Short Stories on Wednesday – “Seeds” by Sherwood Anderson

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Short Stories on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Nancy at A Simple Clockwork. Participants read (at least) one short story a week and post about it, usually linking to their post in a comment on Nancy’s site. It’s a great way to learn about new stories and writers. Many times the stories posted about are available for free on line and are linked within the post – as mine is this week. And yes, I am a day late with this post. 🙂

Many of you already know about my own short story reading project, and how I, before the year begins, select my fifty-two stories and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck of cards. This is how I randomly select the order I which I read them – I simply “pick a card, any card.” 🙂 I drew the six of clubs from my dwindling deck Saturday morning, and this meant I was to read Sherwood Anderson’s short story, “Seeds.”

***SPOILERS ALERT**** Sherwood Anderson is most famous for a collection of related stories titled “Winesburg, Ohio.” Neither this story, nor the other Anderson story I read this year, “The Egg,” are part of that collection, however. When reading “Seeds,” I was immediately reminded of a fraternity brother of mine from college, who frequently taunted his older brother, who majored in psychology, with thoughts of becoming a psychiatrist (as it turns out, he didn’t). The younger brother always said – of psychiatrists – “they never actually CURE anybody!” I always suspected there was a kernel of truth in this, and after reading this Sherwood Anderson story, suspect he felt the same way.

The narrator of this story begins by relating an encounter with a psychoanalyst friend or acquaintance. The psychoanalyst explains his frustration and his need to get away and become ’untangled’ from his many patients and their lives. Eventually the narrator impatiently chides him, “Men like you are fools. You cannot go along that road. It is given to no man to venture far along the road of lives.” He goes on to say, of the psychoanalysts work in general that “The illness you pretend to cure is the universal illness. The thing you want to do cannot be done. Fool — do you expect love to understood?”

The psychoanalyst defends his profession eloquently: “What you say can’t be done can be done. You’re a liar. You cannot be so definite without missing something vague and fine. You miss the whole point. The lives of people are like young trees in a forest. They are being choked by climbing vines. The vines are old thoughts and beliefs planted by dead men. I am myself covered by crawling creeping vines that choke me.”

The story then has a total change of setting and time, and the narrator tells us a seemingly unrelated story of an unmarried young woman who came to Chicago from Iowa, settling in a boarding house and attracting the attention of all the young men around with her sometimes forward yet inconsistent behavior. She would clearly be identified, in today’s world anyway, as someone with some kind of “mental health issues.” Her behavior wears old, and as she is about to be expelled from the house, a hero intercedes on her behalf.

I found the hero “LeRoy” one of the more sympathetic characters in all the short story reading I’ve done so far this year. Anderson describes him as having “…something very sweet in his nature. He is a painter, but I have often wished he would decide to become a writer. He tells things with understanding, and he does not paint brilliantly.” Later he adds, “LeRoy the painter is tall and lean and his life has been spent in devotion to ideas. The passions of his brain have consumed the passions of his body. His income is small and he has not married. Perhaps he has never had a sweetheart. He is not without physical desire but he is not primarily concerned with desire.”

Anyway, to make a long story short, LeRoy’s intercession on the woman’s behalf, in the end, came to nothing and reinforces the narrator’s belief in his original conversation with the psychoanalyst. In a kind of nifty role reversal, the narrator tries to suggest to LeRoy how he might have handled the situation differently. LeRoy counters with, almost verbatim, the same arguments used by the narrator at the beginning of this tale. I wonder if what Anderson ends up trying to say with this story is that neither the narrator nor the psychoanalyst have it right about human nature and interrelation, and that perhaps it takes a uniquely sensitive character, like LeRoy, to hit upon the right mix of involvement and laissez-faire when it comes to dealing with others. I found it a very interesting, thought-provoking story. I read it through a couple of times in an attempt to plumb its depths – and still probably missed a lot.

Oh, I almost forgot, there was another great quotation from this story that I wanted to share. “There is a note that comes into the human voice by which you may know real weariness. It comes when one has been trying with all his heart and soul to think his way along some difficult road of thought. Of a sudden he finds himself unable to go on. Something within him stops. A tiny explosion takes place. He bursts into words and talks, perhaps foolishly. Little side currents of his nature he didn’t know were there run out and get themselves expressed.” I really liked that. 🙂

How about you? What have your read by Sherwood Anderson? Any favorites? And what short stories have you read this week or recently?

This story may be read for free in several places on-line. One such place is: http://www.online-literature.com/sherwood-anderson/1474/

Below: Sherwood Anderson (from the NYPL digital archives)

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6 Comments

  1. Richard D. Boyle said,

    August 9, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Hi Jay, I loved your summary and analysis of “Seeds”. You’ve inspired me to read it. I have had great respect for Sherwood Anderson since reading “Winesburg Ohio” back in the early ’50s and “Seeds” sounds like a story well worth the time. Richard

    Like

    • Jay said,

      August 13, 2012 at 7:02 am

      Thanks for the comment, Richard. Reading this story illustrates another pitfall for the earnest reader. The more you read, the more you want to read. I knew of “Winesburg, Ohio” through reputation, but have never read it. Now I want to read it also.
      -Jay

      Like

  2. Nancy said,

    August 11, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    Thanks, Jay, for linking to Short Stories on Wednesdays at Simple Clockwork. I appreciate that. Your summary and analysis provoked personal reflection. I’ve been through a life-changing experience a couple of years ago, but I never went to a psychiatrist. I shared some of Anderson’s skepticism, as evident in “Seeds”, though I think that Anderson is quite confused of his feelings toward psychiatrists with the way he tried to defend the profession. What I’m guessing is, he was confused whether or not to go to one at some stage in his life and he was trying to justify his actions through LeRoy’s character. This is just a big wild guess, so I’m heading over to the link you provided to read the story and hopefully be able to understand.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      August 13, 2012 at 7:08 am

      Hi Nancy,
      Thanks for the comment, and I will try to be a regular participant in SSOW. In reading a little bit about Anderson prior to writing this post, I did learn that he suffered a “breakdown” at one point in his life (and I think this was BEFORE he turned to his writing)! so your suspicions may be correct. I’d like to learn more about him.
      -Jay

      Like

  3. Tomo said,

    August 11, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Jay,

    The hallmark of a good story is the number of time you find yourself returning to it to “plumb its depths.”

    Like

  4. Jay said,

    August 13, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Thanks for commenting, Tom; feel free to do so more often. I agree with you. (and that’s one of the advantages in reading short stories – they’re short enough you can re-read a time or two to allow the story to soak in more. Unlike, say, Moby Dick, as we were discussing Saturday. 🙂 )
    -Jay

    Like


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