Winesburg, Ohio | Study Guide

Sherwood Anderson

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Winesburg, Ohio | Departure | Summary



On a crisp early morning in April, George Willard leaves Winesburg aboard a train. His father hauls up his trunk, and cautions his son to keep awake, keep track of his money, and not let anyone think he is a greenhorn. Several early risers turn out to wish George well on his journey, and Tom Little, the train conductor who "had seen a thousand George Willards go out of their towns to the city," punches his ticket. Helen White runs up, but she is too late and George does not see her. The train pulls out of the station, but George's mind is not focused on his future. Instead, he recalls many small images of Winesburg, one of which is of Helen White posting a letter. By the time he has looked up and out of the window, the town of Winesburg has slipped away to become "but a background on which to paint the dreams of his manhood."


The final episode in George Willard's life as a boy in the town of Winesburg contains an accumulation of who he has become, and is still in the process of becoming. Unlike other young men of Winesburg who also left, George has been planning and growing into the young man he needs to be to leave with a sustaining purpose over the course of several years—more or less between the ages of 15 and 19. By contrast, David Hardy runs away at age 15 at the end of "Part 4|Terror" of "Godliness: A Tale in Four Parts" with no plan other than to leave the scene of having "murdered" his grandfather Jesse.

A similar kind of urge to get out of Winesburg seizes Elmer Cowley in "Queer" as he jumps onto a moving train after having knocked George down in a desperate display of empty courage. Seth Richmond tells Helen White he is going to leave and become a writer, but this "almost-might-have-been" never happens because Seth is only "playing at" being George to impress Helen in "The Thinker." Ned Currie does leave, but the job he expects to find as a newspaper reporter never comes to anything, and he drifts on, further and further away from promises he made to Alice in "Adventure."

Life goes on as it always has in the town, with or without George. Clerks sweep the sidewalks in front of the stores in the early morning of his departure, and ask him how it feels to be leaving. They have done their duty in acknowledging his departure, and go on about their work of cleaning for the new day's traffic.

Several people of the town show up to say goodbye to George, and once they've wished him luck, they return to their own conversations as if they had already become shadowy figures of which the old writer dreams in "The Book of the Grotesque." Even George's father doesn't have much to say to his son, who has now "become taller than the father." It seems entirely likely once George has left, Tom will go back to his ongoing opinions on politics with the men hanging around the hotel. But the main character representing the town and its response to George's leaving is the train conductor, Tom Little. Over his years at the train station, Tom has seen many other young men leave. It's clear George is just another restless young man, and not likely the last, either. If George returns to Winesburg, nobody in town, including Tom, would be particularly surprised. Instead, once he's punched George's ticket, Tom's mind is already on the anticipation of a fishing trip once his "easy run" between Cleveland and Winesburg has been completed.

In fact, the momentous event of leaving Winesburg is only momentous to George. His mind is populated by all the people he has known and thought about over the course of all the stories in Winesburg, Ohio. The implication is, unlike the imaginary people Enoch had around him and then lost in "Loneliness," the shadows of everything people in Winesburg have told George about their lives will remain with him. With this final event in Winesburg, Ohio, Anderson and his alter ego George Willard embody the old writer in "The Book of the Grotesque," whose bed is now so elevated it is difficult for him to climb into it so he can still see out the high window, still meet his "grotesques," and still write about them as Anderson himself continued to write up until the time of his own death.

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