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STORY 17 - 'QUEER'
The setting of the story is in Winesburg, at Cowley & Son's store.
Elmer Cowley - The son of Ebenezer Cowley, he is the junior member of the Cowley & Son's store.
Ebenezer Cowley - The father of Elmer Cowley, he is something of a queer.
Mook - A half-wit who lives on the Cowley's abandoned farmhouse.
George - The young reporter.
Protagonist - Elmer is the protagonist and his battle with his own mind and emotions has been depicted in the story.
Antagonist - For Elmer, the entire society and the people who jeer at him and call him queer, are his antagonists.
Climax - The climax takes place when Elmer renewed with his own faith again calls George to meet him at the railway station.
Outcome - At the railway station, Elmer again finds himself at a loss of words and in his rage and frustration pushes George over the platform.
The theme in the story is the intense desire to be like other human beings. This desire is formulated out of being labeled a 'queer' by all the people of the town.
The mood remains serious throughout. An amount of earnestness is seen in Elmer's desire to break his queerness. The end is tragic, for Elmer has still not controlled his queerness, while George becomes a scapegoat and even gets hurt.
Elmer Cowley is the son of Ebenezer Cowley who owned the Cowley and Son's Store in Winesburg. The townsfolk called the Cowleys 'queer' because of their strange store filled with never saleable goods and Ebenezer's strange way of dressing. Elmer however hated the idea of being called queer and being jeered upon.
Ebenezer had been a farmer earlier but had sold his farm and become a merchant. His penchant lay in buying useless goods and piling them in his store.
Elmer however wishes to break himself free from his family's queerness and eccentricities. He wishes to have normal friends with whom he can be comfortable and happy. With this goal in mind, he tries to befriend George Willard, who for him is the epitome of everything that is normal. But in front of him, he is at a loss for words and just fails to speak.
In his frustration, Elmer goes to his old farmhouse where Mook, a half-wit stays. Elmer speaks freely to him but underneath realizes that he can do so since Mook too is 'queer' like him. This realization frustrates him and in a fit of rage goes home, steals some money and decides to leave the town to seek a new life elsewhere. But before he goes, he decides to once again speak to George. But again he finds himself a loss of words. In his anger however he begins hitting George and pushes him over the platform. In this act, strangely he finds pride and he says-'I showed him. I ain't so queer.'
The inability to mix freely with normal sociable people and be a part of their society can create havoc in a person's mind, especially one who has a confused way of thinking.
Elmer wishes to get out of the mould in which he has been fitted into because of his genetic background. Since, both his parents were 'queer' he too is understood to be one. Elmer wishes to prove to the world that he is sane and normal but on facing a situation, he is unable to handle it.
Elmer's attempts at making Mook understand his problem itself shows his queerness. Since he is unable to face normal people he tries to talk to Mook, who, he knows is beyond such comprehensible powers-"I had to tell someone...I hunted out another queer one, you see."
For George, Elmer is a stranger whom he wishes to draw out and understand. But he is unable to do so and in fact faces dire consequences out of it.
Elmer's decision to leave Winesburg is again his desperate and final attempt to withdraw away from his 'queer' folks and eke out a living on his own. But his desire to make his people see his sanity and believe in it again makes him go to George. But yet again he fails.
His final physical outburst is the bodily desire to vent the feelings and deep-rooted notions out of his system. Poor George is the hapless victim.
For Elmer, seeing George half-unconscious and stunned has given him the so-called boost to his ego and he finally believes that he has proved to the world that he is not queer and is capable of interacting with the other people too.
Elmer Cowley - Elmer is the junior most member of his father's firm. He hates the nickname 'queer' which the townsfolk have kept for him and his family. His father, Ebenezer was always quite a queer, dressing oddly and keeping the oddest items at the shop, which never sold.
Elmer wants to be a part of the community not an oddity. He has no friends but wishes desperately to have some. It is this fervor that makes him attempt at befriending George. But here too he fails to muster enough courage to even talk to him.
PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The story doesn't have much of shifting from past to present. A lot of it is merely Elmer's dialogue with himself. His discussion with Mook, the half-wit is as good as talking to himself. The end shows a remarkable change in Elmer who finally believes that by pushing George and hitting him, he has finally proved that he is as normal as any other person.
The climax is achieved when Elmer decides not to be considered queer anymore and in his defiance begins attempt speaking coherently to George. The outcome is anti-climatic with Elmer instead flaying George and hitting him. His pride at his queer deed gives him peace.
THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
A need to be like other people is felt by many people, who have some character flaw that separates them from others. While some people prefer to remain apart from others, on the basis of their intelligence, most people of average intelligence are more comfortable being a part of a group. But it is the odd person, like Elmer who desperately needs to 'fit in' with others. This desperation and futile attempts at 'joining the crowd' has been described as the theme of the story. The need to not be segregated, not be termed as a queer is strong in the individual. But his attempts at becoming normal are pathetic in their awkwardness and impossibility.
Why is it so important for Elmer to be like other people?