Winesburg, Ohio | Study Guide

Sherwood Anderson

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Winesburg, Ohio | Godliness, Part 3 : Surrender | Summary

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Summary

This story, titled "Surrender," fills out Louise Bentley's background. As soon as she was born, Louise was considered a disappointment and failure to her stern father. What Louise wanted most in her life was love, and love was the one thing she never received. When she was 15, Louise was sent away from the farm to be educated in Winesburg High School. She stayed with the family of her father's friend, Albert Hardy, who sold wagons and buggies. Although Mr. Hardy was nearly as fervent over the issue of a good education as Jesse was over religion, both of his daughters were not diligent in their studies. However, since Louise was both quiet and shy and didn't make friends easily, she applied herself diligently to hers. Albert constantly held Louise's scholastic achievements up against the indifference of his daughters, saying to them, "Louise is the daughter of a rich man but she is not ashamed to study. It should make you ashamed to see what she does."

This causes the Hardy girls to treat Louise with cruelty, and she turns to the only other person in the household she thinks might treat her well, Albert's son, John. She spends a good deal of time fantasizing about him, and finally writes him a note asking him to come to her. They become lovers, and when they fear she is pregnant, they get married. But even at that, Louise can't find the thing for which she so hungers. When her son David is born, Louise tries to make herself love the baby, but finds she can't even stand to be in the same room with him. When her husband comments on her unnatural cruelty, she laughs and tells him because it is a man child it "will get what it wants anyway ... Had it been a woman child there is nothing in the world I would not have done for it."

Analysis

The story of Louise Bentley growing up to marry John Hardy is one of wanting what can't be had, and then when it might be had, rejecting it before it can be snatched away. This is how Louise greets the birth of her son David, because she has already decided the child will not love her, so she will not love him. Many other characters in Winesburg, Ohio give up on themselves in a similar way. In "Adventure" Alice can't get her sweetheart Ned to fulfill his promise to send for her, so rather than finding someone else, she substitutes for this lack by concluding she must live and die alone and without love. In "Respectability" Wash Williams gives himself over to love his young wife heart and soul until, horribly deceived by her, he ends up hating all men and women so completely he makes sure he is entirely unlovable.

In "Godliness" Louise makes an effort to get John Hardy to notice her but in the process makes the mistake of assuming he understands what she needs from him better than he does, and certainly more than she understands her own needs. Falling far short of this huge, accumulated expectation of love Louise has constructed around herself, John will never be able to meet her expectations. What's worse, she can't find the words with which to make him understand. In the end Louise simply surrenders herself to the general expectation everything she should ever want or need is to be found in marriage and motherhood. Sadly, for the family, nothing could be further from the "truth" of her own nature and frustrations, which renders her "monstrous" to her own son David.

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