Departure by Sherwood Anderson
In Departure by Sherwood Anderson we have the theme of growth, paralysis, change and hope. Taken from his Winesburg, Ohio collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Anderson may be exploring the theme of growth. By describing the young tree leaves as ‘just coming out of their buds’ Anderson may be comparing the young leaves and their growth to George’s own growth and his realization that it is time for him to leave Winesburg if he wants to progress in life. Just as the leaves are beginning to develop or grow so too is George’s life. Another significant thing about the leaves beginning to grow is that from this information the reader is able to establish that it is spring time. Which in literature is often used as a period for change (or renewal) and George after all is leaving Winesburg to begin a new life. He is making a change to his life. It is also interesting that as George is coming down the stairs of the family hotel we discover that there is a boy (who works in the hotel) sleeping in a cot by the door. It is possible that by including him in the story Anderson is highlighting or suggesting that for some in Winesburg things will never change. In essence some of those in Winesburg will remain in the town in a state of paralysis. They will make no movement but will remain the same.
How paralyzed those in Winesburg actually are is also noticeable by Anderson’s description of the open fields on Trunion Pike. He describes them firstly (in the summer) as being like the sea while later when describing them in spring they are described as being like ‘a wide green billiard table on which tiny human insects toil up and down.’ This description is important as it suggests that the fields though idyllic in the summer, in the spring they in many ways mirror those who live in Winesburg. By using the word ‘insect and ‘toil’ Anderson may be suggesting that those who live in Winesburg are small, tend to struggle with life and are prone to doing the same things (up and down). In essence they are not going anywhere and are repeating their movements. Unlike George who has taken the first step when it comes to leaving Winesburg. He is allowing for change in his life. It may also be significant that though he has the opportunity to visit the fields before he leaves Winesburg he hesitates and decides against it. By doing so he is disassociating himself from the other residents (and their lack of action) in Winesburg. He is breaking away from the norms of Winesburg. Which further suggests he is open to growing or developing his life further.
It may also be important that the reader is aware that George is taller than his father as symbolically Anderson may be suggesting that George has outgrown Winesburg. That the town no longer has anything to offer him when it comes to his hopes and aspirations. The fact that Gertrude Wilmot is also at the station and is also described as being tall may be significant. Though her arrival is unexpected and she never paid any attention to George, Anderson may be comparing both characters through their physical height. It is possible that Gertrude like George once had aspirations to leave Winesburg. Though unlike George never put any plan into action. The fact that she also walks away after wishing George good luck suggests that the moment may be too painful for her. If anything George’s leaving of Winesburg could be arousing Gertrude’s own desires to leave. Though again she may also be aware that she will do nothing about leaving Winesburg.
The end of the story is also interesting. Despite taking the biggest step of his young life and leaving Winesburg George is not thinking about the ‘serious and larger aspects of his life.’ As he is sitting on the train he recalls incidents from the past which is interesting as one would expect George to be dreaming about the future. However by having George recall moments from his past it is possible that Anderson is suggesting that it is George’s past that will shape his future. He may never forget (or want to forget) everything he can remember about Winesburg. Even though he is starting out afresh his new life may be shaped and molded by his experiences in Winesburg. All his hopes and aspirations for the future may have their foundation in Winesburg. Even though George can no longer see the town as he is travelling on the train the reader is left suspecting that the town, though it has disappeared has and will shape George’s life. Like the thousands of young men (and women) that Tom Little has seen moving to the city none will ever forget where they came from. No matter what type of life they have lived. Whether it is negative or positive the memories will remain.