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Winesburg, Ohio | Quotes


The hunger became again a part of his loneliness and his waiting.

Narrator, Hands

Wing Biddlebaum is desperate for someone to hear the story of his life, and "hungers" for George to listen to him. A desperate hunger also takes hold of Wing at the end of the story, as he furtively gleans bread crumbs from his kitchen floor.


And do not let him become smart and successful either.

Elizabeth Willard, Mother

Elizabeth prays her son George will be able to keep the thing within him she has allowed to die in herself. Anderson believed success often ruined an artist, and Elizabeth fears George's desire for success will destroy the best in him. Almost immediately afterward, the reader is told Tom, George's father, has "always thought of himself as a successful man, although nothing he had ever done had turned out successfully."

Elizabeth determines to save George by killing her husband when she overhears Tom tell George about the job at the newspaper he's gotten for him, because Tom is determined his son should succeed.


Perhaps you will be able to write the book that I may never get written.

Doctor Parcival, The Philosopher

Doctor Parcival tells George he once had been a newspaper reporter—like George—and a student minister, but does not say anything about how he became a "doctor." Parcival is even writing a book, and reads parts of it to George. He also tells George he failed to tend to a child who had died in an accident in the street a few weeks back. He thinks it likely they will come after him for being negligent. If they do, Parcival figures George will finish his writing.


He could master others but he could not master himself.

Narrator, Godliness, Part 1

Jesse Bentley has control over considerable land and hired laborers, but he constantly begs the Lord of the Old Testament to give him control over all men to the glory of God.

The problem is Jesse can hardly control himself, and the running of the farmlands he already owns is beyond his ability. The harder he tries, the worse he gets at it, until finally he loses everything, including his own grandson, David, due to his religious fanaticism.


The age-old woman's desire to be possessed had taken possession of her.

Narrator, Godliness, Part 3

Louise Bentley has longed for love, and never found it. As a young woman, she believes it is possible to find love in marriage to John Hardy by being "possessed" as his wife, but it doesn't take her long to find out he has no idea what it is she wants any more than she does herself.


Here and there I would run, finding out things you'll never see.

Joe Welling, A Man of Ideas

Joe Welling is frequently subject to uncontrollable "fits" of verbose explanations on all his thoughts, from speculating on why the water is rising in Wine Creek, to milkweed's crop potential. He doesn't mind telling George he is every bit as observant and detailed as the young reporter, and he would do an even better job of it, because he would notice things George would miss.

However, unlike George, Joe is so completely self-absorbed he has no possibility of perceiving the internal truths of others.


She ... could not have understood the growing modern idea of a woman's owning herself.

Narrator, Adventure

Alice Hindman, the town's old maid, spends her entire adult life waiting for her sweetheart Ned Currie to send for her, even long after she acknowledges he never will.

Alice remains alone, trapped inside her own sense of fidelity to another person even after it is clear that person doesn't want it. The thought that might free her is the very one she does not dare to engage. While even her own mother has moved on by remarrying, Alice pays a high price for her passive determination to believe she belongs solely to one man.


The man who had nothing to say to others had nevertheless something to say.

Narrator, Respectability

George finds himself fascinated by the ugly, angry, and dirty-looking town telegraph operator, Wash Williams. And for his part, Wash won't talk to anyone except George. The story Wash tells him about how he came to hate everyone so completely is so horrific the grotesque little man attains a kind of noble "respectability" that stands up against the resentments of Winesburg's residents.


Here and there you go and there is no one to boss you.

Seth Richmond, The Thinker

Seth Richmond, like George and several of the other boys in Winesburg, lives with his mother. But in Seth's case, his mother has worked very hard to protect him so he can be "the thinker" of Winesburg. Seth clearly admires and envies George, because as a newspaper reporter, George has the freedom to go anywhere he chooses, and listen to people without being told what to do, or how to do it.

Seth tries to be "George" when he boasts he is writing a novel, decides to win George's girlfriend Helen White for himself, and impresses her by saying he will set off into the world to make his fortune. Seth, though, figures although he is an outsider, "George belongs to this town."


I want to be called Tandy.

Tandy Hard, Tandy

Tom Hard's unnamed daughter is only five years old when a stranger tells her she must grow up to be strong and bold, and have the courage to love and be loved.

Although Tom is a self-described agnostic, these hysterical words spoken by his daughter overwhelm any reasoned argument he may have had as an agnostic. The small girl is consumed with a near-religious fanaticism to become "Tandy."


He ... began to hope ... he might be able to say words that would touch and awaken the woman.

Narrator, The Strength of God

Curtis Hartman has been smitten by the vision of Kate Swift lying on her bed, smoking a cigarette and reading a book. The clergyman begins to think things he has never thought before.

As a man of God, Curtis understands it is his duty to redeem sinners like Kate, and he wants God to give him the power of words to do so. But in the end, it is the silent image of Kate herself that creates a profound change in Curtis.


The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say.

Kate Swift, The Teacher

Kate is trying desperately to get her former student, George, to understand and apply a discipline beyond that of a newspaper reporter, even though his job at the Winesburg Eagle is a stepping stone to the writing George stands a chance of achieving.

Both Kate and George's mother Elizabeth supply George with a good reason to go beyond "reporting facts," and get at the inner "truths"—or "grotesques"—people cling to.


I must get myself into touch with something orderly and big that swings through the night like a star.

George Willard, An Awakening

Throughout the book, George is increasingly drawn toward self-reflection and meaning gathered from the stories people tell him.

George's unsatisfactory encounter with Belle Carpenter and Ed Handby emphasizes how these large, arching thoughts are what drive him beyond a narrow life in Winesburg.


Has he got to be harnessed up and driven through life like a horse?

Hal Winters, The Untold Lie

Young Hal asks this question of his fellow farmhand and older friend, Ray Pearson. The background on Hal's father in the story sets a tone of potential rebellion in Hal when he poses this question. However, it seems once the question has been asked, Hal answers it by "harnessing" himself to a girl he has gotten pregnant, and settling down to married life.


An American town worked terribly at the task of amusing itself.

Narrator, Sophistication

This statement points out how the residents of Winesburg entertain themselves with the same attitude they apply to every other aspect of their lives.

Jesse Bentley's father and brothers spend their entire lives doing hard labor, with a few bouts of hard drinking and chasing women as their only "leisure" now and then. Curtis Hartman works "terribly" at the task of remaining pure and sinless. The only people to abandon themselves to the sheer joy of being alive in this story are George and Helen, both of whom are on the cusp of adulthood. Everyone else in Winesburg denies their "starvation" for life and love until they go insane (Louise), run away (David), retreat into fantasy lives (Tom Foster), or simply watch life pass them by (Alice). If all life is gained by self-sacrifice, struggle, and hard work, why should being at a county fair be any different?

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