‘A Man Of Ideas’ by Sherwood Anderson

A Man Of Ideas by Sherwood Anderson, 1918

The magic trick:

Showing a man to be smarter than we initially made him out to be

We wrap up our first week of Winesburg stories with “A Man Of Ideas,” a character study of Joe Welling. He’s a talker. Townspeople sigh when he starts talking to them. Sometimes they try to scramble away when they see him approaching. He’s played as a fool for most of the story. Until he’s not maybe a fool at all.

And that’s quite a trick on Anderson’s part.

(All right, we’ll be back in three years with another week of Winesburg stories. I’m not even kidding. 2023 – until then.)

The selection:

Becoming more excited Joe Welling crowded the young reporter against the front of the feed store. He appeared to be lost in thought, rolling his eyes about and running a thin nervous hand through his hair. A smile spread over his face and his gold teeth glittered. “You get out your note book,” he commanded. “You carry a little pad of paper in your pocket, don’t you? I knew you did. Well, you set this down. I thought of it the other day. Let’s take decay. Now what is decay? It’s fire. It burns up wood and other things. You never thought of that? Of course not. This sidewalk here and this feed store, the trees down the street there—they’re all on fire. They’re burning up. Decay you see is always going on. It doesn’t stop. Water and paint can’t stop it. If a thing is iron, then what? It rusts, you see. That’s fire, too. The world is on fire. Start your pieces in the paper that way. Just say in big letters ‘The World Is On Fire.’ That will make ’em look up. They’ll say you’re a smart one. I don’t care. I don’t envy you. I just snatched that idea out of the air. I would make a newspaper hum. You got to admit that.”

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