Loneliness by Sherwood Anderson
In Loneliness by Sherwood Anderson we have the theme of paralysis, letting go, insecurity, control, freedom, loneliness and connection. Taken from his Winesburg, Ohio collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Anderson may be exploring the theme of paralysis. Not only has Enoch ended up back in Winesburg, going full circle but throughout the story he makes very little movement. He spends most of his time when he is in New York living in his room, talking to his imaginary companions. It is as if he finds peace and solace talking to imaginary people rather than engaging constructively with the real world. There is also a sense that Enoch is not understood. Something that is noticeable from the time he allowed some fellow artists into his room. Despite his strong desire for them to see exactly what it is he has painted. They remain none the wiser though Enoch has very little difficulty interpreting his art (paintings of Winesburg). The fact that Enoch is painting scenes from Winesburg may also be important as it suggests that he may not necessarily have the ability to let go of his past. He may be living in New York but he is still somewhat rooted in Winesburg.
Anderson also appears to be exploring the theme of insecurity. Enoch rather than facing the real world creates an imaginary world. One that is usually associated with a child and not an adult. Though we know very little about Enoch’s childhood we do know that he liked to be in control. Considering himself to be right all the time. Which suggests that Enoch (as a child) considered himself to be better than others. A trait he seems to have carried through to adulthood. It is as if no one has the capacity to reach the standards that Enoch expects of others. It is also interesting that Enoch, though no reason is given, felt uncomfortable as both a husband and a father. Preferring to get divorced and move back to Washington Square. Not only would many critics consider this to be a backward step (and as such suggest a paralysis in Enoch’s life) but it is also possible that he wishes to have no responsibilities. He does not wish to be answerable to others, like his wife and children. If anything marriage and children seem to mean a lack of freedom to Enoch. While married he is unable to live his life as he sees fit. Though the reader is aware that how Enoch lives his life is not progressive.
He is allowing himself to live a life of loneliness. Despite having the opportunity to stay married and raise his children Enoch prefers to retreat into an imaginary world in which he is in command. He has total control over his life while he is living in Washington Square. He is undisturbed by the outside world. Though at the same time he appears to be unaware of just how dysfunctional his life is. As any life would be should an individual chose to shut themselves off from the outside world. It may also be important that Anderson makes no mention of Enoch staying in touch with his ex-wife or children. Though he may be divorced he would still have a responsibility to his children. If anything Enoch has never grown in life. Though again the reader is unaware as to what the trigger may have been to stunt Enoch’s development. It is possible that Anderson is suggesting that Enoch, having lived in Winesburg, has never sufficiently developed due to the fact he lived in a small town. However he has had ample opportunity to grow as a person after he left Winesburg but he never has.
The end of the story is also interesting. By including George Willard into the story Anderson may be suggesting that Enoch can connect with George. He may see in George what he once saw in himself. The aspiration and hopes of a young man to leave Winesburg and succeed. There is also a sense when Enoch is telling George about the woman who came into his room. That Enoch lacked the maturity to fully engage properly with the woman. It is clear that he liked her but it is also noticeable that he may have felt threatened by what she could do to him. If anything the woman brought confusion into Enoch’s life. No longer was he in control of his environment. It is for this reason that Enoch may have lost the ability to escape into his own world. He may have realised that the woman who came into his room had the ability to help him reconnect with reality and rather than being able to forget about the woman. Enoch may have realised that everything he held dear, his imaginary world, was just that imaginary. For the first time since he was a child Enoch is left alone in a very real world. A world that he is unable to deal with and one that he cannot escape from. If anything there is a sense at the end of the story that Enoch is paralyzed by fear. He is fully aware of the crisis that exists in his life.