Winesburg, Ohio | Study Guide

Sherwood Anderson

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Winesburg, Ohio | Death | Summary



George's mother, Elizabeth Willard, has had the habit of visiting Doctor Reefy since George "was a boy of twelve or fourteen." Their companionable conversations usually started about her health, but were mostly about "their two lives and of the ideas that had come to them as they lived their lives in Winesburg." These conversations seem good for Elizabeth and make her feel better. However, some of the conversations make her feel the loss of love which had visited her as a young woman only in brief moments of great beauty. Despite having had a number of lovers before marrying Tom Willard, Elizabeth kept "putting out her hand into the darkness and trying to get hold of some other hand." In marriage Elizabeth never finds that other hand. In a flood of words, she describes her feelings to Doctor Reefy and her desire "to get out of town, out of my clothes, out of my marriage, out of my body, out of everything." Dr. Reefy embraces her for a moment, but a noise in the hallway startles them, and Elizabeth hurriedly leaves.

Elizabeth spends the last months of her life asking death to remain "young and beautiful and ... patient." She dies the year George turns 18. As George sits by his mother's body, he "definitely decided he would make a change in his life, that he would leave Winesburg." No one knows Elizabeth had, a week after her marriage, hidden away 800 dollars she eventually intended to give to George so that he could use it to make his own way in life.


The 800 dollars Elizabeth hid shortly after her marriage was in the beginning an assurance she could make a break from her unhappy life into the world outside Winesburg. But there is in the woman a note of stubborn fidelity similar to Alice in "Adventure," who waits patiently for Ned to send for her. Both women remain attached to men who clearly have no use for them, and it doesn't matter one has remained married, and the other unmarried. Alice and Elizabeth keep shoving their hopes for better treatment to one side in order to remain "true" to their established natures bound by respectability (something Kate Swift defies). Their "lies" to themselves that they must hold fast are not dissimilar to the "lies" Hal faces over whether or not he marries a girl he's gotten into trouble in "The Untold Lie."

Both women could be said to have erected their own barriers to change. While Alice waits for some future event to happen so she can move, Elizabeth, as stated in "Mother," remains confined like a ghost in the hotel in a state of chronic illness. Although this illness saps her life away between the two stories of "Mother" and "Death," it also prevents her from leaving. Like an alcoholic who drinks because he is depressed, and is depressed because he is an alcoholic, Elizabeth is finally only able to reach for release in death.

Elizabeth has every intention to give the money she's hidden away to George so it will help him make his way in the world, and live as she herself could not. Sadly, the money doesn't come to George, and its benefit "dies" with Elizabeth. At the same time, it isn't needed, because it is likely George will find his way very well without it. In other words, George "gets it" anyway, and all the more completely because anything he will accomplish, will be done on his own.

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