Nobody Knows by Sherwood Anderson
In Nobody Knows by Sherwood Anderson we have the theme of secrecy, insecurity, equality, control, uncertainty, coming of age and maturity. 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 how important the setting is, particularly when it comes to the theme of secrecy. By describing the alleyways and streets that George travels through on his way to Louise’s house as being dark or in darkness Anderson may be using the setting to symbolically suggest that likewise George longs for others to remain in the dark about what he is up to, something that becomes clearer to the reader later on in the story. It may also be significant that when the street light shines on George, he ‘pulled his hat over his face.’ It is possible that by introducing this line into the story Anderson is further highlighting George’s desire to keep secret or hide his intentions from others. It is also interesting that when George is talking to Louise by the picket fence Anderson not only has both characters in the dark (again) but there is also a silence between the two of them. This may also be important as Anderson may be using the silence as foreshadowing for what will happen later on in the story after George has had sex with Louise. Just as there is silence at the picket fence likewise it is also possible that Anderson is suggesting that after George has had sex with Louise not only does he wish for nobody to know or find out but it may also be a case that there is nothing left for George to say to Louise. At no stage in the story does the reader suspect that George wishes to pursue a romantic relationship with Louise rather his intentions are solely based on his desire to have sex rather than making any type of commitment to Louise.
Anderson also appears to be exploring the theme of insecurity. While Louise is with George she tells him ‘You think you’re better than I am. Don’t tell me, I guess I know.’ This line may be important as it not only suggests that Louise considers herself to be beneath George which in turn may suggest that Louise is insecure about who she is but it may also be a case that Anderson is suggesting that at the time the story was written women in general may not have felt confident enough to have considered themselves to be equal to men and may have accepted the perception (by the male) that they were inferior to men. Another reason this line may be important is because it highlights a vulnerability within Louise which in turn allows George to take control of his encounter with her. It is also by taking control that George begins to lose any of his own insecurities when it comes to Louise and any uncertainty that he may have as to how he should progress with her. It is also interesting that after George recalls what others have said about Louise and the possibility that she might be promiscuous, that he becomes ‘wholly the male, bold and aggressive’ and that ‘in his heart there was no sympathy for her.’ These two lines may be important as it is possible that George, rather than viewing Louise as an individual who should be respected or who should be listened to, views her merely as an object or a tool that he can use in order to make the transition from boyhood to manhood. There is a sense that George no longer feels the need to try and impress Louise rather he does, as Louise suspects, consider himself to be better than her.
Apart from the setting there is also some other symbolism in the story which may be important. The full title of the story is ‘Nobody Knows – concerning Louise Trunnion,’ however throughout the story the main focus of the narrator is on George’s actions and his transition from boyhood to manhood. Which may lead some readers to suspect that the title refers solely to how George may feel about others finding out about his sexual encounter with Louise and his continued wish that nobody knows that he has been with her. However it is possible that Anderson is also using the title of the story to highlight, at least symbolically, how many women may have felt in a male dominated society. By allowing the narrator to focus more on George rather than on Louise, Anderson may be suggesting that the role that most women played in society, again at the time the story was written, may have been considered by many men to have been insignificant and just as George treats Louise as an object, Anderson may be suggesting that for the majority of men that is exactly how they viewed women. Rather than women being viewed upon as being a man’s equal they were considered to be no more than objects or something that a man could use to fulfil his sexual desires. In essence men may not necessarily have known or cared about how women felt or thought.
It may also be significant that Louise’s father is deaf as not only does it suggest that Louise can’t be heard by her father but it is also possible that Anderson is using Jake’s deafness to symbolically suggest that men in general cannot hear the voice of women. It is also interesting that out of all the characters named in the story only two are women, Louise and Mrs Willy. Again it is possible that Anderson, by having so few female characters in the story, is further highlighting how dominant the male may have been in society. It is also interesting that Louise is the only female in the story who speaks. Mrs Willy while she is in Myer-baum’s Notion Store never speaks rather instead she is listening to Sid Green talking. This may be significant as symbolically Anderson could be again suggesting that women in general may not have had a voice or like Louise when talking to her father, may not have been heard. Mrs Willy’s name may also be symbolically important as not only could Anderson be linking her name to a male’s appendage (phallic symbolism) but by giving her a name which is usually associated with a man Anderson may be further highlighting how dominant the male was in society, again at the time the story was written.
The end of the story is interesting as Anderson seems to be exploring the theme of maturity or rather the lack of it. Where previously George had walked through alleyways and had been hidden by the dark, after his encounter with Louise he is walking up and down the Main Street of Winesburg in full view of others longing to talk to somebody, particularly a man (any man). This may be important as there is a sense that George, now that he has had sex with Louise, believes he has become a man and as such is an equal to the other men in Winesburg. It may also be significant that George buys himself a cigar, Anderson possibly using the cigar to highlight George’s new found perception of himself as a man. However at no stage in the story does the reader sense that George has any respect for Louise rather as already mentioned he has treated her as an object or as somebody that he can use that will assist him in his transition from boyhood to manhood. Which may be the point that Anderson is trying to make. Just as George may consider Louise to be no more than an object likewise Anderson may be suggesting that for many men this is exactly how they viewed women.