Hands in Winesburg / Categories

A complete concordance of hand mentions in Winesburg, Ohio is here. Over here, you can view them by chapter. Below I’ve made an effort to categorize some of the actions performed with hands in the book (when do hands hold shoulders? when do hands touch arms? when are they thrust into pockets? etc.) You can also see things like all the times George Willard uses his hands and all the things that are put into pockets. The links below lead to “citations” where the full passage can be read, sometimes along with observations. I don’t draw any conclusions from any of this, but present it as a curious point of entry into a fascinating book.

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Hands and Pockets

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There are many things put in pockets in Winesburg: hands of course (listed below); ice skates and a notebook (George Willard); an order book (Joe Welling, as well as the unnamed traveling salesman in “Queer”); a sling shot (David Hardy); a long knife (Jesse Bentley); two ten dollar bills (Elmer Cowley); a bottle of whiskey (Tom Foster); apples (John Spaniard); the “paper pills” (Dr. Reefy); Cigars (Dr. Parcival, who put also a “dollar or two” of his brother’s money in a pocket).

There are two pocket-books mentioned: the one which Tom Foster’s grandmother finds containing 37 dollars, and the one George Willard looks into on the train leaving Winesburg.

Hands in pockets: Wing Biddlebaum (6) (7); David Hardy (55); Seth Richmond (81); George Willard (113); Elmer Cowley (118); George Willard (120); Ray Pearson (124); Hal Winters (127). (Not included in this list, a few “indirect” mentions, where characters remove things from their pockets, presumably, but not explicitly, with their hands.) See the note here on the word “thrust”.

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George Willard’s hands

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What does George Willard do with his hands? He wants to take Louise Trunion’s hand into his own (27) and does so (28); he wants to write but cannot because of his trembling hand (60); he raises and gropes with his hand in the darkness when troubled by thoughts of Kate Swift (99); he reaches into the darkness of the vacant lot in a “fever of emotion” which pertains to his sense of personal growth (112); he thrusts his hands into his pockets while staring in Belle Carpenter’s eyes (113); he is on his knees beside Belle Carpenter raising his hands in gratitude (114); he is on his hands and knees humiliated by Ed Handby (114); he thrusts his hands into his overcoat pockets looking inquiringly at Cowley (120); he receives two ten dollar bills from Cowley (122); holding the hand of the aunt of Kate Swift (142); his hand on Helen White’s arms (146), and taking Helen White’s hand (148), taking hold of her hand and shoulder (149); again on Helen White’s shoulders (150). Everyone shaking the young man’s hand (152).

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“Hand in the Darkness”

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“In the darkness he could not see the hands and they became quiet” (9); “In the darkness of her own room she clenched her fists and glared about” (17); “in the darkness under the trees, they took hold of her hand” (17); “but sometimes in the darkness as they went stolidly along she put out her hand and touched softly the folds of his coat” (66); “he raised a hand and with it groped about in the darkness. ‘I have missed something’.” (99) (see note there on “groping”); “put up his hands, thrusting them into the darkness above his head and muttering words” (112); “The tall beautiful girl […] was forever putting out her hand into the darkness and trying to get hold of some other hand” (138); ” In the darkness of her room she put out her hand, thrusting it from under the covers of her bed, and she thought that death like a living thing put out his hand to her” (140); “In the darkness he took hold of her hand and when she crept close put a hand on her shoulder” (149). Observed: that Helen White puts her hand into Seth Richmond’s hand like Elizabeth Willard puts her hand out for the hands of the travelling men, while George Willard takes Helen White’s hand just as Death has taken his mother’s.

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Hands on Hands, Hands on Arms, Hands on Shoulders

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Hand on/ in hand: travelling men took hold of Elizabeth Willard’s hand “and she thought that something unexpressed in herself came forth and became a part of an unexpressed something in them” (17); George Willard takes Louise Trunion’s hand (28); Louise Bentley wants her hand to touch John Hardy’s (50); Helen white puts her hand in Seth Richmond’s hand (80); Seth Richmond imagines his hand lying in Helen White’s hand and puts his hand out to shake hers (81); Kate Swift takes hold of George Willard’s hand (97); George Willard wants to shake the hands of the people in the labor camp (112); “putting out her hand into the darkness and trying to get hold of some other hand” (138); Elizabeth Willard puts out her hand to receive Death’s hand (140); Dr. Reefy puts out his hand to shake George Willard’s then takes it back (141) ; George Willard puts his hand into Aunt Elizabeth Swift’s (142); George Willard takes Helen White’s hand (148) ; George Willard takes Helen White’s hand again (149); everyone is shaking George Willard’s hand (152)

Hands on arms: Elizabeth Willard’s on “arms” of a chair (15); Tom Foster’s on George Willard’s (134); George Willard’s on Helen White’s (146). [Observed: there are number of instances of character holding or being held in each other’s arms (see below) and of characters carrying objects in their arms, but there are relatively few direct pairings of hands on arms.]

Hands on shoulders: Wing Biddlebaum’s hands on George Willard’s shoulders (7); (8); hand of God on shoulder of Jesse Bentley (41); Jesse Bentley’s hand on David Hardy’s shoulder (43); Helen White’s hand upon Seth Richmond’s shoulder (81); Kate Swift’s hand on George Willard’s shoulder (98); George Willard’s hand upon Kate Swift’s shoulder (98); Ed Handby’s hands on Belle Carpenter’s shoulders (110); Ed Handby’s hands on George Willard’s shoulders (114); Hal Winters’ hands on Ray Pearson’s shoulders (125); George Willard’s upon Helen White’s (149) (150). [There are also a scattering of times when hands are implied as being on shoulders but not directly mentioned: for example, Kate Swift’s on George Willard’s (first time), George Willard’s on Belle Carpenter’s.]

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Holding in ones arms

This is somewhat out of the purview of my hands-study but wanted to get a sense of the difference between the situations in which characters held (another) in their arms versus those in which they held or touched with their hands. Something that leaped out at me creating this list is that a number of the loner-type characters are often waving their arms about, most notably Elmer Cowley, but also Wing Biddlebaum and the young Joe Welling.

“Trembling lads were jerked out of bed and questioned. ‘He put his arms about me,”’said one.” (a child of Wing Biddlebaum) (8); Louise Bentley Hardy holding David Hardy (38); Louise Bentley wanting to hold John Hardy (49), at (47) J. Hardy is holding an armful of wood; “the young man took Mary Hardy in his arms and kissed her (49); Mary wishing for a farm hand’s arms around her (50); “Again and again she crept into his arms and tried to talk of it, but always without success” — Louise Bentley and John Hardy (51); David Hardy holding lamb in arms (53, 54*2, 55); “In his arms he held a bundle of weeds and grasses” Joe Welling (60); Ned Currie took Alice Lindman in her arms (62); Alice took a pillow in her arms (66); Seth Richmond imagining holding and being held by Helen White (81); Tandy Hard “in the arms of the agnostic” (Tom hard) (84); Tom Hard taking her into her arms (85); Curtis hartman around wife Sarah’s waist (89); George Willard takes pillow in arms (94); Kate Swift lets George Willard take her in his arms (98*2); George Willard wants to put arms around Enock Robinison (105); Ed Handby takes Belle Carpenter in his arms (109); Elizabether Willard “remembered arms of men that had held her” (137); Dr. Reefy holds E. Willard in his arms (140*3); E. Willard fighting off arms of “lover” death (141); ” unable at the moment to give up her dream of release, the release that after all came to her but twice in her life, in the moments when her lovers Death and Doctor Reefy held her in their arms” (143).

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Hands, OTHER

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Peculiar Hands, (descriptions of hands): Dr. Reefy’s “extraordinarily large knuckles” (10); Tom Foster’s grandmother like “stems of old creeping vine.” (128); Louise Trunnions “Rough” (28); Ed handy’s “strong” (110) Wash Williams’ “shapely and sensitive” (68); the Bentley brothers’ “cracked and red” (30), Ray Pearson’s “chapped” (124); Elizabeth Willard, long, white and bloodless (15); Tom Willy’s, “as though dipped in blood” (20) Joe Welling “thin, nervous” (58). Wing Biddlebaum’s “nervous, little” (5) “restless” (6).

On hands and knees: Alice Lindman crawls on her hands and knees after her adventure with the man hard of hearing (67); George Willard is on his hands and knees during his encounter with Ed Handby (114).

Hands with head/ face: both Enoch Robinson (105) and Ed Handby (113) are said to put their head in their hands. (Precisely speaking: Robinson puts his head in a hand, Handby his head in both.) Elizabeth Willard puts her head down on her hands (14) and puts her face in her hands (137) and, post-coitus, would touch her lovers’ faces with her hand (17), David Hardy stroked the face of maternal care-givers (39), Kate Swift beat on George Willard’s face with fists (98).

Put out his/ her hand… “Put out her hand” occurs three times: Elizabeth Willard (140), Alice Lindman (66), and Gertrude Wilmot. “Put out his hand” occurs six times: Seth Richmond put out his hand to Helen White (81), Elizabeth Willard’s father put out his hand to Elizabeth Willard on his death bed (139), Elizabeth Willard thought, on her death bed, that Death would put his hand out to her (140), Dr. Reefy put out his hand to George Willard (then withdrew it) (141), George Willard put out his hand “again and again” to lift the sheet over his mother’s dead body (142).

Hands with “touch”: Wing Biddlebaum’s (8); Willard wanting to touch Trunnion’s hand and dress (27); God on Bentley’s shoulder (41); Louise Bentley desiring touch of John Handy’s hand (50); Louise Bentley touches son David Hardy (51); Alice Lindman touching drug clerk’s coat (66); Wash William, estrange wife’s hand (72); Enoch Robinson (103), touch her with fingers (106); George Willard touching the sheet covering his dead mother (142). (These comprise about half the mentions of “touch” in Winesburg.)

Release from hands: thinking of three instances here, most especially Elmer Cowley seeking release from the hands of the town (122), but also David Hardy “shaking himself loose” from the hand of his Grandfather (44), and Ray Pearson envisioning the clutching hands of his children (127).

A provisional idea of ‘Hands’ in Winesburg: that characters, on the one hand, seek release from the (figurative) hands of the town, and on the other seek the embrace of the (physical) hands of some specific other.

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For Further Study

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Trees & Grass: Dr. Reefy’s love speech (137) suggests their importance, also a casual look at grasses: for example, both Willard and Biddlebaum, and Swift and Willard, have a talk on a “grassy bank.” Pictures. 13 mentions, most densely gathered in Loneliness. “Pairing” It sometimes seems Anderson will mention things exactly twice, and in chapters adjacent or near to one another. As instances, “sword” in Loneliness and An Awakening , Ed Handby and Enoch Robinson putting their heads in their hands; “rope in their hands” in Hands and The Philosopher; “pocket-book” in Drink and Departure. (This sort of pairing can occur over chapters or paragraphs — the former a sort of enlargement of the latter?) “Half-wits”, four: the boy accuser of Wing Biddlebaum, at the Bentley farm (Eliza Stoughton), the associate of Elmer Cowley (Mook), Turk Smollet (not clear if this person really has a disability or is just “crazy”.) Locations losing their charm when romantic hopes fade (when bereft of a sense of adventure): this happens for Helen White in Seth Richmond’s backyard and for George Willard at the end of Awakening — do those instances help explain what happens to Ray Pearson with respect to his appreciation for the beautiful countryside? Talking to oneself aloud: Various characters talk to to themselves –Elizabeth Willard applauds this quality in her son– Enoch Robinson, David Hardy and Jesse Bentley are said to talk to themselves; and this fits with a large theme of characters trying and often failing to express themselves to others (e.g., Biddlebaum talking with his hands.). But the general theme of Talking would interesting to explore. For example, it is through talking that Elizabeth Willard is made to feel and look younger:

He thought that as she talked the woman’s body was changing, that she was becoming younger, straighter, stronger. When he could not shake off the illusion his mind gave it a professional twist. “It is good for both her body and her mind, this talking,” he muttered.

Dr. Reefy seems perhaps to have an element of a Freudian psychiatrist?… Darkness: The positive presence of darkness in Winesburg, how darkness increases life’s possibility, e.g, “In the darkness it will be easier to say things”.


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