The Corn Planting by Sherwood Anderson
In The Corn Planting by Sherwood Anderson we have the theme of dedication, pride, love, sacrifice, connection, loss and acceptance. Set in the 1900s on a small farm in America the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and very early on the reader realises that Anderson may be exploring the theme of dedication and pride. By telling the reader how well-kept the Hutchenson farm house is and how well maintained Hatch’s orchard and fields are, particularly in comparison to the other farms in the area, Anderson may be suggesting that not only is Hatch devoted or dedicated to his farm but is also possible that Anderson is suggesting that Hatch takes great pride in his land. It is also interesting that the narrator tells the reader that the Hutchenson’s ‘they seemed to fit into their farm life as certain people fit into the clothes they wear.’ This line may be important as it is possible that by introducing it into the story Anderson is suggesting that the Hutchenson’s rather than fighting against the life they are living on the farm as others might do are able to embrace and accept their position in life. There is also a sense that both Hatch and his wife are proud of their son Will. This is noticeable by the excitement that both feel when it comes to the letters that he sends from Chicago. Despite living in a world that is alien to them (city life in Chicago) both Hatch and his wife rather than frown upon what Will may be doing in Chicago remain enthusiast (or proud) about the life that he is living.
Anderson also appears to be exploring the theme of connection. There is a sense that though Hatch married late in life he may have still felt the need to connect with someone and as such despite his age decided to get married. It is also noticeable that Hal throughout the story remains in touch with Hatch and his wife. This may be significant as it further suggests the idea of connection. Even though Hal was Will’s friend he continued to visit the Hutchenson’s on their farm. It is also interesting that Anderson opens the story with the line ‘the farmers who come to our town to trade are a part of the town life.’ This line may be important as not only does it highlight the necessity of the farmers to engage with those in town, in order to make money and continue farming, but it also serves to further highlight the idea of connection. The local farmers, though they do not live in town are part of (or connected to) life in the town. By connecting the farmers to the town and in turn the Hutchenson’s to Will’s life in the city Anderson may be suggesting that regardless of how physically isolated an individual may be, living on a farm or in a town or city, everybody remains connected in some way.
The theme of loss is self-evident in the story. Not only does Will lose his life and the Hutchenson’s a son but the reader is also aware that Hatch’s father, though he survived the Civil War, was so badly wounded that he lost the ability to be able to work on the farm. It is also possible that Anderson by telling the reader that Hatch has spent his entire life on the farm not only working the land but also looking after his father is suggesting that Hatch has had to make sacrifices. Where others may have sought an easier life Hatch continued to support his father and ensure the upkeep of the farm. The fact that Hatch stayed on the farm to help his father is also important for another reason as it further highlights Hatch’s dedication to the farm and to others. Anderson also appears to be exploring some of the difficulties that come with loss. When the telegraph operator tells Hal that Will has been killed rather than follow up on the narrator’s suggestion that they should drive out to the Hutchenson’s farm, Hal prefers to walk allowing himself some time to compose himself before he tells the Hutchenson’s about Will’s death. This may be important as it suggests that Hal is aware of how difficult his task is. Such is the severity of the news. Also when Hal is knocking on the Hutchenson’s door he pauses for ten minutes. Again this suggests that Hal is finding it difficult to tell the Hutchenson’s about the loss of their son.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. It is possible that Anderson is using Will’s letters to his parents as symbolism for connection. Despite declining to visit their son in Chicago the letters enable Hatch and his wife to get some insight into Will’s life and in some way remain in touch or up to date with his life. It is also possible that Anderson is using the act of the Hutchenson’s planting the corn to symbolize not only their attempts to bury Will but to also suggest at least symbolically Will’s rebirth. Just as the corn seeds are being placed into the darkness of the ground, mirroring the placing of a coffin into the ground likewise when the corn grows so too is it possible that Will’s life (or memory) will continue to grow. Even in death, Will can live on. The fact that Hatch and his wife pause and knell down after each row of corn is planted may also be symbolically significant as Anderson may be likening their actions to the act of praying. Just as an individual would kneel and be silent as they are praying likewise as the Hutchenson’s are planting the corn they too at times kneel and remain silent. It is also possible that the caricatures that Will sends his parents and which are included in his letters symbolically highlight Will’s attempts to connect with the world that he sees in Chicago. The fact that Hatch and his wife when they are reading Will’s letter rely on Hal to tell them what each caricature means also suggests an openness (for Hatch and his wife) to try and understand Will’s world. Again even though Will’s life in Chicago is very different to the life that the Hutchenson’s are used to they are keen to learn more about the world that Will is living in. Which in turn suggests an openness to the idea of connection.
The ending of the story is also interesting as it would appear that Anderson is further exploring the theme of acceptance. When Hal returns to the Hutchenson’s farm he discovers that Will’s parents even though they are aware of Will’s death are ‘in command of themselves.’ Though some critics may suggest that Hatch and his wife are being insensitive or acting indifferently towards Will’s death and continuing on with their lives regardless. It is possible that Anderson is suggesting that such is the inner strength of both Hatch and his wife that they have the ability to accept Will’s death. Rather than focusing on their loss they appear to be able to move forward in their lives and at the same time not forget Will. The fact that Hal tells the narrator at the end of the story that Hatch and his wife ‘they have their farm and they have still got Will’s letters to read’ may also be significant as it further suggests that despite their loss Hatch and his wife continue to have the ability to connect with and always remember Will.