Topic: SociologyIdentity

Last updated: March 25, 2019

Throughout the infinite world of literature, perhaps a writer’s most effective tool is symbolism. From simple comparisons to complex representations, symbolism is widely used in an endless number of contexts. For example, in Sherwood Anderson’s story, “Hands,” he uses a character’s hands to symbolize an important theme in the story. Through descriptions of Wing Biddlebaum’s “nervous little hands,” Anderson symbolizes the character’s past trauma and his fall from grace.

In his younger years, Wing Biddlebaum was a popular, beloved school teacher named Adolph Myers. He expressed his affection for his students through touch, and “under the caress of his hands doubt and disbelief went out of the minds of the boys and they began also to dream” (Anderson 909). In this life, Adolph’s hands represented his love for his students. Despite his devotion and ability to inspire them, his “caresses” caused some misinterpretation among parents. Because Adolph’s “identity was reduced to his sexuality,” the parents created a controversy around him and forced him out (Whalan 47). Unfortunately, these false accusations led Adolph Myers into a fight for his life, as he was run out of town by an angry mob. After his escape, Adolph changed his name and began a new life in Winesburg, Ohio. Now, his hands serve as a constant reminder of his downfall and have become an enigma among the residents of his new town.

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Myrick 2Unfortunately, Wing’s hands, which were once an instrument of love, have become a symbol of his past trauma. Because of the pain this causes Wing, he makes every effort to hide his hands and keep them to himself. By literally hiding his hands, he is burying his pain, and this lingering is another reason for his suffering. Consequently, the restlessness of Wing’s hands is now a “manifestation of his inner turmoil” (Elledge 13). Every time he looks at his hands, he is forced to remember the life he lost. In Winesburg, the only person who has formed any sort of relationship with Wing is a young boy named George Willard.

Though no one knows the mystery behind Wing’s hands, George believes that they “have something to do with his fear of me and of everyone” (Anderson 908). George is correct in this assumption but would never ask Wing about this sensitive subject, as he respects Wing too much. Through George Willard, Wing has found his “last student,” who he cares for and hopes to inspire in the way that he inspired so many in his past. With George, Wing is able to express his love for mankind again, and this is the only time he feels any positive remnants of his past life. Unfortunately, he is terminally anxious in his interactions with George, because he is terrified of repeating his pas


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