Winesburg, Ohio | Study Guide

Sherwood Anderson

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Winesburg, Ohio | The Thinker | Summary

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Summary

Seth Richmond is a resident of Winesburg who lives with his mother in a house that once had been quite grand. He is sad not to be part of the young berry pickers who walk up and down the street in front of his house. The violent death of Seth's father has left him and his mother in dire financial trouble, so she took a job as a court stenographer. She tries to protect her son from the dark rumors about his father, but her attempts to discipline him fail, because Seth shows no remorse for any wrongdoing. Instead, he looks "steadily at her, causing uneasy doubts to invade her mind." When Seth is 15, he runs away from home for about a week in the company of several other boys to try out the life of a tramp living off the baskets farmers bring to the fairs at the towns through which trains pass.

This life quickly pales, but the company of other young people in Winesburg seems equally out of reach for Seth, who is supposedly regarded as the "deep one." He does talk with George Willard, who listens attentively as Seth tells him he has been trying to write a love story. In order to do that, though, Seth figures he should fall in love, and tells George he has set his sights on Helen White, the daughter of the town's banker. But George is already interested in Helen himself, so he asks Seth to find out if she feels the same or not. Seth manages to take a walk with Helen, but she seems indifferent until he tells her George wants to fall in love with her because he is writing a story about love, and wants to know how it feels. Helen expresses her annoyance, then Seth tells her he has decided to leave Winesburg to take work as a man elsewhere. This gets him a kiss, but Helen unfortunately reminds Seth about his mother. Left alone, Seth concludes: "When it comes to loving someone, it won't never be me."

Analysis

Seth is one of those "might-have-been" young men who either leave Winesburg never to be heard from again (such as David Hardy in "Part 4|Terror" of "Godliness: A Tale in Four Parts," and Elmer Cowley in "Queer"), or who leave for a while and, finding life outside too much of a challenge, return home. Seth is of the latter sort, and in a flash of intuition it is Helen White who reminds him why he won't ever leave for good when she tells him, "You go and talk with your mother. You'd better do that now." She will leave him to his compulsive inner thoughts and hesitations.

Although Seth is unaware of it, it is his mother who keeps him close and protected in a way George's own mother Elizabeth does not. For all of Seth's attempts to try to be like George by telling Helen he plans to leave for work elsewhere, the truth Seth tightly holds to is George "belongs" in a way Seth never will.

At the end of the book, in "Sophistication," George tells Helen he once thought she might marry Seth, but with the implication he believes she is worth more than that, he now knows she won't. The unhappy ending thoughts Seth has in his story effectively seal him into himself as securely and safely away from any adventure of love he might otherwise have, because like Alice in "Adventure," he is convinced love will never come to him—only to others like George.

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