Drink by Sherwood Anderson
In Drink by Sherwood Anderson we have the theme of struggle, helplessness, perseverance, love and coming of age. 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 struggle and helplessness. Tom’s grandmother has struggled through life. She has lost her daughter and is responsible for Tom’s upbringing. If anything life is hard for her but it is noticeable that she is determined to persevere. To keep moving forward. Which means that through good fortune (finding the wallet) Tom’s grandmother is able to return to Winesburg and start her life over again. It is as though the grandmother has been helpless prior to moving back to Winesburg. Nothing went her way until she found the wallet containing thirty seven dollars. Tom on the other hand doesn’t really understand the importance of the move to Winesburg. To him he feels as though life will be no different. If anything there is a sense that Tom feels hopeless in life.
This sense of hopelessness is carried through by Tom’s nocturnal activities. He is mixing with prostitutes and rough boys who have no fear of the police. It is not an ideal setting for Tom to grow up in but his grandmother is not particularly worried about Tom because he does manage to hold down several jobs. He may not last long in a job but he still perseveres. It is also interesting that despite Tom’s actions. His grandmother never abandons him. This may be significant as it suggests that the grandmother is devoted to Tom. She knows that she herself struggles but at the same time her heart is big enough to take Tom’s feelings into consideration and accept that life is full of difficulties for many people. It might also be important that Tom falls in love with Helen White as she is Tom’s first real love and he imagines himself making love to Helen. Even going as far as lying to George Willard and telling him he made love to Helen in the woods. Something which enrages the jealous George.
There may also be some symbolism in the story that might be important. The bridge that Tom walks across acts in many ways like a turning point for Tom. He tries to sit on the bridge before walking away and drink some more of the whiskey but he is unable to do so. It is as though symbolically Tom has reached a destination or a point of awareness in whereby he realises that alcohol does not suit him. The rolled up clothes that Tom and his grandmother travel to Winesburg with could also be important. They appear to highlight just how much life is a struggle for Tom and his grandmother. Similarly Tom’s viewpoint on women is somewhat skewed because of his acquaintances with prostitutes. He sees them as being difficult and unhappy while Helen, who he has held on a pedestal, is a true love and someone he wants to associate himself with.
The end of the story is also interesting as Anderson may be suggesting that Tom has come of age after drinking the bottle of whiskey. He felt it was something he needed to do. Just to feel what it was like to be drunk and in an attempt to escape from the position he found himself in. At no stage does the reader feel that Tom will drink again as the incident with the bottle of whiskey has made him realise that he doesn’t need alcohol in his life. The bottle of whiskey was similar to a rite of passage for Tom. He has grown as a person and is more understanding of the world around him. He now knows what he wants in life and knows that drinking alcohol is not the road he should take. He has learnt a valuable lesson while at the same time discovering how his heart really feels with regard to Helen White. Nobody was hurt by Tom’s actions and he did no permanent damage to himself. If anything Tom may have realised that he has a competitor in George for Helen’s affections.