parents trying to make it in the world and their unsuccessful attempts at making money. His father starts by trying to start a chicken farm. He does not have any luck and decides to pack up the family’s few belongings and head to Bidwell, Ohio.
There he tries to make his mark in the restaurant business by opening up a place opposite a railroad station. The family receives very little business. Then the father says that he will try to entertain people who come in so that they will tell other people of this place and hopefully word will spread. One day a young man stops in and orders a coffee. Trying to be friendly, the man starts up typical conversation. The father tries to impress the young man with his collection of freak chickens. Rather than impress him, the man is sickened and leaves. The father, then defeated, closes for the night and goes to bed.
The child in this story is seeing how his family is struggling to get by, and how his father has a hard time keeping a job. Anderson’s father too had a hard time keeping a job, which caused the family to struggle with financial problems. Also, the man has many jobs during the course of the story. This can be compared to the number of random jobs that Anderson had during his childhood. Told with sadness and understanding, I believe this story is one of the few stories that completely tell of Anderson’s deepest feelings and emotions towards a specific topic, in this case, earning a living and just trying to survive.