American Author, Editor, Novelist and Short Story Writer
American Author, Editor, Novelist and Short Story Writer
You see it is likely that, when my brother told the story, that night when we got home and my mother and sister sat listening, I did not think he got the point. He was too young and so was I. A thing so complete has its own beauty. I shall not try to emphasize the point. I am only explaining why I was dissatisfied then and have been ever since. I speak of that only that you may understand why I have been impelled to try to tell the simple story over again.
You will have to know life, she declared, and her voice trembled with earnestness. She took hold of George Willard?s shoulders and turned him about so that she could look into his eyes. A passer-by might have thought them about to embrace. If you are to become a writer you?ll have to stop fooling with words, she explained. It would be better to give up the notion of writing until you are better prepared. Now it?s time to be living. I don?t want to frighten you, but I would like to make you understand the import of what you think of attempting. You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say.
You won't arrive. It is an endless search.
You must try to forget all you have learned,' said the old man. 'You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices.
Wait and wait. Most people's lives are spent waiting.
We got up at four in the morning, that first day in the east. On the evening before we had climbed off a freight train at the edge of town, and with the true instinct of Kentucky boys had found our way across town and to the race track and the stables at once. Then we knew we were all right.
We have not approached the time when we may speak to each other, but in the mornings sometimes I have heard, echoing far off, the sound of a trumpet. It is apparent that nations cannot exist for us. They are the playthings of children, such toys as children break from boredom and weariness. The branch of a tree is my country. My freedom sleeps in a mulberry bush. My country is in the shivering legs of a little lost dog.
We must have been a sad looking lot, not, I fancy, unlike refugees fleeing from a battlefield. Mother and I walked in the road. The wagon that contained our goods had been borrowed for the day from Mr. Albert Griggs, a neighbor. Out of its sides stuck the legs of cheap chairs and at the back of the pile of beds, tables, and boxes filled with kitchen utensils was a crate of live chickens, and on top of that the baby carriage in which I had been wheeled about in my infancy. Why we stuck to the baby carriage I don't know. It was unlikely other children would be born and the wheels were broken. People who have few possessions cling tightly to those they have. That is one of the facts that make life so discouraging.
Well, we would have something to tell. A boy did not get such a chance very often. It was lucky we just happened to go into the grocery when the hunter came in. The hunter was a country fellow. Neither of us had ever seen him before. Now the crowd of men and boys had got to the clearing. Darkness comes quickly on such Winter nights, but the full moon made everything clear. My brother and I stood near the tree, beneath which the old woman had died. She did not look old, lying there in that light, frozen and still. One of the men turned her over in the snow and I saw everything. My body trembled with some strange mystical feeling and so did my brother's. It might have been the cold.
When a job is to be done there's no use putting it off.
When the moment of sophistication came to George Willard his mind turned to Helen White, the Winesburg banker?s daughter. Always he had been conscious of the girl growing into womanhood as he grew into manhood. Once on a summer night when he was eighteen, he had walked with her on a country road and in her presence had given way to an impulse to boast, to make himself appear big and significant in her eyes. Now he wanted to see her for another purpose. He wanted to tell her of the new impulses that had come to him. He had tried to make her think of him as a man when he knew nothing of manhood and now he wanted to be with her and to try to make her feel the change he believed had taken place in his nature.
Whereas God, for reasons of His own, sometimes chooses to let the machine answer. 'The Supreme Being is unavailable to come to the phone at this time, but He wants you to know what your call is important to Him. In the meantime, for sins of pride, press one. For avarice, press two...'
There was a kind of poetry I was seeking in my prose, word to be laid against word in just a certain way, a kind of word color, a march of words and sentences, the color to be squeezed out of simple words, simple sentence construction.
Winesburg had forgotten the old man, but in Doctor Reefy there were the seeds of something very fine. Alone in his musty office in the Heffner Block above the Paris Dry Goods Company?s store, he worked ceaselessly, building up something that he himself destroyed. Little pyramids of truth he erected and after erecting knocked them down again that he might have the truths to erect other pyramids.
There was nothing particularly striking about them except that they were artists of the kind that talk. Everyone knows of the talking artists. Throughout all of the known history of the world they have gathered in rooms and talked. They talk of art and are passionately, almost feverishly, in earnest about it. They think it matters much more than it does.
With a little gasp he sees himself as merely a leaf blown by the wind through the streets of his village. He knows that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must live and die in uncertainty, a thing blown by winds, a thing destined like corn to wilt in the sun.
There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carelessness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.
With the pack on her back she went painfully along across an open field, wading in the deep snow, and got into the woods. There was a path, but it was hard to follow. just beyond the top of the hill, where the woods was thickest, there was a small clearing. Had some one once thought of building a house there? The clearing was as large as a building lot in town, large enough for a house and a garden. The path ran along the side of the clearing, and when she got there the old woman sat down to rest at the foot of a tree.
There were four Grimes dogs that had followed Mrs. Grimes into town, all tall gaunt fellows. Such men as Jake Grimes and his son always keep just such dogs. They kick and abuse them, but they stay. The Grimes dogs, in order to keep from starving, had to do a lot of foraging for themselves, and they had been at it while the old woman slept with her back to the tree at the side of the clearing. They had been chasing rabbits in the woods and in adjoining fields and in their ranging had picked up three other farm dogs.
Would it not be better to have it understood that realism, in so far as the word means reality to life, is always bad art ? although it may possibly be very good journalism? Which is but another way of saying that all of the so-called great realists were not realists at all and never intended being. Madame Bovary did not exist in fact. She existed in the imaginative life of Flaubert and he managed to make her exist also in the imaginative life of his readers.
Those who are to follow the arts should have a training in what is called poverty. Given a comfortable middle-class start in life, the artist is almost sure to end up by becoming a bellyacher, constantly complaining because the public does not rush forward at once to proclaim him.
You can make it all right if you will only be satisfied to remain small, I told myself. I had to keep saying it over and over to myself. Be little. Don't try to be big. Work under the guns. Be a little worm in the fair apple of life.
To be civilized, really, is to be aware of the others, their hopes, their gladnesses, their illusions about life.
You hear it said that fathers want their sons to be what they feel they cannot themselves be, but I tell you it also works the other way.
Tom had seen a thousand George Willards go out of their towns to the city.