Queer by Sherwood Anderson
In Queer by Sherwood Anderson we have the theme of privacy, paranoia, anger, uncertainty, control, fear and freedom. 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 realizes that Anderson may be exploring the theme of privacy. Elmer Cowley has concerns that George Willard is looking at him and his father’s store from the print room of the Winesburg Eagle. This is important for two reasons. Firstly it angers Elmer and secondly the reader realizes by the way George is being absent-minded and not looking directly (consciously) at anything that Elmer is being paranoid. A paranoia that stays with Elmer for throughout the story. The anger that Elmer feels towards George later on in the story manifests itself into Elmer unprovoked and violently punching George several times.
The theme of fear is evident in the story. Elmer’s father, Ebenezer Cowley, is afraid to make a purchase of new goods in case he can’t sell them and then he is also afraid in case he misses out on a potential sale. If anything there is a sense that Ebenezer is paralyzed and uncertain of what he should do. It is only when Elmer gets angry and kicks the salesman out of the hardware store that the issue is resolved. This may be significant as Elmer appears to resolve issues by threatening violence or being violent. It is as though he has no control over himself. The fact that Elmer thinks his father and mother are ‘queer’ or different is also interesting as there is nothing to show this in the story. Apart from being hard-working we do not really get an insight into Ebenezer and Elmer’s mother is dead. He suggests to Mook that Mabel knows the same as him but does nothing. However Mabel is never personally introduced to the story.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The difficulties that Elmer encounters with his shoelace mirrors the difficulties (mentally) that he is facing. Nothing is working out for him. The fact that Elmer thinks the townsfolk are laughing at him further suggests that Elmer is paranoid. The bare tree branches that Elmer looks up to while with Mook could symbolize the fact that Elmer is bearing his soul to Mook. Who in reality is described by the narrator as being a half-wit. George also plays an important role in the story as he acts as the foil or catalyst for some of Elmer’s anger. As a journalist Elmer is paranoid that George is going to write something about him. The setting of the story, particularly the farm, may be significant as it is the only place that Elmer feels free. That and on the freight train.
The end of the story is interesting as Elmer after attacking George begins to act and speak like Mook. He really is uncertain about what to do and in a flush of energy throws himself on the train with dreams of being free and away from the people in his life who consider him to be different. Though again it is important for the reader to remember that Elmer is suffering from paranoia. If anything Elmer is running away on nervous energy. He knows he can’t stay in the town because he has hit George and the fact that he is unable to disassociate his thoughts suggests that Elmer will act no differently in Cleveland. In reality Elmer is a very sick young man who needs medical attention that he has so far avoided.