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13. “The Possibilities of Hard-Won Land”: Midwestern Modernism and the Novel

Edward P. Comentale

Subject Literature » American Literature

Place United States of America » American Mid West

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics modernism, novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00016.x


Something quite remarkable happens in the middle of Sherwood Anderson's Wines-burg, Ohio (1919). For a moment, Seth Richmond's life becomes truly extraordinary. Seth, a restless Midwestern teen, believes he is marked as different, but then so do all of the boys in Winesburg. He's a “dreamer,” a “deep one,” who stands smugly apart from the “chattering crowd,” but his sense of distinction is paradoxically common, boring even. Seth's fretting, in fact, masks an even greater sense of his own average-ness: “He, like most boys, was deeper than boys are given credit for being, but he was not what the men of the town, and even his mother, thought him to be. No great underlying purpose lay back of his habitual silence, and he had no definite plan for life.” In a seemingly rash moment, inspired by the desire to “become thoroughly stirred by something,” he decides to pursue Helen White, the “richest and most attractive girl in town.” But, here too, he mimics the desires of a handful of local men, particularly George Willard, who also sees Helen as “something private and personal to himself.” Later that night, Seth seeks her out, hoping – somewhat contradictorily – to declare his intentions to leave town and to woo her with his decisiveness. However, walking along the street with Helen, he abandons his amorous plan and blurts out, “George Willard's in love with you…. He's writing a story, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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