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MonkeyNotes-Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson-Free Study Guide
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The setting is in Winesburg. The reference to Cincinnati is made when the past is described.


Major Character

Tom Foster - A young lad, just returned from Cincinnati, he is however untainted by the place and remains good and stable.

Minor Character

Old Woman - Tom's grandmother, whose wish to return to Winesburg is fulfilled when she finds a pocket book filled with money, lying on the road.

George - The young reporter who finds the drunk Tom and takes him into his print shop.


Protagonist - Tom Foster is the main character in the story as his personality behavior and way of thinking has been discussed.

Antagonist - There is no antagonist in the story.

Climax - The Climax is reached when Tom decides to get drunk and begins talking about his love for Helen White to George Willard.

Outcome - George at first gets irked to hear Helen's name being sullied, but later his anger passes. After Tom gets sober he relates to George the reason why he got drunk, was to learn about life and love.


The theme prevailing is of the importance of little things in life, which gives us happiness and contentment. This attitude makes for a happy life.


The mood throughout is light and airy. Tom's attitude towards life is shown and the reader feels content with Tom. The drunken Tom is humorous, and his explanation shows sensibility of thought. There are no overtures of sadness or misery in the story.


Tomís grandmother raises Tom Foster. The grandmother has had a tough life, going from place to place eking out a living for herself and for Tom after Tom's parent's death. They get an opportunity to return back to Winesburg when she finds a pocket book containing some money. So both pack their belongings, and return to the grandmother's hometown.

Tom is quiet, unassertive boy, who fits into any background, be it among the tough gang boys of Cincinnati, or the quiet folks of Winesburg. The grand mother finds work for herself at Mrs. White's house. Tom at first too works there, but then leaves it and rents a room for himself.

Tom does odd jobs to fill his stomach, and otherwise just loafs around listening to people and enjoying life in Winesburg. Small and inconsequential things make him happy, like the smell of roasted coffee, or sleeping near a warm stove.

One day, Tom decides to get drunk. He has seen ugliness and crime in Cincinnati and is abhorred by the sight. Sex too seemed vile to him. But here in Winesburg something has stirred in him and he finds himself in love with Helen White, his former employers' daughter.

The night Tom gets drunk he gets wild. He begins talking to himself about Helen and his flame of love seems to grow brighter. By late in the night, he is thoroughly drunk when he meets George Willard. George tries to calm him down but he cannot. Though when he hears Tom speak about Helen, he gets infuriated and insists that he shouldn't speak about her. Finally Tom explains, in his drunken state that it is his state of happiness that speaks such thoughts. Getting drunk has been good for his system. He wanted to learn suffering but didn't want to hurt any one else. So he got drunk and this also teaches him something.


Tom's grand mother has seen a great deal of sorrow. She saw her son-in-law killed by a policeman and then her daughter become an invalid and then die. Tom's gentleness probably comes from his grandmother's rearing.

It is a return to her childhood, to get back to Winesburg, for the grandmother. Of course, the little village she left long ago has changed into a full-fledged town, but Tom gets along well there.

Tom's childhood passed amidst tough gang boys, whores, and houses of prostitution. It is probably this foul atmosphere that makes Tom oddly unassertive as if he wanted to be totally different from the other type of people. Even when he once steals and is caught he is ashamed and glad as well. 'It is all right to be ashamed and make me understand new things.'

For him all experiences are a way to learn and understand newer aspects of life. Tom is satisfied with his unproductive life. He doesn't mind loafing around, listening to other's talk and being just a part of the background. For him sex was always a vile term, seen only through the eyes of prostitutes and pimps. Even when he falls in love with Helen White he doesn't feel the need to voice it. He settles his problem by thinking about her and keeping his desires under control.

The drinking binge that Tom gets into is also one of his experiences he sets himself to learn. As he grows drunker, his mind reverts to Helen, and in his drunken stupor, he voices his thoughts aloud.

George is annoyed at his words. What Tom has done in his drunken state is made real all his thoughts about Helen. Which is why he speaks as if he has made love to Helen. It is his innermost, suppressed emotions that have been let out through intoxication. George knows that it is not untrue, since he had seen Helen accompanying her father, but is still annoyed to hear her name sullied.

When Tom finally clears his head after three hours, he is able to explain his words to George. His theory is that he needed to get his system cleared from the thoughts of Helen. 'I wanted to suffer, to be hurt somehow.'

He wanted to be like the other sufferers who do wrong. But he couldn't do so, which is why he had to take recourse to drink to cleanse himself.

This drinking is yet another experience for Tom, which he would store away in his mind. "I wanted to learn things, you see. That's why I did it."


Tom Foster - Tom is a lad brought up in the shabby squalor of Cincinnati. Yet amid the violence of such a neighborhood, Tom has retained his innocence and goodness.

Tom, though a good lad shows no bent towards settling down with a good job. He prefers a quiet, serene life working when needed and otherwise enjoying listening to other's speak and learning from them. Every act of his is an act towards gaining learning.

Even his plan to get drunk is a well thought of one, with an aim in view. He wishes to earn to suffer without making anyone else suffer in the process. And it is true that no one in Winesburg was any the worse for his intoxicated outbreak.

Tom's love for Helen is also well worked out by him. He manages to fight his feelings out, keeping his desires in the rightful channels. In the end he is victorious over his fight with his own thoughts.


The story describes the character of Tom well. It delves into his past, shows him as an untainted figure, and finally portrays him as a man able to work out situations in life, with courage and sense. George is against just a pawn to help Tom voice his thoughts and feelings. Structurally it is complete in form.

The story begins with Tomís description. It continues with his thoughts about Helen White. The climax is when George hears him drunkenly speak about his feelings for Helen. The outcome is that Tom reveals that he had needed to get drunk for once to know what it felt like. It was a learning experience for him.


Tom has been portrayed to elucidate the theme of being contented with the little things in life. The need to enjoy whatever happiness is stored for you, not to despair upon the sadness around us and to learn from every small incident that occurs is the general theme in the story. Tom is shown as attaining happiness and satisfaction in every aspect of his life. He even has the capacity to derive happiness through his one- sided love with Helen White. His drunken act itself is his need to learn the act of suffering, but without letting any other person suffer in the process.


Describe Tom Foster as a thinking individual.

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