Winesburg, Ohio | Study Guide

Sherwood Anderson

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Winesburg, Ohio | Godliness, Part 2 | Summary



David Hardy's mother, Louise, is the one child born to Jesse and Katherine Bentley. She is described as having been since childhood "inclined to fits of temper and when not angry she was often morose and silent." Louise grows up to marry John Hardy, who becomes a banker, but their life together is not happy. Everyone blames Louise, whose adult behavior becomes so erratic that "but for the influence of her husband ... she would have been arrested more than once by the town marshal." David spends a good deal of his childhood in fear of his mother, and at one point attempts to run away. When he is found and returned home, Louise lavishes him with motherly affection for a while before reverting to her customary absorption in her own misery. David tries to hold on to the brief loving image of his mother as long as he can but eventually, when David is a teen, Jesse demands the boy be given to him. David is delighted with life on the farm. Still, he sometimes dreams of his mother, and in those dreams, Louise becomes the loving, beautiful, and attentive mother he longs to have.

For his part Jesse begins to believe God's promise might be fulfilled in his grandson after all, despite the fact he has been bitterly disappointed in not having been able to increase his land holdings. Jesse "regretted that he could not use his own restless energy ... in the work of glorifying God's name on earth." He tries to channel this energy into the invention of machinery and schemes "to make money faster than it could be made by tilling the land." Jesse and David go everywhere together in pleasant companionship until one day, Jesse takes David into the woods and falls into the idea God must give him a sign. But Jesse's rambling words to God as he grasps the boy's shoulders frighten David such that he shakes himself loose from the praying man and runs away. David is convinced his kindly grandfather and the terrifying man in the woods are in fact two completely different people.


Just as it is important to know about Jesse's father and brothers in order to understand Jesse, it is equally important to know about David's mother Louise to understand why he is overwhelmingly fearful. The fits of rage and sullen withdrawal Louise generates as a means to cope with her own self-hatred create within her son David a sense of his mother as unbearably grotesque in the sense of the novel. The one exception to this is the beauty in her relief when he is found after having run away, and it is out of this brief impression of her David manages to construct for himself a "dream" mother.

When David goes to live with his grandfather on the Bentley farm, his release from a very unhappy home life brings him great joy, but the lurking fear embedded in his psyche by his mother remains. The fact Jesse was trained as a minister in the latter part of the 19th century means he likely learned the popular "fire and brimstone" rhetoric designed to terrify congregations into abject fear of sin and its punishments. And given his religious fervor, it is entirely logical when, on a ramble in the woods with his grandson, Jesse would fall into an irrational religious tirade, unaware of how such ranting would remind David of his mother's own fits, and frighten him. Although Jesse sees in David the son he was denied, the boy simply isn't up to such a grand biblical role, any more than Jessie is himself. For his part David has divided his "monster" mother from his "dream" mother, because the two cannot, in his child's mind, be one and the same. Similarly, he has divided his grandfather into two separate beings, one the religiously ranting and terrifying monster, and the other the grandfather who loves him.

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