The Teacher by Sherwood Anderson
In The Teacher by Sherwood Anderson we have the theme of confusion, passion, change, escape, loneliness, conflict, control and paralysis. 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 confusion and passion. George is unable to work out what Kate Swift’s intentions are. He remains unable to differentiate between the fact that she is a single woman (though older than him) and the fact that she has previously been his school teacher. In essence he doesn’t know which way to take Kate. Though it may also be important that while George is by the fire he begins to have an imaginary conversation with Kate as it is noticeable that the conversation borders on the inquisitive and leaves the reader suspecting that George is open to the possibility of being passionate with Kate. Despite the differences in their age. The fact that George has ‘lustful thoughts’ about Kate while at home may also be important as it suggests again that he is open to a passionate relationship with Kate. It is also interesting that Kate is not the only woman that George thinks about. While he is in bed he not only thinks about Kate but also of Helen White too. Which suggests George has reached an age in whereby female companionship (or love) is important to him. If anything George has a strong desire to be loved by a woman. Be it Kate or Helen White.
Anderson also appears to be exploring the theme of change. There are four people awake in Winesburg. Hop Higgins who is thinking about his future and how he might be able to make some money. George who is in the office of the Winesburg Eagle pretending to write a story. Reverend Hartman who is in his church preparing himself for a revelation from God and Kate who is walking along the streets of Winesburg. All four characters have something in common. They in some way want to change their circumstances. Something that is particularly noticeable when Anderson brings the reader into Kate’s class room and her shift from the curriculum to telling her students about Charles Lamb and Benvenuto Cellini. In reality all four want to not only change the circumstances they find themselves in but also wish to escape from the realities that surround them. How strongly Kate feels about her circumstances is also noticeable by the fact that the narrator tells the reader that on other occasions Kate has walked the streets of Winesburg while everybody else slept and fought with how she was feeling. This may be important as it suggests there is an internal conflict within Kate. On the outside everybody sees her as a teacher and an old maid. But for Kate the reality is much different. She longs to connect with somebody rather than having to battle the loneliness that she feels in life.
The fact that Kate also hits George after allowing him to hold her may also be important as it is possible that Kate, despite her strong desire to be loved by someone, also realises that what she is doing is going against societal norms. She is after all George’s former teacher and may be conscious that any relationship (other than professional) she has with a former pupil may be frowned upon by those in Winesburg. Regardless of her strong desire to feel connected to a man Kate also appears to be aware of the significance (in other people’s eyes) of what she is doing. She manages to control herself even though she is also fully aware that by doing so she is continuing to place a restriction on her life. George on the other hand is left feeling confused over Kate’s actions. Unable to understand why she would first allow him to hold her and then hit him.
The ending of the story is also interesting as there is no resolution for George. Despite trying to understand Kate’s actions he remains just as confused. The fact that Anderson has George lying in bed in the dark may also be important as physically it suggests that George is going nowhere he remains paralyzed or unsure of what has happened. There is no movement. Similarly by telling the reader that George is the last person to fall asleep in Winesburg suggests a sense of paralysis for the whole town (including Kate Swift). Despite all that has happened nothing will change for any of the characters in the story. Hop Higgins is to continue to dream about his life. Reverend Hartman will continue to look for a message from God. Kate Swift having at first allowed George to hold her is now aware that she cannot peruse a relationship with him and George remains not only physically in the dark but is also in the dark when it comes to Kate’s intentions. Just as the snow has covered Winesburg throughout the story. Doubt and uncertainty have covered George’s thoughts and he is no nearer to understanding what has happened.