The Conflict In The Short Story “Hands” Essay, Research Paper
“Hands,? by Sherwood Anderson, is a story that seems to be stripped of sentimentality, yet conveys emotion. Anderson tells the somber story of a misunderstood and wrongfully accused man. The protagonist, Wing Biddlebaum, failed to communicate his true self. His inner desires were repressed because conventions and tradition distorted and twisted them.
As mentioned before, the central character in ?Hands? is Wing Biddlebaum. He is clearly a round character because he has more than one side to his personality throughout the story. Wing is dynamic because he makes a change from a kind, outgoing, enthusiastic teacher to a withdrawn, frightened person. For as much as Wing is described, there are still many aspects of his character that seem left out. Perhaps this is for interest.
Wing Biddlebaum, previously known as Adolph Meyers, is a teacher. He ?was meant by nature to be a rare teacher of youth. He was one of those rare, little-understood men who rule by a power so gentle that it passes as a lovable weakness.? Since his demeanor is not of the stereotypical man, macho and strong, teaching with force or fear, people are suspicious of him. ?Hands? was written in 1919, and yet today in 2000 (81 years later) suspicion surrounding a man like Adolph Meyers might still exist.
Since shadowy doubts already existed about Meyers, it was easy for the Pennsylvania townspeople to believe the ?unspeakable? accusations a ?half-witted boy? made against Meyers. The narrator tells the reader that these accusations are false, not just bluntly, but also through the innocence with which Adolph is described.
It is hard to believe that Meyers could hurt anyone, let alone a student, someone whose dreams he was trying to encourage. As might happen in reality, angry men and fathers with lanterns drove Adolph Meyers from the fictional town. He was saved from hanging because even as he was cast in this evil light, he ?touched their hearts.? This illustrates perhaps better than any other example the extent of the main character?s ability to communicate his feelings without force. He was not saved because he fought back, but rather he was so small, white and pitiful.
After this incident, the newly named Wing Biddlebaum is consumed with an emotion related to his hands, which is hard to distinguish. Although the reader is clearly informed that Biddlebaum is not guilty of the accusations made against him, it is hard to clarify whether he perceives his hands as a symbol of his perceived guilt, or a manifestation of his fears. Both are probably true; however, the narrator gives the latter more attention. There are many references to Wing?s fear: ?Their [the hands] restless activity, like unto the beating of the wings of an imprisoned bird,? ?The slender expressive fingers, forever active, forever striving to conceal themselves in his pockets or behind his back . . .? ?he raised the hands to caress the boy and then a look swept over his face . . .? ect.
Ironically, Wing Biddlebaum does not know why he was driven out of the Pennsylvania town and almost killed. He does, however, sense that his hands must be to blame. It is not surprising, then, that his fears would manifest in his fidgeting or hiding of hands. It is almost as though without his hands, his dreams cannot be expressed or shared. Again, the reader is struck with the sadness and overwhelming helplessness that the main character must feel in everyday life.
Wing is a very sad man. False accusations aside, he has always been misunderstood. Even before the tragedy, he was looked upon with skepticism. His occupation of teaching young boys was one that would have generally been carried out by a female. People could not understand why a male would choose such a life. It must have been depressing to always be misread. An onlooker not tainted with bias or stereotypes could easily see that it was the evil in their own hearts that made the townspeople assume evil existed in Wing Biddlebaum. Without this benefit, the protagonist, far from evil, must have felt great pain.
It seems that his only joy in life is conversations with a secondary character, George Willard. In these conversations, Wing is able to do what he loves: teach. His discussions with George are the only times that Wing seems able to lose some of his timidity. It is almost as if Mr. Biddlebaum has regressed to the days before the tragedy of his being wrongfully accused, and has allowed himself to weave dreams again.
George Willard is the son of the proprietor of the new Willard House. He is also a reporter for the local newspaper. His age is unstated, but one might guess that he is young (18-20 years) enough not to consider Biddlebaum a peer and also to grant him some respect as a person whose advice is valued. Likely, there is more to George Willard than portrayed in the story; however, he does seem fairly flat. The realization that Wing Biddlebaum has a problem with his hands is probably not considered a ?fundamental change,? so George would also be a static character.
George is very curious about Wing?s hands? ?strange activity and their inclination.? The only thing that keeps George from bringing up the subject is his growing respect for Wing. By the end of the story, George realizes that somehow Wing?s hands are the reason for his fear of himself and others. From this the reader could gather that George is intuitive. He does not want to know the truth about Wing?s hands. Perhaps his intuitiveness allowed him to sense that the story of Wing?s hands was tragic.
It seems that George is also concerned with being like the other townspeople. At least the protagonist believed that George was destroying himself by trying to imitate the townspeople. It is also revealed that George has the ability to dream, but was afraid to do so. The price of these dreams would appear to be non-conformity: something that the reader has already seen punished in Wing.
It has already been established that Wing Biddlebaum feared society in general. Therefore, it is difficult to explain why Wing would speak to someone who belonged to the world that had hurt him, the world that he was not a member of. The only conclusion, which might be gathered, is that Wing?s love for teaching was so great that he could not restrain himself from teaching a person who was willing to listen. This might suggest that Wing did not become completely cynical and untrusting after his experience. Furthermore, this would suggest that he had a large capacity to forgive.
The reader is not informed about how the two characters met. If Wing had initiated the relationship, then this would have shown a great deal of recovery. However, the last scene of the story, in which only darkness allowed his hands to become calm, clearly signifies that he has not overcome his fear. In any case, the origin of their relationship caused a great deal of wonder.
Wing Biddlebaum in some respects takes the role of a martyr. Never is there an indication in the short story ?Hands? of hatred or bitterness coming from Wing. It is probably safe to say that Wing?s lack of bitterness is at least rare, if not unheard of. He shows only sadness and fear. He shows no anger towards others. Although he fears people, he does not display hostility towards them. He does not fight back. He simply accepts his fate.
Wing Biddlebaum faces many hardships in ?Hands.? Not only does he fight against his own fears, but also he fights against society. Unfortunately, there is no resolution of these conflicts. The only assurance seems to be that the struggles will remain.
Anderson, Sherwood. “Hands.” 1919.
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