This lesson focuses entirely on the central character of George Willard, who can be seen as the protagonist of Winesburg, Ohio, as a whole. Six stories are read and analyzed to see what they nuances they reveal about George’s personality and his relationships with Winesburg’s inhabitants.
The first lesson provides an introduction to the concept of “the grotesque” and to Anderson’s understanding of this concept in his prologue story. One short story in the Winesburg, Ohio story cycle, “Respectability,” is examined.
Portrait of Sherwood Anderson
Credit: Photo, Carol Van Vechten, 1933. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
The book is, of course, in no sense a burlesque, but it is an effort to treat the lives of simple ordinary people in an American Middle Western town with sympathy and understanding…. Certainly, I did not write to make fun of these people or to make them ridiculous or ugly, but instead to show by their example what happens to simple, ordinary people—particularly the unsuccessful ones—what life does to us here in America in our times—and on the whole how decent and real we nevertheless are.—Sherwood Anderson
Winesburg, Ohio presents a galaxy of strange and distorted characters in a small town in Sandusky County, not far from Cleveland, well over one hundred years ago. Even a casual glance through a few of the stories leads inevitably to the question: Why are these people all so weird—so grotesque? By contrast, the central character of this short story cycle, George Willard, seems a perfectly normal young man on the brink of maturity and poised to make the life-changing decision to leave Winesburg behind.
This curriculum unit includes three lessons. The first lesson introduces students to the concept of the grotesque, central to the Winesburg, Ohio story cycle, through a close reading of two stories: “The Book of the Grotesque” and “Respectability.”
The second lesson focuses on character development within the short story sequence to analyze the experiences of the character, George Willard. While George is not mentioned in a few of the stories and figures only fleetingly in others, he dominates much of the action across the story cycle and serves as the central thread running throughout the text. This lesson has students focus on the evolution that George undergoes in the course of the following stories: “Mother;” “Nobody Knows;” “An Awakening;” “Death;” “Sophistication;” and “Departure.”
The third lesson returns to the concept of the grotesque and with teachers modeling an analysis of this literary element in the story, “Adventure.” Students are then given the opportunity to independently investigate additional stories in the cycle for applications of this literary element. Extending the lesson activities provide a host of additional research, creative writing, and project opportunities.
Winesburg, Ohio demonstrates Anderson’s belief that people are neither simple nor easily classified. Often distorted by life experiences, his grotesques nevertheless possess a “sweetness of the twisted apples” that evokes our understanding and empathy rather than distaste.
Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Grade level Standards
Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin a story) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Since its publication in 1919, the name “Winesburg” has become synonymous with small town life in the American Heartland. The stories in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio depict a variety of residents, past and present, and center on George Willard, a young newspaper writer, coming of age in the first decade of the 20th century. The scenes and people in the short story cycle were drawn from Anderson’s formative years in Clyde, Ohio. His experiences there left an indelible mark on his consciousness—only to re-emerge many years later in this fictional narrative.
Sherwood was born in 1876 into a family that was less than prosperous. His family moved frequently around the state of Ohio, settling in 1884 in Clyde, a frontier town where he lived for twelve formative years. As a boy, he was a voracious reader known for accessing books through his school library, as there was no public library in the town at that time. He had a reputation as a hard worker and was nicknamed "Jobby" for taking on a variety of odd jobs around town which occupied him upon dropping out of high school at the age of 14.
After a short stint in Chicago as a laborer, Anderson enlisted with a Clyde unit and served in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Upon discharge, he attended Wittenberg Academy in Springfield, Ohio, and then moved back to Chicago, where he soon gained some success as an advertising writer. He took a wife and began to raise a family, while running a business in Elyria, Ohio. Anderson continued on that track until the fateful day, November 28, 1912, when at the age of thirty-six, he walked out of his office as president of the Anderson Manufacturing Company in Elyria, Ohio, and threw off the accoutrements of middle class success to embark on an uncertain career as a writer. This event, the stuff of literary legend, is chronicled in an autobiographical essay entitled, “When I Left Business for Literature.”
Viewed from the outside, Anderson’s personal life appears to have been tumultuous. Three of his marriages failed and he rarely saw his children and grandchildren. He did find happiness in his fourth marriage, though, and during that later phase of his life, he also achieved financial security, and set up a homestead in Virginia. He purchased the Marion Published Company, and became editor and publisher of two regional weekly newspapers. His life was cut short while on a vacation trip with his wife to South America. The inscription on Anderson’s grave reads, “Life, Not Death, Is The Great Adventure,” suggesting he had acquired insight into and made peace with the choices that had shaped his life.
Information on Sherwood Anderson’s Influence on Modern America Literature can be found here.
Write an essay providing a vivid explication of the nature of the grotesque that Anderson develops in his short story cycle, Winesburg, Ohio.
In your response, discuss Anderson’s use of story elements—setting, plot structure, and character development. Be sure to use at least five of the characters from the short story cycle, including George Willard. Use evidence from the text in your response.
Worksheet 7 provides a rubric that may assist teachers in developing, revising, and assessing student essays.
The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable. —William Golding
Well over half a century since its first publication in 1954, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies wields the power to rivet readers’ attention and to pose questions about human nature, civilization, and evil. War is raging in the outside world and it does not take long for the group of children stranded on what should be a tropical paradise to also erupt into violence. This is a novel that engages students in thought-provoking discussion, as well as one that provides the opportunity for students to practice literary analysis skills.
The three lessons in this unit all stress textual evidence to support observations and generalizations. The assumption is that students have completed reading the novel before beginning the unit. Lesson 1 focuses on the four major characters (Ralph, Jack, Piggy, and Simon) and on ways William Golding used both direct and indirect characterization to portray them. Lesson 2 deals with major symbols: the island itself; the conch; the pig’s head on a stick; fire. Students also consider ways the boys themselves can be considered as symbolic personality types. Lesson 3 grapples with Golding’s themes related to human nature, roles of law and authority, and the apparent inevitability of war.
The Internet provides many websites dealing with the novel. While these can be helpful for study and review, they tend to be reductive and can interfere with the reader’s independent comprehension and analysis. Encourage students to do their own reading and thinking and to avoid using these sources as shortcuts to understanding the novel.
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, first published in 1954, takes the timeless story of castaways on a deserted island and turns it on its head. In this case, the island is nearly idyllic. The castaways are preadolescent boys from an English preparatory school where some were talented members of the choir. In Golding’s scenario, these characters gradually deteriorate to savagery and nearly end in self-destruction.
The novel is so well known that even those who have never delved into the text can usually describe the basic story line. It is eminently teachable and is found in curriculums from grades 6 through 12 due to its clear-cut characters, precise symbols, and gradually evolving themes. The novel has been rendered in a number of movie adaptations, including the black-and-white version from 1963; the color motion picture from 1990; and a 2013 low-budget film created by college students. It has also been made into a stage play.
What led Golding to write this remarkable and long-lasting work? He once explained that, after reading a children’s adventure novel entitled The Coral Island to his son, he realized that its optimistic scenario was highly unlikely. In addition, from 1940 until after World War II, he was in the Royal Navy, an experience about which he later said, “Anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head.” Lord of the Flies certainly conveys that view.
In 1983, Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “his novels which, with the perspicacity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today.” At the time, he was near the end of a long career of which the most long-lasting accomplishment was his first published novel, Lord of the Flies. Many critics were highly skeptical and bitterly critical of the Nobel committee’s choice, claiming the greater merit of other writers, some of whom actually later received the prize. According to apocryphal legend, one critic went so far as to describe Lord of the Flies disparagingly as a “paint-by-numbers” book, insufficiently complex for Nobel attention.
Nevertheless, what we have in this novel works splendidly in the classroom and can facilitate students’ work with close reading and with analysis of characters, symbols, and themes. One initial drawback can be the fact that no female characters are included, but most readers quickly transcend that fact to recognize that the events are not gender-specific and enter into conjecture about ways outcomes might have been different if the castaways had been from a coed or an all-girls school.
This unit refers to one of several published editions of the novel: William Golding, Lord of the Flies (New York: Perigee, 1954).
Write an essay focusing on the role of one character or one symbol in events on the island. Relate that character or symbol to the novel’s central themes. Provide textual support in the essay, including carefully chosen quotations. (Worksheet 7 provides a useful rubric for student writing and revision and for teacher evaluation.)
If you feel that classroom discussion and earlier assessments have thoroughly covered this topic, you may want to substitute one of the following writing assessments that involve synthesis of material covered in the unit:
Lesson 3 involves distinguishing between a literary topic and a literary theme. It articulates a variety of William Golding’s themes implicit in the novel Lord of the Flies and has students recognize the dominant theme of human nature’s propensity for destruction.
Lesson 2 is a study of symbols in William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies. After reviewing the general concept of symbolism, students focus on four of the most dominant symbols that permeate the novel: the island itself; the conch; the “Lord of the Flies” effigy; fire.
The lesson involves analysis of major characters in William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies. Simon is the first character used to demonstrate the interaction of direct and indirect characterization in the text. Individual small groups then analyze and share information about the three other major characters: Ralph, Jack, and Piggy. The lesson closes with a brief discussion of minor characters.