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An Analysis of Sherwood Anderson's Death in the Woods

Updated on December 7, 2015
Death in the Woods,
Death in the Woods, | Source

An Analysis of Death in the Woods

Sherwood Anderson’s Death in The Woods is a short story through which the themes of feeding and gender roles reverberate. The story is notable for its simple style and touching themes. One of the themes that the story touches upon is gender roles, which is crystal clear in the example of Mrs. Grimes taking up the role of feeding animal life. Mrs. Grimes is an old simple lady who apparently grabs the narrator’s attention by her passing by in his hometown. The narrator reveals his own concern for such old ladies who are barely noticed by anyone. Thus, Mrs. Grimes becomes a concern and a subject of the story. She is an old lady who frequents the town for some regular home errands. She was always shouldering some pack and followed by large, skinny dogs. The narrator states that she is no special, but he is always afterwards haunted by such thoughts that he suddenly starts to reminisces about the whole story of the old lady. She is then the narrator goes on used to be a bound girl working in a farm run by a German. Mrs. Grimes serves as a feeder in the German’s farm, a feeder of his animals, himself and his wife. When she later meets with Jake with whom she will elope and eventually she again serves as a feeder of him and his son. Thus, all her lifetime is spent ‘’ feeding both animals and men.

This is a simple story written in a simple style in order to sketch the daily life of women who are assumed to take up some roles for granted. The roles become natural and unquestionable. And women are thus subjugated to men’s forced superiority. Mrs. Grimes depicts this. She unquestionably takes the role of feeding men and animals. It seems so natural that women are the men’s feeders. A woman feeds her baby, feeds him again as a boy, and then another woman comes to continue the task of feeding. The writer’s use of a simple style reveals his own real encounters with such women. The language used is not a language typical to a writer, but it is one which is used by such real women. We can say that that Anderson’s story has some residence in reality. Mrs. Grimes can be seen as his own mother.

Gender role are forced by society, and because they are being repeated so frequently, women think that they are not supposed to voice their discontent. They think that the roles they assume are so natural. Mrs. Grimes reply to the butcher reveals this. She says in astonishment: “Starve, eh? Well, things had to be fed. Men had to be fed. ‘’ No one is supposed to take up her role and she must then do it without complaining. But, she feeds only other forms of beings rather than men. Men always think that women should not be thanked for being servants. It is their natural roles. Animals in the story are, therefore, thankful to the old lady who spends her youth in feeding them. The pack of dogs following her suddenly engage in a ceremonial, or say, a ‘’ thanksgiving’’ festival when they encircle her dead, marble-like dead body in the woods.

Men are compared, juxtaposed, and in fact come second in order after animals. This is an apparently comparison between men and animals. According to Darwinism, men are a superior species of animals. Anderson insertion of such notions which belong to the theory of evolution makes the story a naturalistic one, and one which forces a duel between men and natural. Mrs. Grimes dies nowhere except in the woods surrounded by a pack of gods who suddenly realize that they are some evolved kind of wolves. We can say that the story is naturalistic in its tackling of such natural aspects of life. It is always a realistic story which draws on real life events. It is then a both realistic, naturalistic story tinted by some kind of fantasy and mysticism which is conspicuous in the circular rituals of dogs. Anderson’s depiction of such old women in such a simple plot, with a simple style allows us to delve deeper into the themes of the story. Then, we are sure to say that the story is about an old woman who spends her life feeding animals, things and men.

Tarik Aarbaoui, EFL teacher and a Master's degree student!


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    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 

      19 months ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      I'd like to read the story sometime, Tarik. Anderson seems to have crafted the short story with interesting elements.


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