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