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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

11. Modernist Portraits

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Sherwood Anderson
- Hart Crane
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Susan Glaspell
- Ernest Hemingway
- Nella Larsen
- Marianne Moore
- John Dos Passos
- Gertrude Stein
- Wallace Stevens
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941)

Lobby of Only Hotel in Small Town
[7201] Dorothea Lange, Lobby of Only Hotel in Small Town (1939), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USF34-021148-E DLC].

Sherwood Anderson Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Born in southern Ohio, Sherwood Anderson was the middle child of seven. His father, a harness maker, moved the family around a great deal during Anderson's childhood in search of work. In 1894 the family settled in Clyde, Ohio, which probably served as the model for Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, though Anderson claimed he had no particular town in mind. After working in a variety of jobs and serving in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War, Anderson married into a successful business family and began managing businesses himself in 1906. Six years later he left both business and family and moved to Chicago, where he began his literary career. In Chicago he met many writers involved in what became known as the "Chicago Renaissance," including Theodore Dreiser, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl Sandburg. In 1916 he published his first novel, Windy McPherson's Son, about a man who leaves a small town in Iowa to search for the meaning of life. In 1917 he published Marching Men, which follows a lawyer's efforts to reform the factory in his town. These works, like much of his other writing, examine individuals' search for meaning in small towns, removed from the developments of modern industry.

Anderson's best-known work is Winesburg, Ohio (1919), a collection of connected stories about residents of a small midwestern town. This work applied some of the experimental techniques of modernism (multiple perspectives and an interest in psychology in particular) to fiction and met with critical praise for its innovation and realism. Anderson's style of storytelling is simple, though the ideas his work contains are complex; following the lives of characters repressed by a society unsympathetic to individual desire, the stories reveal the inner workings of characters in conflict with societal expectations. Reviewing Winesburg, Ohio, a Chicago Tribune writer noted that "Mr. Anderson is frequently crude in his employment of English; he has not a nice sense of word values; but he has an intense vision of life; he is a cautious and interpretative observer; and he has recorded here a bit of life which should rank him with the most important contemporary writers in this country." H. L. Mencken called the book "some of the most remarkable writing done in America in our time."

None of Anderson's many subsequent publications proved as successful as Winesburg, Ohio. He published numerous novels and collections of stories and essays in the next two decades, including the novels Poor White (1920), Many Marriages (1923), and Beyond Desire (1932), as well as the short-story collections The Triumph of the Egg (1921) and Horses and Men (1923). The simplicity of his prose style and his choice of subject matter influenced many writers who followed him, most notably Hemingway and Faulkner, but these writers tended to belittle his contribution to literature and to their own work. Anderson died of peritonitis en route to South America on a goodwill trip.

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