Nobody Knows by Sherwood Anderson, 1919
The magic trick:
Putting the reader in the middle of a very intimate encounter but leaving us to figure out the morality
Sex is a huge part of the Winesburg stories. Not in any kind of over-the-top way designed to shock the reader. But just in the kind of way that people have sex; Winesburg tells the stories of the people in the town; the people in the town are having sex; the Winesburg stories have to feature sex if they are to paint a complete picture.
So in “Nobody Knows,” George Willard is nervous about the possible chance of having sex. It has been offered to him. He knows this. But he is worried about it.
OK, so from there, what does the reader do?
A lot of thinking. You can fill in the gaps as you like, employing as much judgment or sympathy as you like. You can make George’s character out to be a lot of different things. You can wonder about Louise. You can guess at her motives. We know even less about how she feels than we do about George. You can judge her. You can feel tremendous sorrow for her.
It’s all there for you make what you want.
And that’s quite a trick on Anderson’s part.
In the shadows by Williams’ barn George and Louise stood, not daring to talk. She was not particularly comely and there was a black smudge on the side of her nose. George thought that she must have rubbed her nose with her finger after she had been handling some of the kitchen pots.
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