The story "Godliness" features the character Louise Bentley, who is an extremely unhappy woman; her unhappiness leads to the unhappiness of others and as a result the people around, such as her son David Bentley, run away from her. In the description of Louise, the story states her as "a small woman with sharp grey eyes and black hair. From childhood she had been inclined to fits of temper and when not angry she was often morose and silent." This description embraces a bitter image of Louise and shows how her dark features contribute to her dark nature of woe and despair.
Anderson introduces Louise's character as a woman who does not seem to embrace her life with content at all. She is a bitter and unpleasant woman to be around; even with her only son David Hardy it is said that he "grew up with not much joy" (Anderson ). Louise's state of emotional detachment to her son is rooted from a source that gave discontent and dissatisfaction total possession over her character and sanity. Anderson shows how Louise's unhappiness runs deep into her past with her relationship with her father. As a young child, her father disregarded her and failed to provide her with the emotional support needed to give a daughter confidence and emotional maturation. In a conversation with her father, Louise says "you never wanted me there" (Anderson 60) to her father, over his desire for a son. As a result of this consciousness, she is extremely vulnerable and takes out her misfortunes of love as a child out on her son.
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In a conversation with her "husband" who questions her for her abnormal treatment of their young son, she answers sharply by saying "It is a man child and will get what it wants anyway, had it been a woman child there is nothing in the world I would not have done for it" (Anderson 78). Louise is disheveled when it comes to raising her child. Her childhood lack of attention is conveyed through her abilities to raise her child. Oddly enough Louise is envious of her son; David is the child is which her father wished she was. Man child. Louise's past repression of emotional love has set her into a fountain of despair in which no one can remove, yet it seems her emotions are on a quest to find someone, preferably a man, who can understand and release her from emotional entrapment.
Conversely, as an infant living in Winesberg, before she finds out her father's grotesque feelings for him wanting her to have been a son instead, "Louise [had] a remarkably intelligent and mature vision of what [was] necessary for human intimacy. She imagine[d] that Winesburg is a place where relationships are natural, spontaneous and reciprocal" (Rigsbee 179). This shows that Louise was once happy; her view of her world was beautiful and filled ". . . men and women [who] must live happily and freely, giving and taking friendship and affection as one takes the feel of a wind on the cheek" (Anderson 70)." In this quote, Anderson gives us a happy and innocent moment for Louise but it soon turns to displeasure when Louise turns to her male counterparts for mutual understanding and agreeance of her thoughts. This displeasure is soon taken away when she seeks for the attention and empathetic embodiment of her husband in which she does not find.
Louise is internally suffering from the rejection of her father and the loneliness that plagues her existence. As a woman, she feels more used and powerless; her search for internal healing is paraded with thoughts of feeling lesser no matter what she does. Being a woman in the eyes of Louise means living a life of doom and misery; being an unloved child from the beginning of her life, Louise never gets to fully experience what love is. This is the cause of her lunatic behavior and her desires for friendship.
Before marrying, she was living with the Hardy sisters who shunned and rejected her. For six weeks Louise was heartbroken at the "air of coldness with which she was always greeted, [so] she burst into tears" (Anderson 72). Instead of consoling poor Louise, Mary Hardy tells her to "Shut up your crying and go back to your room and to your books" (Anderson 72). The reader cannot help but feel apologetic for Louise; Anderson brings us into a world of sympathy for this woman who is being avoided for having the smarts to pursue an education. The view of an intelligent woman starts with a pursuit of education for Anderson yet because Louise is emotionally driven, her intellect is often shut in by her emotional senselessness. Moreover, her suffering is not only from the rejection of men but also women and almost every person around her who consistently misunderstands her.
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The Hardy girls get the wrong impression of Louise at her attempt in educational studies and do not befriend her. Albert Hardy, who is the father of the girls compares them to Louise and expresses how "Everyone in Winesburg is telling me how smart she isâ€¦Louise is the daughter of a rich man but she is not ashamed to study. It should make you ashamed to see what she does" (Anderson 71). This seems be a way for the reader to get a better look at Louise as a woman. Though she is lesser of a man, she is looked at as at least better than the other girls who do not do the things she does. Moreover, the story brings out a view of intelligent women through Hardy girls who make fun of Louise for spending time with her books. Yet, the stupidity of the women is represented by their careless efforts for school and the fact that the reason Louise is constantly at her studies because she is "lone[ly] and embarrassed" (Anderson 71). Her attempts to answer every question in class and be an active participant before her teacher is so that the "whole class will be easy while [she] is there". Louise does not care for the pride of being an educated woman in Winesburg, her goal is emotional satisfaction; she longs to break through the wall of isolation and emotional aloof.
The constant unintelligent occurrence being portrayed through women is the way they cause themselves to get into loveless marriages with men who do not love them the way they want to be loved. John Hardy marries Louise for physical love. His character is portrayed as a very well respected individual in Winesburg. He plays a part in Louise's disturbing, emotional condition. It is almost natural for a woman to want her husband to understand her and reassure her of the uncertainties she may have in herself. However, Louise seeks emotional love from her husband as a completion of self and the source to healing her wounds of being neglected as a child. This exemplifies the inability for a woman to understand herself without a man to help her. Through the love-neglect of her father, Louise as a woman is lost. She almost is dysfunctional and useless without a man's reassurance. Anderson shows this when Louise begins to think of the idea of "making friends with John Hardy" (Anderson 73). It says "the mind of the country girl became filled with the idea of drawing close to the young man", the idea of finally being understood by this man gave hope to Louise that she would soon escape her inner circle of life and built in wall of emotional breakdowns.
Before marrying John, her quest for emotional healing was to seek him, she thought "that in him [she] might [find] the quality she had all her life been seeking in people" (Anderson 73). It is as if the woman side of Louise cannot be fulfilled without a male companion for her shortcoming. Without this man, this woman cannot be; hence Louise is love-stricken and animated to break away from her misery by the thought of John Hardy possibly being the antidote to her diseased heart. With the idea of escape and her "secret of life being held tightly and kissed" (Anderson 76) is her one true desire, but what Louise sought out for was retaliated with just physical love by John, opposing Louise's emotional love and a male friend who would understand her.
Through the eyes of a man, Louise's husband is a good man who is a rich banker, "a shrewd man, [who] tried to make her happy". This shows the idea that the cause of Louise's condition is not due to any man but herself and that it is almost hopeless to make Louise happy. Her emotional estate is so drawn in that even her "wonderful" husband cannot seem to make her happy; even "when he began to make money he bought for her a large brick house on Elm Street in Winesburg and he was the first man in that town to keep a manservant to drive his wife's carriage" (Anderson 56) it still was not enough to rescue Louise from her arousing depressive condition.
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Through the tone of Louise, being a woman is lesser than being a man; her understanding is that even with her intelligence and education, she is still smaller. The men in the book do not understand women. Towards the end of the third story of "Godliness" entitled "Surrender" Louise is portrayed as a sexual object to for her husband. The physical "love" is what matters to him. Louise has no other choice but to take John as her lover. Still before settling for John Louise writes a note to him in an attempt to show him how she feels. She says "I want someone to love and I want to love someone" (Anderson 76), as a woman she is asking for this man to love her but he is only "filled with his own notions of love between men and women, he did not listen [to her] but began to kiss her upon the lips" (Anderson 78). During the first year of their marriage, Louise tries to convey the feelings that "led to the writings of the note" to her husband but the constant feeling of rejection and unsatisfied physical deed of John only leave Louise more emotionally drained and mad.
Louise's failed emotional therapeutic treatment through marriage brings her more into a world of loneliness. Louise "turned to John Hardy in search of a friend who [would] understand her dream. She [sought] from her husband, an intimate exchange of thoughts and feelings" (Rigsbee 179). Yet instead it increased her longing to break through the wall of seclusion which inevitably increased her annoyance and discontentment. In the second chapter of "Godliness" Louise's behavior is out of control. Her emotions have taken complete control, "she flew into half insane fits of temper during which she was sometimes silent, sometimes noisy and quarrelsome" (Anderson 56). Anderson shows us the irrational woman Louise can be through the eyes of her son David and her dealings within her marriage.
Louise becomes uncontrollable; throughout section two of "Godliness" she is shown in negative situations. Her arguments with her husband consist of her "swearing and crying out in anger. Once she deliberately set fire to the house, and often she hid herself for days in her own room and would see no one" (Anderson 57). Louise turns to "gestures of murderous aggression" (Bidnee 261) and turns to drinking and drugs where she even "turns to sadism into masochism-or combines the two-through [her] drugs, drinking and "frantic driving, aimlessly, "furiously through the quiet streets" (Anderson 57) [Bidnee 262]. This is a disgusted outlook on women suffering from emotional depression with themselves and within their marriages.
The reader wonders why Louise is acting in such a manner and why she is enabling her arousing desires of wanting to get away from loneliness and unhappiness, is leading her into harebrained episodes. Her episodes have to do with her marriage, which does not characterize her fantasy; "her fantasy is a symbolic expression of her need to develop the full range of her [grotesque] personality and to achieve the artistic expression that would bring her into intimate communion with the world" (Bidnee 182). Louise's identity is lost in her hopes and dreams of one day being able to find the satisfaction that comes with love. Her truth is portrayed through her violent acts of wanting attention and due to her unsatisfied relations with people who misunderstand her. Louise is now venting her pain through dangerous acts, letting her grotesque, "wild and reckless mood" (Anderson 57) be exposed to the public. Her emotions grew, as if bipolar symptoms began to creep out of her; through her muttering words and tears, Louise was now looked out as estranged and talked about the town.
Throughout the chapters of "Godliness" Louise starts off with an unhappy life. She is then lead into a deeper atmosphere of loneliness and rejection due to past. Her only adventure is into her older years when she is excited to leave a note asking for John's "hand in love", in which returns her with a "hand in sex". In the eyes of her marriage, she is the physical object of love not a human being being loved emotionally and spiritually by another. Louise entraps herself when she settles for John, thinking he will one day listen to her and rescue her from the wall separating her from dream and reality.
Many women, like Louise Bentley in Winesburg, Ohio are suffering with loveless marriages to men who do not love them through their eyes. Louise's begging and pleading through self-sacrificing acts of attention for love from her man is portrayed as grotesque throughout the story. Her desperation leads to her suffering. Her suffering then leads to her madness. However, her madness is dues to a level of maturation that is not attained by her husband. She is able to love beyond physicality and it "seemed to her just the touch of John Hardy's hand upon her own would satisfy. She wondered if he would understand that" (Anderson 76). She wondered if he would understand that level of love she felt and that she in turn wanted him to feel for her; releasing her from insecurities of neglect love and suffering in the past but entering a new kind of love that would help break down her wall of despair.
The suffering of women, argued by Anderson, "lead[s] to the evolution of a new kind of woman who will insist that sexual roles be transcended and that she be loved as a human being, an event that Anderson suggests is as much needed by men as it is by women." This representation may somewhat diminish the respect different genders have for what Anderson is saying through the character Louise. He is almost agreeing that the woman demanding to be loved as a human being is in the right and even men should embrace this request as well.
In prospects to women characterized in Winesberg, Ohio, "there are clearly two different aspects of the portrayal of the feminine in Winesburg, Ohio; Anderson reveals the needs of men and women in a society where the feminine is devalued, and he presents a vision-of the feminine as a source of creative inspiration. Anderson's concern for the ffulfillment of women as whole persons was no doubt, inspired in part by the silent, resigned suffering of his own mother, to whom Winesburg, Ohio is dedicated. Her stoic endurance, which dominates the opening sections of "A Story Teller's Story", led Anderson to view women as spiritually superior to men" (Rigsbee 187). Louise's character exemplifies this "spiritual superiority" to her husband, who devalues her subconsciously because of his ignorance that her excelled wisdom of love.
"Anderson did not simply idealize women but recognized in her a maturity that made her a superior human being. Anderson had been embracing his own weakness or acknowledging the strength of women, few other modern male writers have been able to convey with such loving sensitivity the hurt women bear or to advocate as openly as Anderson does that the relationships of men and women should be equal" (Rigsbee 188). Anderson remarkably brings outs this awareness through the character Louise by portraying her as harebrained and entrapped and portraying the people, especially men as strong but insensible to the idea of emotional love.
Rigsbee states "Anderson certainly recognized that those qualities associated with
the feminine-vulnerability, tenderness, and the need for intimacy should be valued and nurtured by society rather than repressed. Indeed, Sherwood Anderson portrays women as weak and as sexual, fantasized objects and unable to control their infatuations for love but through this exemplification, he appreciated the understanding women wanted to have in their men and he encouraged women to speak out and be advocates for love: Even if it seems extreme.
Anderson, Sherwood, and John Updike. Winesburg, Ohio. New York: Random House, INC, 1995. Print.
Rigsbe, Sally Adair. "The Feminine in Winesburg, Ohio," Studies in American Fiction 9. 1981.