Northern Illinois University Press

A Storyteller and a City

Sherwood Anderson's Chicago

Kenny J. Williams

Sherwood Anderson, known for such masterful portraits of small-town American as Winesburg, Ohio, began his literary career as an interpreter of life in the quintessential midwestern city, Chicago. His first two published works, Windy McPherson's Son (1916) and Marching Men (1917), contributed to the tradition of the Chicago novel that includes authors from E. P. Roe to Saul Bellow.

Raised in a midwestern village, Anderson was nurtured on the popular image of Chicago as The City, bustling magnet of the bright and ambitious who would realize the American dream of commercial success. However, his first sojourn in the city, from 1896 to 1898, found him mired in warehouse and factory work and a fruitless attempt at night school. He left disillusioned but still determined to make his way. After a noncombative stint in the army during the Spanish-American War, Anderson finished his schooling in Ohio; then, drawn once again by the urban magnet, he returned to Chicago in 1900. This time, he wrote advertising copy for a prominent firm, contributed to major trade journals, and, in 1904, married the daughter of a Toledo businessman. Although he eventually founded his own prosperous manufacturing company in Elyria, Ohio, it was to Chicago that Anderson owed his education in the strategies of success.

In 1912 Anderson suffered an apparent nervous breakdown, after which he left Ohio and his young family and returned to Chicago. He remained there for several years, during which he divorced his wife and remarried a more "liberated" woman. He also launched a new career as a serious writer, producing several works intended to represent the essence of urban life.

A Storyteller and a City traces the development of Anderson's literary relationship with Chicago through his two earliest novels and Midwestern Chants, a 1918 volume of poetry in the Sandburg tradition. Kenny Williams analyzes these works in the context of the thriving "Chicago School" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as reflected particularly in the writings of Herrick, Norris, Sinclair, and Dreiser. Seen in this light, Anderson's portrayals of the great midwestern city emerge as cogent responses to the pessimistic determinism of the strict realists. The Chicago of Sherwood Anderson is a city where intelligent, talented, ethically enlightened individuals are at least free to strive against alienation and corruption.

(1988) 322 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-135-3
cloth $35.50

Table of Contents

Sherwood Anderson's Chronology
Prologue: A Storyteller's City
1 The Legendary Chicago and the Real City
2 The City "Triumphant": Chicago in Fiction
Part One: Confrontation
3 Sam McPherson: An Uncommon Portrait of a Chicago Businessman
4 Beaut McGregor: Angry Activist in a Disorderly City
5 "Disorderly" Realism
Part Two: Reconciliation
6 "Something Blossomed in Chicago": Renaissance Days
7 Songs of the City and Some Rooming House People
8 Out of a Town, A City
9 A Metaphoric City
Epilogue: A Storyteller's Moment
10 Sherwood Anderson's Urban Cycle
Bibliographic Essay

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-135-3
cloth $35.50