Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sherwood Anderson & William Faulkner: Understanding the Grotesque

Read "The Book of the Grotesque" a story from the book Winesburg, Ohio (a cousin of Dubliners) by Sherwood Anderson. Write a thoughtful response in the comment box. You might write an analysis linking technique to meaning. You might write a comparison between this story and another, focusing on theme, style, characterization, or several elements or something else. You might write your own "interfiction" by fleshing out some part of the story (the back story, the "dream that was not a dream," the narrator as character, etc.) Or you might have another idea you'd like to try out.


Then start reading As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Read and take notes on pages 3-84 by class time on Monday.

Here are the motifs. (Thanks to Mr. Phillips for motif ideas)



Language/Words (uses and limits)


Existence and Identity (ontology)

Death and Life (Dying and Living, Non-being and being)


Sanity and Insanity

Trauma, Suffering (Responses to Trauma and Suffering)

Dark Humor & the Grotesque

Hope and Despair

Family (Loyalty and Betrayal)







Here's Faulkner talking about his intent to write a literary masterpiece:
"I set out deliberately to write a tour-de-force. Before I ever put pen to paper and set down the first word I knew what the last word would be and almost where the last period would fall." - William Faulkner


Click here whenever you want to see a map for As I Lay Dying. The map is a revision of a map made by Faulkner himself. For Faulkner's map click here.


nFrye said...

N. Frye
"The Book of the Grotesque"

This short story by Sherwood Anderson really caught my attention, especially towards the end when the author begins to speak about truths. What I was able to take away from the discussion of truths was that the grotesques were created by taking one truth, such as wealth or poverty, and living only by that truth. That is to say that, while normal humans, not characters in stories, poems, plays, etc. that have become grotesques, embrace many truths (that are beautiful, which reminded me very much of my own not-for-college essay) and contain more than one focus. Basically, their minds are more complex. On the other hand, the grotesques as Anderson sees them are beings that are created with only one truth in mind and exist only around that particular truth.
The details of Anderson’s short story are very Hemmingway-esque. He relates many simple images to bring to life the characters and to demonstrate their similarities without directly stating the comparisons. By giving both the carpenter and the writer white mustaches, the reader is able to compare the history of both men, possibly assuming that the writer faced similar war situations, which are not elaborated upon in the short story.
The writer in the story thinks about death as he lies in bed and listens to his heart “flutter” and yet he feels most alive as he lies closest to death. The concept of feeling more alive, while not necessarily younger, at this point is what truly inspires his vision of the grotesques. It seems that the most important things come to people just as their lives are ending. It seems as if the world opens up new doors, but I believe that it is the other way around. As people prepare themselves to leave the world, they become more perceptive as they attempt to take in those last final moments of life. The writer’s epiphany about truths and the grotesques show an enlightened view of the world’s people. While the grotesques are exaggerated images of people, what the writer sees are the individual truths that make up all people.

Anonymous said...

“The Book of The Grotesque” by Sherwood Anderson is a story that comments on the truths society lives and obsesses about. It is the story of an old man; a writer, and the carpenter he hires to fix his bed for him. The writer lays in bed and begins to think about all of the people in his life and his theory of the grotesque; that the people he has known have missed out on life by focusing their strength on their obsessions. They are obsessed with the thoughts of virginity and passion, of wealth and poverty, of thrift and profligacy. They have turned these obsessive thoughts into truths that they live by. Perseverating on one aspect of life instead of taking all into account as beautiful and right, these people become grotesque in the writer’s eyes.
In the end, the narrator mentions the carpenter who built the writer’s bed in the beginning of the story. He states that the reason this character is mentioned is because he is common. Being common can be an “understandable” and “lovable” thing. The carpenter is the most understandable and lovable thing in all of the grotesques because he is grotesque for being common.
The irony of this story is that although the writer believes that if you take a thought and turn it into a truth, you can become a “grotesque” due to your obsession of this thought, he himself almost becomes a grotesque by obsessing about these people and their way of life.

Katina T said...

“The Book of the Grotesque” by Sherwood Anderson, the author uses distinct techniques to show readers how he wants them to understand the short story. The story’s purpose is to portray the negative effects of a person limiting themselves by being defined by one “truth.” The protagonist is an aging writer, who ponders the thoughts of death before he falls asleep at night. He does not fear death, in fact, the thought of death makes the writer feel more alive, even at such an old age. He describes something inside of him that resembles a young pregnant woman. This choice of a paradox was used to introduce the next part of the protagonist’s insight on the theme of truth. The writer conjures up figures that he describes as “grotesque” that resemble all the people that he has known through out life. Some of these people are disturbing, and others are close to being beautiful. But these people became grotesque by focusing on only one truth. They would obsess over this truth, and the author felt that this could only limit someone’s perception of life. If someone were to focus only on the “truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carelessness and abandon” how can someone expand their horizons? Because the protagonist finds these truths to be far too defining, he feels that they become falsehoods. The paradox of feeling alive by the thought of death, introduced the paradox of how too much of one truth, becomes a falsehood. He feels that these truths can ruin a person, or deform their sense of self. He cleverly shows this by describing the people in his life as “grotesque” figures. As the story comes to an end, the author explains how the author has spent his how life thinking of his theory of the grotesque, and how close he himself has almost become one of these creatures. But one thing saves him: the young thing inside of him that was spoken of at the beginning of the story. His savior, a pregnant woman, portrays the birth of his clarity of the “grotesque” images his produces in his dreams. The clarity inside of him has kept him from obsessing, and opened his eyes to not limiting himself like the many people in his life have sadly done.

Andrew Ryan said...

The Book of the Grotesque by Sherwood Anderson is written to be a very sad story about an older writer who is not the man he used to be. The story starts off with the writer asking a carpenter to help raise the height of his bed so he can see the birds in the morning. The carpenter raises the height of the bed his own way despite the writer’s ideas. The writer who is past sixty with his newly elevated bed has to use a chair to get into his bed. This image of the old man who has lived most of his life already, is sad and degrading. As the old man describes about himself, he was once “handsome and a number of women had been in love with him. And then, of course, he had known people, known them in a peculiarly intimate way that was different from the way in which you and I know people.” The author of the story romanticizes the writer by saying that he knew people more intimate than you (referring to the reader). The author makes sure that the reader pities and respects the writer by saying, “Why quarrel with an old man concerning his thoughts?” The author writes how the old man wakes up in the night, and in an hour writes an entire book about grotesques. This idea is completely absurd because no one can write an entire book in an hour; especially a book that the author describes as having hundreds and hundreds of truths. This story is frustrating because you have to take the author’s word that the writer’s book is great. The author even says that the book “was never published, but I saw it once and it made an indelible impression on my mind.” This book may never have existed in the first place. The author could easily be lying to the reader. There is no proof that this book is real. This story is a grotesque about a book of grotesques since it’s completely absurd. In the writer’s story, the people living life by a certain truth are grotesque because these truths are only thoughts that man has made up. These thoughts have not been proven effective; therefore to live by a truth is absurd, thus making a person a grotesque.

Molly A said...

Molly A.

The Book of the Grotesque, by Sherwood Anderson, is a short story that explores the truth, or truths, that dictate society’s standards. It reflects upon the creative, yet upsetting, origin of each truth as well as why, today, each person can be defined by only one. The story is interestingly thoughtful and has a message that grabs attention while inspiring thought in any reader. A specific element which I found to be consistent throughout the story, and interested me the most, was the indirect manner in which it is written, as well as how that manner relates to it‘s message. Sherwood Anderson is writing his story about another story, also titled The Book of the Grotesque, while trying to portray the message that is also portrayed in the other story.
The protagonist of Sherwood Anderson‘s story is the writer of the story also titled The Book of the Grotesque. He is an old man who, after dreaming of several grotesques, writes a story on how they negatively contributed to the creation of truth. There are some less harmful than others and those so severe that they “hurt the old man by her grotesqueness”. A character in Anderson’s short story, the carpenter, is even thrown in simply to represent the typical harmless grotesque. His character shows no development or contribution to the story, and his one main description, “The weeping old man with the cigar in his mouth was ludicrous.”, nearly describes grotesques perfectly.
Throughout the story, there is also something young described within the protagonist that provides him with the youth that he physically lacks. He is compared to a pregnant woman and is described as something that keeps him more alive than ever. It is suggested that this youth is what connects him to the grotesques, and therefore inspires inspiring him to write. The youth, in my opinion, can be connected to those who created truth, the people who picked truths up and first made them their own, as well as his internal connection to that time and his understanding of what took place.
The factors that make up the story are all present to support the message of the book within the story, hence its indirect manner. The Book of the Grotesque, by Sherwood Anderson, has perfectly placed details, comparisons, and even whole characters, in its storyline to convey a message of predetermined fate: a truth that has definitions determined long before us, ones that we cannot change.

Brianna A said...

“The Book of The Grotesque” is a very intriguing story about the conditions of man. This writer is nearing his old age and just wants to be closer with life. He tries to understand what exactly has happened and is happening around him. He demonstrates his appreciation for life but going through the whole ordeal with the carpenter raising his bed so that he can watch the trees in the morning. The writer is trying to be more intimate with nature because he knows that somewhere inside of him there is a force that understands the truth of nature. Also when the writer takes time to digress with the carpenter he leads the carpenter into touching memories of the soldier’s past. The soldier had been taken prisoner and had also lost a loved one. These ideas of the story contrast the beautiful notions that the writer later brings up. The writer discusses a part of him very separate and different from the rest of him. He first compares it to carrying a youth and then an armored woman. Ultimately this force pushes him forward and enlightens him to express himself through his art. He is the title of “the writer” in this story: he is the writer, which is his calling and identity. “You can see for yourself how the old man, who had spent all of his life writing and was filled with words, would write hundreds of pages concerning this matter.” This communication and skill with words helped him to feel the idea of the grotesques. He saw these figures that had stolen truths for their own and used them to live their lives by. They were “amusing” but they were not right. The world had come to accept this behavior but the appreciation for the truths must live on and even take a softer approach such as within the carpenter.

amycarpenter57 said...

This story reminds me, not so much as a story about the writer or the carpenter or any of the grotesques the writer thought about, but a story about writing. To me, it seems like an author's exercise. After reading it, I think it is less of a real story but rather an example of a story. This idea could easily be taken and expanded on, the grotesques could become for lifelike but then the purpose fails. The literal book of the grotesques, the one the writer wrote is not real, it can't be real, but the story is real and can only exsist as long as the characters remain the way they are. Perhaps there is deeper meaning in it but at the surface, the story is the story of a story which itself is only an exersice in a style of writing...maybe. In the end, it's a showcase of style.

Francesco P said...

As the two beings gazed at each other, exchanging essences amongst themselves, the idea of the truths vanished without a single thought of preclusion. This was true, for there was nothing holding it down. No conceptual bounds, or predisposed perspectives. No. Just this: to know and see each other, to feel each other, without a thought, or single desire to describe.

It’s funny how we are so gratified by the complexity of our thoughts, and the intricacy of our behavior, that we neglect to acknowledge the falsehoods we spawn. So eager to define, and establish truths, to bring into knowledge something we can grasp, which is uniform and manageable: Sorrow, rapture, fidelity, forbearance. So that we may know others better, so that we may know ourselves more ‘truly’. Yet as the beings gazed into each other’s souls, none of the anchors clamped onto their perception of each other. They were free. Free from the world of fallacious pretense, that sympathetic desire to understand even to the point where you abandon reality, as it exists, so you may cleave yourself from the vulnerability of the ambiguous truth. It’s what had made their world so ugly and yet so beautiful. So many humans adopting that which exudes the semblance of truth so they may carry meaning and purpose in what existence they manifest. They shuddered at the utterly empathetic aversion of their own way of being. Looking at each other through the purity of human awareness, feeling their own fabrication of truth mingle within their thoughts.

It was reassuringly sad to know that the youth of life, the curious boundless perceiver always lingered, patiently, behind the window of human eyes. The innocent conceiver, with the determination to understand, quickly usurped the perceiver, so that the untouchable, boundless truths became distorted under the conceivers influence. To attempt to unify our thoughts, exalt our motives, and laud our deeds, all underneath the fabricating conceiver, genuine reaction having been nearly forgotten in the façade.

The conceivers of the human realm spawned an entirely new dimension; the projections of countless consciousnesses desperately attempting to grasp each other, connect, and shine with truth. Yet failing fundamentally, in the incompatibility of the distorted origin from whence they came.

The two beings continued gazing at each other. They continued to gaze at each other for eternity, for they had understood, each other. It was proof that there actually was perpetual truth.

Anonymous said...

The Book of the Grotesque reminded me of Slaughterhouse five when the mention of the Carpenter being a P.O.W was mentioned. The Carpenter was an interesting character especially because of what the author said about him at the end of the piece. “I only mentioned him because he, like many of what are called very common people, became the nearest thing to what is understandable and lovable of all the grotesques in the writer’s book.” All of the grotesques were prisoners to the writers mind. The Carpenter was the only character we learned many personal details about, other than the writer.
I do not know if there is any significance in the fact that a carpenter is someone who works with cut down trees to make furniture and other items, but the author hired to Carpenter in the story so he could see the tops of the trees. I thought this relationship was interesting, I do not know what to make of it though. The fact the author wanted to see the treetops resembles how he is, indeed, a reflective person. “The old writer, like all of the people in the world, had got, during his long fife, a great many notions in his head”. Being at the top in this case means that you can look back easily. The writer enjoyed laying in bed because he could think about all the people he knew in his life.
Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s character, also popped into my mind as I read this. Mainly because this piece about a writer, but also the fact that the author had some sort of youth inside of him. (To me) The writer seems like he could be an elderly Stephen because of the life that he still has inside of him. The author compares him to a pregnant woman. By saying this he means that there is life that is waiting to burst from this elderly man (through his art). I liked this metaphor. The writer does, in a way, carry people inside him, and those are the people from his past.

fenkor said...


H. Ono

The first clue you have that there is something to the story is when it says that the writer had led the carpenter to talking about the war. This information was provided by the narrator who gives most of the information that the reader receives. There is another clue provided by the narrator who says that the carpenter had the same white mustache as the old writer did. Though the writer didn’t need to he had his character look like him to be able to better understand his creation.

The narrator goes on to explain that there were many truths in this world and each truth was created from many vague thoughts. When people took these truths as their own then they became grotesques. But, the writer didn’t become one himself as he still had the young side of himself left and still didn’t accept the truths to be set. In the end the narrator reveals that the old carpenter had been a grotesque. This revealing in the end has the reader rereading the story again to better understand the story by getting a new view and an idea for just what the book that was never published said.

Nick B said...

Sherwood Anderson’s The Book of the Grotesque offers a very interesting perspective towards the issue of truth and falsehood. It questions, is anything really true or false, or do we make things into truths and lies for our own sake? That’s interesting because the more I think about it, the more I agree with him. A grotesque not only has nothing to do with the image of grossness that we immediately think of, but it’s not even ridiculously exaggerated either, it’s just unique. Unique in that it is wholly one aspect of life, encompassed in a single being. That therefore makes it strange to us, as we all are jumbled mixtures of many truths, or falsehoods.
Anderson also throws in the idea that all truths were beautiful. He says it long enough before the ideas of grotesques being humans encompassing truths so that the reader almost doesn’t catch the connection. Upon looking back, however, I realized that he’s saying that humans corrupted truths, and now instead of being beautiful they are grotesque. Also, why is it that, “the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood”? Why can’t a grotesque be a beautifully exaggerated thing, a person so perfect that nobody could hope to attain their stature, but we could all strive to exemplify their qualities? I feel like Anderson left out the detail in the transformation from truths to grotesques that explains why they become falsehoods. He didn’t forget that detail; he did this so the reader would second-guess their own notions drawn from the story, as well as doubt Anderson’s conclusions. The ideas expressed by Anderson, and the “writer”, in The Book of the Grotesque are interesting and new, at least to me, but the way in which he writes about them forces the reader to think through the ideas so deeply that they become the readers’ own thoughts.

Meredith S said...

“The Book of the Grotesque” by Sherwood Anderson describe a part of the human condition. The story shows how truth often gets destroyed over time and is forced to hide. The writer is an old man but he does not feel old because he feels alive on behalf of his characters. The truth of his youth is long in the past, but he is able to live through his characters who are young and feel their youth. The grotesques that the writer imagines are all versions of some bare truth. Some of the truths were ugly and unpleasant, but others were the opposite. The writer feels that he needs to write about the grotesques even though “it was a painful thing to do.” This is representative of life, where the truth of a matter is often more than one-sided; it can be pleasant in some ways and unfortunate in others. Likewise, the writer is disturbed by some of the grotesques, but they make a deep impression on him anyway, enough for him to feel the need to write about them. His book, “The Book of the Grotesque” is described by the author as having a central thought, which is that truth does not truly exist in thought, but only as composites of life. The character of the carpenter is short-lived in the story, but in a way I think he represents a grotesque as well.

Sabrina said...

The story “The Book of the Grotesque” by Sheronwood Anderson talks about the actual book of Grotesque written by an old man who had a youth in him. The old man believes in many things. One thing he believes in so much is seeing the trees when he wakes up, so he wants his bed level to the window; so a carpenter comes over. The talk they have reminds me of the book “Slaughter House Five” because they talk about war and being captive in a war. The two old men have nothing and everything in common, by means of their jobs, writing and carpentry, but they are similar while talking. The theme seems to be that there are no truths in the world until you make it happen. I think the old man who writes “The Book of the Grotesque” is smart in the way that he writes this book to make sense out of life. Sheronwood actually talks about what she felt when she read the story written by the old man. I think that the title of the book is bad, because the book has so much intelligence, so naming it the book of something that could mean ugly or misshapen it does not seem to make any sense. I enjoyed reading this story, mostly because it was very understandable, but also because my attention was held the whole time. Some parts of the book seemed if-y, but very interesting. Since it was said that the author wrote it in one hour, it does not seem real.

B Shay said...

The book of the grotesque by Sherwood Anderson is about an old man who is nearing the end of his life. After pondering about life and death and such, he finally determines the fundamental law of being grotesque. He said that the more that you focus solely on one value in life the more grotesque you get. Being grotesque means that you are over exaggerating some kind of trait over others. Most characters in stories would be physically demented or different, and then they would somehow be trying to conquer something like a dark side or bad way of life. Moving on, there are many signs like the over exaggeration of the old man’s youth being inside him like a pregnant woman with a baby, that the old man is in fact a grotesque himself. He must have noticed that himself because he ends up not publishing his book on the law in fear of finalizing his grotesqueness. The short story ends with a rephrase of a story that is told in the beginning about an old man who is taken to tears because of his earlier life in a war while helping the main character raise the height of his bed. This old man represents the grotesque that the main character was trying to portray in his book. I also noticed that the old man, being locked in his house all the time, is somewhat like a grotto where the word grotesque derives from.

Megan Keegan said...

“The Book of the Grotesques” focuses on the main theme of truth. In this story, it is stated that the writer thinks about death before bed all the time. The writer says that he is ok with death and that however and whenever it comes he will be alright with it. The thoughts of dying almost make him feel more alive because he has learned to take each day as it comes and live for the moment. The writer compares himself to a pregnant woman but instead of being pregnant with a child, he is impregnated by youth and the feelings of being young again.
This youth that is inside of him provides him with a dream that he turns into a story. The truth that came from the youths visions portrayed all of the people that he knew in his lifetime to be grotesque. There is a certain irony about this dream. The writer, like any other person, would most likely prefer to remember his friends and acquaintances the way that he last saw them, not in this gross way. It is up to the writer to decide whether the way he is seeing them is the truth or if it is just a vision that he was making up. The reader becomes a little confused by the dream, taking into consideration that he was in his bed at the time when he was thinking about death so it is possible that he might be dreaming. He realizes that by seeing them in a different state however, he is able to see them and understand them in a way that he never was before.
From seeing and interacting with these grotesque figures, he learns to open his eyes more to the things that surround him. Through this, he starts to write down the truths about life. These truths range from things about virginity and passion to wealth and poverty but could very well be things that the writer never really thought much about before they were brought to his attention through this dream. It is ironic that the writer never published this book, which makes it seem like perhaps the book was written more just for his own satisfaction. The truths he wrote were things that he needed to relearn so that when he does eventually die, he can be at peace with his decisions and his life.

hayden said...

As I read "The Book of the Grotesque" I could only wonder how the story (real or not) was very original in itself and the meaning behind it. It revealed a truth (haha) that is persistent within people. The 'truths' are I consider loosely a representation of moral upbringing we take on as we progress through life. And as the story points out people have differing 'truths' making them a certain type of person. And comparing this to any such person now it strikes me as a true thought seeing some actions people take due to their personal revelation of 'truth'.
The man in the story seemed to realize this in his visit of the war veteran, who in turn was a grotesque himself. I wonder if the writer had made up this character's story himself in his own mind to satisfy his curiosity of human life. The story to me seems like Sherwood Anderson's representation of human actions and the explanation of moral development.