Sophistication, Sherwood Anderson, 1919
(Sherwood Anderson was an American author who lived from 1876-1941. His writing was said to have inspired authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner. Anderson’s masterpiece, Winesburg, Ohio, is a collection of loosely connected short stories. “Sophistication” appears towards the end of the book.)
1. There is a time in the life of every boy when he for the first time takes the
2. backward view of life. Perhaps that is the moment when he crosses the line
3. into manhood. The boy is walking through the street of his town. He is
4. thinking of the future and of the figure he will cut in the world. Ambitions
5. and regrets awake within him. Suddenly something happens; he stops
6. under a tree and waits as for a voice calling his name. Ghosts of old things
7. creep into his consciousness; the voices outside of himself whisper a
8. message concerning the limitations of life. From being quite sure of himself
9. and his future he becomes not at all sure. If he be an imaginative boy a
10. door is torn open and for the first time he looks out upon the world
11. seeing, as though they marched in procession before him, the countless
12. figures of men who before his time have come out of nothingness into the
13. world, lived their lives and again disappeared into nothingness. The
14. sadness of sophistication has come to the boy. With a little gasp he sees
15. himself as merely a leaf blown by the wind through the streets of his village.
16. He knows that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must live and die
17. in uncertainty, a thing blown by the winds, a thing destined like corn to wilt
18. in the sun. He shivers and looks eagerly about. The eighteen years he has
19. lived seem but a moment, a breathing space in the long march of humanity.
20. Already he hears death calling. With all his heart he wants to come close to
21. some other human, touch someone with his hands, be touched by the hand
22. of another. If he prefers that the other be a woman, that is because he
23. believes that a woman will be gentle, that she will understand. He wants,
24. most of all, understanding.
25. When the moment of sophistication came to George Willard his mind
26. turned to Helen White, the Winesburg banker’s daughter. Always he had
27. been conscious of the girl growing into womanhood as he grew into
28. manhood. Once on a summer night when he was eighteen, he had
29. walked with her on a country road and in her presence had given way
30. to an impulse to boast, to make himself appear big and significant in her
31. eyes. Now he wanted to see her for another purpose. He wanted to tell her
32. of the new impulses that had come to him. He had tried to make her think
33. of him as a man when he knew nothing of manhood and now he wanted
34. to be with her and to try to make her feel the change he believed had
35. taken place in his nature.
36. As for Helen White, she also had come to a period of change. What
37. George felt, she in her young woman’s way felt also. She was no longer a
38. girl and hungered to reach into the grace and beauty of womanhood. She
39. had come home from Cleveland, where she was attending college, to
40. spend a day at the Fair. She also had begun to have memories. During
41. the day she sat in the grand-stand with a young man, one of the
42. instructors from the college, who was a guest of her mother’s. The
43. young man was of a pedantic turn of mind and she felt at once he
44. would not do for her purpose. At the Fair she was glad to be seen in
45. his company as he was well dressed and a stranger. She knew that
46. the fact of his presence would create an impression. During the day
47. she was happy, but when night came on she began to grow restless.
48. She wanted to drive the instructor away, to get out of his presence.
49. While they sat together in the grand-stand and while the eyes of
50. former schoolmates were upon them, she paid so much attention to
51. her escort that he grew interested. “A scholar needs money. I should
52. marry a woman with money,” he mused.
53. Helen White was thinking of George Willard even as he wandered
54. gloomily through the crowds thinking of her. She remembered the
55. summer evening when they had walked together and wanted to
56. walk with him again. She thought that the months she had spent in
57. the city, the going to theaters and the seeing of great crowds
58. wandering in lighted thoroughfares, had changed her profoundly.
59. She wanted him to feel and be conscious of the change in her nature.
Anderson, Sherwood. "Sophistication, Concerning Helen White." Winesburg, Ohio. New York, NY: B.W. Huebsch, 1919. N. pag. Etc.usf.edu. Lit2Go. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.
The most significant shift in ideas occurs between lines