Death in the Woods by Sherwood Anderson
In Death in the Woods by Sherwood Anderson we have the theme of endurance, struggle, poverty, connection, isolation, conflict, selfishness and suffering. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed male narrator the reader realises after reading the story that the narrator may not necessarily be reliable. He relates events in his own life and equates them to the life of Mrs Grimes. This being said there is still no doubting that Mrs Grimes has struggled through life thanks to the inabilities or malpractices of her husband and son. She is the only member of her family who seems to see the importance of putting food on the table and keeping the animals fed. Something she struggles to do on a daily basis and often relies on the charity of the butcher to help her out. This may be important as the butcher may sense how desperate Mrs Grimes’ life is and as such connects with her and pities her. Due to her circumstances Mrs Grimes may feel as though she has no option but to be subservient to her husband. Doing as he instructs her to do though he is somewhat of a cruel man.
The setting may also be important as by having Mrs Grimes live outside of town Anderson may be attempting to highlight how isolated Mrs Grimes is from the world. There is never any mention of visitors to her home nor does she go to town unless she has to. The fact that nobody is able to identify Mrs Grimes’ body may also be significant as it could be a case that Mrs Grimes has found peace in death. No longer does she have to live a life that would defeat or deflate another human being. It is also interesting that at no stage in the story do we hear Mrs Grime’s voice. Throughout the story the only voice given is that of the narrator and he is making assumptions about Mrs Grimes based on stories he has been told. It is for this reason that again it is important to consider that the narrator may not be reliable. He has no real first-hand knowledge apart from seeing Mrs Grimes body in the woods and when she journeyed through town to get supplies.
It is also noticeable that Mrs Grimes lives her life in conflict. She cannot trust either her husband or her son who appear to enjoy drinking more than they do working. Though Mrs Grimes is eventually beaten by life and dies. She still nonetheless has an inner strength that has helped to keep her going. Life can only be described as difficult for Mrs Grimes. She receives no support from her husband or son. She had a difficult time (if the narrator is to be believed) when she lived with the German. If anything life has been one battle or conflict after another for Mrs Grimes. It may also be important that Mrs Grimes takes on the role traditionally expected of the male. It is her who keeps the livestock fed and ensures that there is food for each animal. If anything Mrs Grimes’ husband and son would be destitute if it were not for Mrs Grimes. Though this is not necessarily something that registers with either Mrs Grimes’ husband or son. Who act selfishly throughout the story. Thinking only of their own needs and not the needs of the family as a whole.
There is also an element of sadness in the story. That Mrs Grimes had to suffer so much due to the circumstances she found herself in. She appears to have done nothing wrong to anybody yet she has suffered throughout her short life. However it is interesting that many critics suggest that with Mrs Grimes’ death came relief. No longer did she have to suffer at another person’s hands. There is also a sense that the narrator may have come of age after he has seen Mrs Grimes’ body. Just as Mrs Grimes lived her life in conflict. The narrator too by trying to tell the story of Mrs Grimes’ death appears to be trying to work through the conflict he feels and try to understand Mrs Grimes that little bit more. While at the same time beginning the process of understanding himself and why Mrs Grimes’ death would have such an impact on his life. Perhaps Mrs Grimes’ is the first dead body that the narrator has seen or maybe he is simply trying to figure out how a person can live their life with such difficulty as Mrs Grimes had. In many ways the story is more about the narrator trying to understand himself than it is about Mrs Grimes’ death. Something that is clearer to the reader by the fact that narrator is no longer a boy but a grown man. As he has gotten older the narrator may have felt a sense of urgency to figure out what has happened.