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MonkeyNotes-Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson-Free Study Guide
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STORY 10 - 'RESPECTABILITY

SETTING

The setting is the town of Winesburg, Ohio. Certain scenes have been depicted near the railroad station, where some decaying railroad ties are piled up.

CHARACTER LIST

Major Characters

Wash Williams - A huge and an ugly man, very unclean though he is depicted to be expressive and comes across as a sensitive person as against his outward appearance.

George Willard - The young reporter, who is advised and warned by Wash

Belle Carpenter - A trimmer of women's hats who walks with George.


CONFLICT

Protagonist - The main character is Wash Williams since it is his tale that unfolds.

Antagonist - For wash, his wife is the antagonist since she ruins his life by acquiring various lovers.

Climax - The climax in the story is reached when Wash sees George embracing Belle and feels the need to warn him.

Outcome - The outcome is the tale of wash and his immoral wife. Wash expresses his anger further when he sees his mother-in-laws slyness.

THEMES

The theme here is the veneer of respectability, which is worn by the fashionable ladies merely to hide their immoral activities.

MOOD

The mood is ambiguous in the beginning with not much concrete depth, but at the unfolding of Wash's life story, the mood changes to note of doom. The last section of the story, which reveals the mother-in-laws deviousness methods of sending her daughter back, is despicable and the mood of the reader becomes somber and solemn.

STORY SUMMARY

In Winesburg, Wash Williams works as a telegraph operator, he is the ugliest man to be seen in the town. He is immense, with thin legs and neck, and is extremely filthy. His hands, however, though fat, are shapely and look sensitive. The townsfolk avoid any contact with him and so does he. Any complaints about his filth are ignored, as he is a very competent telegraph operator.

It is George Willard who manages to extricate Wash's life story out. Once on seeing George and a young girl embracing and kissing while taking a night walk, Wash, the next day, accompanies George, and tells his whole story.

It turns out that he had once been married to a very beautiful girl, whom he was madly in love with. He had bought a house for her, and catered to her every need. But he finally realized that she used to bring her lovers to his own house, in his absence.

In anger and humiliation he and Wash Williams packed her off to her mother's house with all the money from his bank account. Much later, the girl's mother had sent for him. The girl's house turned out to be a stylish, respectable house. Wash, while waiting for her, began feeling that perhaps he has wronged her and has decided to take her back. But when the girl entered, she was naked. Her mother had apparently removed all her clothes and sent her to him, in the hope that he would be mesmerized by her and would make love to her. Wash, in his anger, slapped the mother and walked out.

Wash has told his story to George, wishing him to understand the vile nature of women. He considered all women to be hateful, convincing creatures, who should be best avoided and he wanted George to remember this.

Notes

This story describes the enormous hate inside a man for a woman who disillusions him. This man, Wash William, is compared to the grotesque monkeys to be seen in cages, in the parks. These monkeys are displayed, for their grossness, so that people will look at them and at the same time feel fascinated and disgusted.

Wash's dirtiness is absolute, except for his hands. The reference to hands is made yet again, in this story as a sign of communication and sensitivity.

Wash's deep-rooted hatred towards women is unnerving and degrading. His words are strong and vehement "they are creeping, crawling squirming things, they with their soft hands and their blue eyes. The sight of a woman sickens me. Why I don't kill every woman I see I don't know." But he sees reason in his thinking, as he had been severely jilted by his much-loved wife.

For wash, what is more degradable and rotten is the girl's mother's attitude towards the entire episode. When he is called back, Wash expects remorse and repentance, which could have worked on him but seeing the mother pushing her own daughter naked into the room, and herself, waiting and watching to see the results, is utterly foul and repellent to Wash. It seems that under the veneer of posh respectability, the mother is merely trying to sell off her daughter 'goods' to him.

The reader can now comprehend Wash's deep emotions now, and can at least accept if not agree, to his viewpoint about women. His generality towards all women's psyche is of course prejudiced, but has to he accepted in context.

George Willard is once again, a part of the affairs of the people of Winesburg. It is his openness and friendly behavior that makes Wash open out to him, as also Wash's desire to forewarn George for his relationships with women. For George, Wash is an enigma, "Something he saw lurking, in the staring eyes told him that the man who had nothing to say to others had nevertheless something to say to him." The truth reveled to George, shakes him up, and makes him feel "ill and weak", yet Wash has had his opportunity to lift his load off his chest.

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Wash Williams - Wash has been compared to the huge, grotesque kind of monkey to be seen in cages. Though huge and dirty, he still rouses pity and sympathy from the readers and incidentally his hands are always very clean. His clean fingers show a better side of his nature, a side which believes in gentility and grace.

Wash's past is revealed only after he sees George and Belle together. His past is pathetic with his beautiful wife having continuous amorous affairs with men. The last straw in his relationship is when her mother tries to sell her back to him, using her body as the bait. Wash tells all this to George to put him on his guard as far as women are concerned.

PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The story begins with a description of Wash. The climax is drawn out in Wash’s description of his past, and his love for his girl and the girl’s mothers’ eccentric behavior of parading her daughter naked in front of him. Wash reacts by striking her with a chair and simply leaving.

The story is again a portrayal of the past and the present. It moves from the present, to the past and then back to the present. Wash is the only main character, with George and Belle are pawns for his tale to be hold. Wash's wife remains in the past and so does his mother-in-law.

THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS

The author wishes to draw out a theme of respectability and gentility that is present even in such a shabby person like Wash.

The author also intends to tear off and expose the cloak of respectability worn by many women, to hide their shameful acts. Wash is down to earth and open. It is his wife and her mother who take advantage of his goodness and uses him. The author also wishes to portray the bitterness in man for being subject to such a betrayal, and his added desire to protect and warn his own friends of the same sex.

STUDY QUESTIONS

What are your views about respectability and morals with reference to the story?

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