Short story: “Mother”

by look i have opinions

“Mother,” by Sherwood Anderson

First appeared in the magazine The Seven Arts (now defunct); collected in the short story cycle Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life; available on Bartleby.com here

3,247 words

This story delights me. The relationship between the two main characters is nearly nonexistent and yet important to them both, making it very poignant.

The introduction to my edition of Winesburg, Ohio quotes Anderson as describing each of his stories as “an idea grasped whole as one would pick an apple in an orchard.” Which makes it even clearer than usual that my chart of this story is less a blueprint, something the author himself might have drawn up, than a dissection. Let’s not deprecate my charts on that account. Dissection is an invaluable method of studying how living things work.

Section Word count
Background on Elizabeth and her husband 385 .
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Elizabeth’s private feeling about George 240 .
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The outward relationship between them; symbolic scene between the baker and the cat* 322 .
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The outward relationship, part two, being composed of nothing more than silence and awkwardness 183 .
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Initial problem (anxiety about George) and resolution 503 .
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Crisis (overheard conversation) 605 .
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More background on Elizabeth’s youth 408 .
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Her failure of strength** 282 .
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Resolution 168 .
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Close, reprising silence and awkwardness 151 .
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*At least, Elizabeth sees the scene as “a rehearsal of her own life,” so we have to take it as symbolic. It’s a scene between two creatures who have no ability to communicate; the baker’s pointless fury seems to echo Elizabeth’s husband’s; maybe the cat hiding in the filthy alleyway reminds her of her own way of hiding. I don’t know. It doesn’t particularly speak to me.

**At first I put Elizabeth’s murder plan in its own section before this one, but then I realized her theatrical fantasy had already doomed her to inaction.

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