Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Sherwood Anderson’s “Grotesques”: Characters as Human Truths, Not Human Minds


Elmira Tadayon


Bryan Rasmussen, Assistant Professor of English, California Lutheran University

Sherwood Anderson’s “Grotesques”: Characters as Human Truths, Not Human Minds
Author: Elmira Tadayon, California Lutheran University
Mentor: Dr. Bryan Rasmussen, English Department, California Lutheran University

This essay examines Sherwood Anderson’s implied function of character as a representation of human truth as opposed to human mind, and demonstrates how this reading of character changes the way narrative as a whole is understood and defined. Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio challenges the general notion that characters are intrinsically human elements of narrative by introducing the concept of the “grotesque”, or the perversion of truth by humanization. For Anderson, a character is a representation of an abstract “truth”, which integrates with other truths in the context of a narrative situation in order to derive meaning and morality. This theory of character is contrasted with that of cognitive theorists, who have argued that by assigning a human “mind” to characters the reader is able to simulate narrative situations and experience emotions by proxy. However, this method of absorbing characters separates the mind of the character from the text and essentially tarnishes the “truth” that the character inherently represents. Anderson’s characters penetrate the narrative from within, rather than gain meaning from the reader, and are thus a dynamic driving agent of the plot. Although this interpretation of the element of character is highly reminiscent of formalism in that it rejects the construction of human mind in characters by the reader, it does not assume that narrative must exist as a purely functional machine in a vacuum. The proposed theory of character function relies on the assumption that the reader can identify and associate with various human “truths”, making the significance of the narrative relative to the social context in which it is read.

Presented by:

Elmira Tadayon


Saturday, November 17, 2012


2:00 PM — 2:15 PM


Bell Tower 2582

Presentation Type:

Oral Presentation


English Literature