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Sherwood Anderson and “Small Town Freaks”

  When it comes to the great masters of American literature in the 20th century, people often blurt out Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, etc. There are not many mentions of Sherwood Anderson (5herwood Anderson, 1876–1941), as everyone knows, we Most of these literary giants mentioned have been deeply influenced by Anderson, or it can be said that some of them have succeeded on his shoulders. He is regarded by Faulkner as “the father of our generation of American writers”. The famous critic Malcolm Cowley also called him “a writer’s writer, the only one of his generation of storytellers who influenced the style and vision of the next.”
  Sherwood Anderson was born into a poor family in Clyde, Ohio, where he spent his boyhood and many of his novels are set there. My parents had a turbulent life and often moved for work. My father used to serve in the federal army, opened a small harness repair shop, and later made a living by cleaning houses or warehouses, but he said that he was “painting signs” for the sake of dignity. Anderson went to school on and off, and at the age of 14 began to be displaced. To support his family, he worked as a newsboy, painted houses, cleaned stables and managed warehouses. At the age of 17, Anderson came to Chicago. There, he worked as a coolie in a warehouse during the day and attended night school at night to study business. He went to Cuba when Spain was at war with the United States, and after the war he went to Ohio, where he spent a year at Wittenberg University, his final year of school.
  For the next few years, Anderson never settled down, moving around Ohio until he became a paint manufacturer and married in 1904. Within a few years of their marriage, they had two sons and a daughter. He was very successful in the business world and showed extraordinary talent. Later, after some emotional and business troubles and setbacks, he fell into a psychological crisis. Finally, on November 28, 1912, he left the company he worked so hard to run, “abandoning business and pursuing literature”, and also left what he called his “wife with too much petty bourgeoisie”. He returned to Chicago to start his writing career, and thereby abandoned his dreams of making a fortune in business and his responsibilities as a middle-class citizen, including to his wife and three young children.
  To say this may be an oversimplification of the event that has afflicted him for years and has devastated him, but it is the truth. Anderson, a talented man, was caught in the dilemma of wealth, fame and fortune and physical and mental freedom. On the one hand, he wanted to gain wealth and achievement, to be respected and to take on family responsibilities; Disappointment accompanies.
  There are various indications that the so-called emotional crisis was all planned by him under the pressure of family, business and life. In Chicago, he went back to his old business, got into advertising, and joined a group called the “Chicago Group,” of which Theodore Dreiser and Carl Thunberg were members. In 1914, Anderson officially divorced and married a sculptor and musician who was also recently divorced.
  Under the teaching and encouragement of writers such as Thunberg, Dreiser, Stein and Del, Anderson began to publish some works in the background of childhood life, but failed to attract people’s attention. It was not until the publication of “Small Town Freak” in 1919 that he became famous and began to become famous in the American literary world. After this, he published novels such as “Poor Whites” (1920), “Multiple Marriages” (] 923) and “Black Laughter” (1925). “Black Laughter,” about a pessimistic and disappointed protagonist who travels along the Mississippi River in the fantasy of writing a Mark Twain-esque novel, is a hit with readers.
  Anderson has traveled to many countries in Europe, and the writer Stern, whom he admires very much, is the one he met in Paris. After returning to the United States, he moved to New Orleans, where he shared an apartment with William Faulkner. He remarried after splitting with his second wife, who ran a bookstore in New York. His third marriage also didn’t last, and his fourth wife, a sociologist, accompanied him through the last part of his life. Anderson left New Orleans and lived in New York for a while, then left New York and eventually settled in Marion, Virginia, where he built a house in the country and lived as both a farmer and a journalist. In 1927, he bought two of Marion’s weekly newspapers and served as editor-in-chief for two years. In order to earn extra income, he has not interrupted the speaking tour around the United States. Commissioned by Today magazine, Anderson studied labor conditions in the United States during the Great Depression, and published “The Confused America” ​​(1935). His newspaper articles were collected in such collections as “Hello Town” (1929) and “Return to Winesburg” (1967). In 1941, Sherwood Anderson died of illness after swallowing a toothpick at a banquet.
  ”Small Town Freaks” is a classic in American fiction, and can be viewed as either a number of independent short stories or as a full-length novel, although there is no direct plot connection between each. The whole book consists of an introduction “The Chronicles of Abnormal People” and 24 stories. Each article only writes about a character or a certain aspect or moment of a character, focusing on his or her eccentricities caused by failures and setbacks in life. The form is relatively loose, but the background of the story is Winesburg, and there is a young reporter who appears in all the chapters throughout. The fixed background and relatively fixed characters maintain the unity of the work to a certain extent. The novel is full of imagination and insight, and it deeply reflects the reality of urban reclamation in the United States during the industrialization period. It is a milestone in the history of modern American fiction. It perfectly integrates realism and modernism, creating a precedent for American modernist novels in terms of modern themes, content of expression, novel structure, innovative techniques, and artistic images.
  Anderson lived in an era when modern industry was developing rapidly, and traditional handicrafts and traditional values ​​were declining. With melancholy brushstrokes, he described some “abnormal people” in his novels who were in a constant state of anxiety. These people had experienced ups and downs, had a beautiful pursuit, and fought for it, but in the face of the new era, they did not know how to adapt, nor did they want to to adapt. The cultural traditions formed in the era of small producers are deeply ingrained, they cannot face the new social form, and eventually all their dreams are shattered. Anderson always pays attention to the theme of “Loss of Love” in the highly developed modern capitalist society, and strives to penetrate into the inner world of the characters and feel the deep reasons for the distortion of human nature. The novel brings together some “deformed” characters to form a group of ukiyo-e paintings of psychologically deformed people, showing people’s ideological changes and psychological reactions in the process of social and economic development, presenting a strange world: there is no relationship between people. Normal communication, no group activities; couples ask no feelings, like strangers; father and daughter, mother and son do not see family happiness; there is no friendship between neighbors; lovers hesitate, do not understand each other, and always end in breakup; During the day, their activities are quiet and their words are soft; when night falls, their thoughts begin to liven up and enjoy themselves. They are a group of angry and lonely people, a group of traditional people distorted by realistic utilitarianism, a group of aliens who yearn for love and freedom but lack communication. The contradictory society and contradictory psychology cause them to find no sense of social belonging and self-worth, resulting in personality distortion, alienation of human nature, and becoming the so-called “abnormal person”. Because of their universal significance to American rural life, this group of freaks has become an object that cannot be ignored in the study of American literary history. The story is told from the perspective of young journalist George Willard. He is a rebellious character who opposes the narrow and closed life of the small town, and is out of tune with the lives of others in the city. He is sometimes a storyteller, sometimes a victim, sometimes a witness, and is the main character who dominates the book.
  The novel is generally unrealistic. Anderson is not concerned with the appearance of things, and tends to deliberately deviate from some so-called “facts”; he is always concerned with “the essence of things”, the value and meaning of life. The novel opened a precedent for modern American literature in the expression of alienation and distortion of human nature.
  The language of the novel is straightforward and concise, smooth and popular, Rich in American traditional colloquial style, with a touch of lyricism. He does not use complex long sentences, but uses short sentence structures. The loose structure and simple and popular language have swept away the frame structure and rigid language. Faulkner said: “His characteristic is the pursuit of precision, trying to choose the most appropriate words within the limited vocabulary, and he has an almost blind worship of simplicity in his heart, and he wants to milk words and sentences like milking a cow. It must be clean, always trying to penetrate into the deepest core of the thought.”
  Anderson also made full use of symbolic expressions to express the inner world of the characters. The freak itself is a symbolic image. They are monsters whose characters are distorted due to the indifference of society and the isolation between people in the fierce social competition and under the weight of life. Anderson’s themes of loneliness, isolation, sexual frustration, mental aberrations, and the extinction of the American dream were repeatedly used by later writers. The many innovative techniques, writing skills and thematic content adopted in “Small Territory Freak” pointed out new directions for later young writers, and also brought a fresh wind to the American literary world at that time. Together with Gertrude Stein and others, he created a new generation of American novels, who advocated a fresh and simple style, refused to play with maneuver and ingenuity, and avoided literary clichés. Anderson believes that there is no style without form, and no form without content. He emphasizes the unity of thought, content, form and style.
  Different from O. Henry’s well-structured short stories, Anderson’s novels are characterized by loose plot development, complex motives, attention to psychological development, and emphasis on portraying the inner world of the characters. He adopts the prose style, and he speaks at his fingertips. There are often incomplete fragments and discontinuities in form. Generally speaking, his works are basically won by characters rather than by stories to attract readers, and the characters in his works are mostly depicted in drama. Due to the lack of emphasis on the plot, “no head and no tail” has almost become the law of his creation. Anderson was one of the earliest American writers to use Freud’s theory. Influenced by Freud’s psychoanalysis, he turned away from the plot-heavy tendency in traditional novels, focused on depicting the psychological activities of the characters, and captured the momentary moments of the characters. The strong emotions that burst out through this moment reveal the characters’ personalities and the mysteries hidden in their hearts.
  In the history of American literature, Anderson played a linking role. For the seniors, he was an admirer of Dreiser and others, and also benefited from the guidance of Stern and others. And almost every writer after him has been influenced by him, including later Saul Bellow, John Updike, etc. He was especially acquainted with Hemingway. He guided Hemingway to France to invest in Stein and Pound, and finally made Hemingway embark on the road of success and become a generation of literary masters. Anderson is also known as the pioneer of modern American fiction. But later, Hemingway, Faulkner, Woolf and other writers who were once benevolent and full-fledged by him deviated from his creative path, and tried their best to get rid of his influence. When going downhill, parodying Anderson in his work hurts his feelings. Although Anderson did not fight back against this kind of retribution, the two broke off their friendship. And Woolf, who once said, “If anyone in America has taught me anything, it’s only Anderson.” When she quarreled with Anderson at a banquet, Woolf actually said “you’re finished”. She poked Anderson’s sore spot. Anderson’s evening scene is desolate. The so-called desolation does not refer to life, but to the pain caused by the exhaustion of the creative source. Another writer who had been critical of Anderson was Faulkner, who later repented and called Anderson “the father of our generation of American writers.”

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