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STORY 21 - 'SOPHISTICATION'
The setting is at the Winesburg country fair, which has drawn crowds of people from everywhere into the town of Winesburg.
George Willard - The young reporter, who is in love with Helen White.
Helen White - The Winesburg banker's daughter, she too loves George.
Protagonist - George is the main character in the story. His new found maturity and love for Helen has been portrayed.
Antagonist - There is no antagonizing character in the story at all.
Climax - George and Helen go to the country fair in the night and watch the empty space below them. They kiss and embrace but are embarrassed too. Finally, to relive their embarrassment they drop into the animation of youth.
Outcome - Their renewal of their childhood days, laughing and pushing one another purifies their mood and they become not man or woman, not even boy and girl, but excited little animals.
The theme in the story is the restraints of maturity and adulthood, which are put on youngsters, which makes them uncomfortable and ill at ease.
The mood is pensive and thoughtful. Both the youngsters are ill at ease and are relieved only when they retreat to their childhood pranks. At the end of the story, the mood is lightened and a pleasant atmosphere is noticed.
It is the time of the country fair, at Winesburg. The day is filled with noise and excitement and people, and the night is still and warm.
George is looking at the store lights and waiting for Helen White. George has fast grown into manhood. After his mother's death a sense of maturity has filled him and to his mind it makes him a half-tragic figure.
George has seen Helen grow from girlhood into womanhood, as he grew into manhood himself. He now remembers how he had boasted to Helen White earlier about the things he would do when he grew up, and he feels embarrassed of his words.
While at the fair, Helen is with her instructor. A pedantic man he both repels and attracts her. At the fair, she is glad of his well-dressed company but at home she gets tired of his act of superiority. She wishes to be with George, and at the same time, George too decides to go to her house. They meet and he takes her to the top of the hill overlooking the Fair ground. The night is still and both feel a sense of insignificance in the scheme of existence. They kiss and hold hands but the impulse does not last. Finally as they return home they throw away their cloak of maturity and don their childhood cloak. They play around pushing and laughing and teasing. At the end of the evening, they are both satisfied as if they had got the thing they had needed.
The slow and torturous process of growing up, from childish abandon to the maturity expected from adults, has been beautifully depicted in this story. Both George and Helen had been childhood friends and sweethearts. Both their growing years had been peppered with other romances and interests. Both had been throughout attracted to one another though it was never explicitly expressed.
In such long-time relationships, earlier expressed sentiments always seem bombastic and childish. George's recollection of his boastful talks about himself embarrasses him now. His new found maturity is partly due to his mother's death too.
Helen has also been portrayed to have identical thoughts like George. At one point her scholastic instructor impresses her, but his supercilious attitude towards her townsfolk irks her and she seeks haven in George's company.
When the two meet, both are upset with themselves and confused by their feelings and emotions. Maturity seems to have been thrust upon them, which they have accepted, albeit unwillingly. Their attempts at kissing in the darkness and holding each other seems like proofs for themselves to believe in their maturity. But this too doesn't last long. Mercifully, they are still young enough to revert back to their childhood fantasies, and end up gambling around, like two young animals- 'In some way chastened and purified by the mood they had been in they became not man and woman not boy and girl, but excited little animals.'
The silent night and their being with one another acts like a catharsis for them and helps them get a hold on themselves and their lives. The author has tried to make the reader understand the need for some agent or instrument, which can make living possible especially in this modern world. This instrument, for George and Helen was their ability to regress to their earlier days of tension free childhood.
George Willard - George has fast grown into manhood and new and unknown thoughts have begun assailing his senses. Even amidst the crowds at the fair, he feels lonely and needs some one to understand his emotions. From a sure lad, he has grown in to a man uncertain of himself and concerned about his future. He also realizes that his need to share his thoughts with someone can be only fulfilled by a woman, who with her gentle manner would understand him.
It is this realization that drives him to Helen White. Yet even with Helen, his sense of discomfort is acute. This is because he has yet to master the art of behaving like a grown up. Finally, he achieves comfort only by regressing into his childhood behavior and playing with Helen, as he did as a child.
Helen White - Helen too has grown up and is now on the threshold of woman hood. Her attraction as well as repulsion towards her pedantic tutor is understandable, as her age demands it. Yet her true love is her childhood sweetheart George. But for Helen too, like George, facing her newfound womanhood is difficult thing to handle and she too prefers regression even if for the time being, back to her childhood days.
PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The plot begins with the description of the Country Fair. In the day the area is teeming with people, but in the night it is silent and dark. The plot moves from the scene at the fair in the daytime to the same fair scene in the night. George has grown into manhood and is ready to leave the place, for better prospects and a brighter future. A climax is reached when George and Helen have their farewell meeting at the fair and they kiss. The outcome however is a feeling of embarrassment in each other. This feeling is cloaked with a childish action of running after one another, thus enjoying their childhood moments more than their adult days.
Both George and Helen have passed through their childhood in Winesburg but are unable to face each other in their maturity.
THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
The theme of the veneer of sophistication that is early cloaked on the youngsters has been thematically exploited. George looking back at his past finds old ghosts creeping into his consciousness. Helen too wants to go ahead in life and choose her suitable partner. Both natural impulses draw them to each other, but in their show of kisses and embraces, there is an acute discomfort. What is preferable to both of them is their childhood memories and each unconsciously retreats back into their childhood days. Thus, shouting and pushing each other, they find is a much better way to express their affection for one another, rather than any amount of kisses or embraces. Just before returning back home, they once again wear the cloak of maturity, the one they had just discarded, to remind themselves of where they are and what they are. But that moment of abandon and oblivion is treasured by both of them.
Explain the traumas of growing up, with reference to George and Helen.