How Love makes modern society Possible,
as seen in Winesburg, Ohio
As seen in the chapter “sophistication” from the novel Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, the thing needed to make mature life possible is love. Love, which creates powerful intrapersonal bonds, is what makes civilized life possible. In the absence of a god, love fills the void, and gives a body purpose, a reason to look forward to the future.
Many of the characters in the novel are dried up husks, which have lost the fire of their youth. However, as shown in the chapter “Sophistication”, George Willard is different. In the opening scene of the chapter, George is wandering the fairgrounds feeling isolated and unloved, all while yearning to be held in the arms of Helen White. At this point he doesn’t have love, and feels hollow, since he has no one to love or be loved by. The fire in him is sputtering and he broods by himself. He thinks “well, is she going to stay with him all day?” (Anderson 286), referring to the attention she is paying to her guest. He just wants to be understood by a woman. He was “fast growing into manhood and new thoughts had been coming into his mind.”(286).
He wanted more than sex, he wanted understanding, in the arms of a woman.
This whole time, Helen White is entertaining a guest, lavishing attention on him at the fair. While on the surface Helen is engaged, emotionally she is disengaged. Even while feigning interest in her suitor, she is thinking of George Willard. As for the guest, he was just to get attention. In reality “She wanted to drive the instructor away, to get out of his presence” (289).
The chapter begins with Anna sharing how she feels about winter and the snow. Anna has always loved the first snowfall of winter ... of us are to grovel on the floor declaring our love for our great leader. But of course, you have to ...
During the day, she acted happy with her companion, but during the nights she longs for something else. Her thoughts turn to George Willard, and how she wanted him “to feel and be conscious of her change in nature.” (289).
Both George and Helen are feeling unsatisfied and insignificant at this point. George and Helen both independently make up their minds to seek each other out.
As fate would have it, they meet out in the street. George seizes her hand and leads her out to the grandstand. There they sit together, marveling at the power of their emotions. George feels much better, as “The presence of Helen renewed and refreshed him.” (296).
The universe that once seemed so dark and forbidding suddenly seems suddenly seems easier to observe with another besides them. Both no longer feel as insignificant, and the world is suddenly easier to bear. Sherwood Anderson shows us how through love, Helen and George have found meaning in life. For a moment on that grandstand “they had for a moment taken hold of the thing that makes the mature life of men and women in the modern world possible.” (298).
Without meaning or purpose, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the great sea that is sentient life and culture. One feels meaningless and adrift in the suffocating wave that is humanity. Meaninglessness breeds depression and isolation. A society cannot exist without content individuals. The individuals that compromise a society must have a common purpose and a bond to bind them and keep them from turning on each other. Without a god to support them they need something else to support them. That something is love, a thing so strong it can make it can give life meaning, capable of making the emptiness of space seem warm and inviting. Without this, modern life would not be able to exist, since only animals can be kept alive solely by their urge to reproduce.