Discussion of Sherwood Anderson's "Brothers"

Post your answer in the comments below. Make sure to include the number of the question you're answering and either cut and paste the question or answer in complete sentences so that we know which question you're answering.

A-1, B-2, C-3, D-4, E-5, F-6, G-7, H-8, I-9, J-10, K-11, L-12, M-13

If you have further thoughts or questions about the story, please feel to also post these below. 

13 Questions To Ask of Every Story: 

1.          What makes this story “literary”? 

 

2.          Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

 

3.          Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

 

4.          Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

 

5.          Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

 

6.          Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

 

7.          Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

 

8.          Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

 

9.          Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

 

10.      Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

 

11.      Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

 

12.      What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it? 


13.    How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?



Comments

  1. 3. Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

    "Brothers" by Sherwood Anderson is a successful story for the time period because it was during this time period that there was a sense of disillusionment after World War I which led to darker stories. It was also around this time that "Weird Tales", a magazine, was published and "attempted to produce higher quality stories that were well-written, intellectually challenging and aesthetically appealing." Writers such as H.P. Lovecraft were included in this magazine. This meant that "Brothers" would have followed the style that was popular during this time and was what people were interested in and wanted to read.
    Source: https://penandthepad.com/types-gothic-fiction-8585244.html

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    1. As I said in class, I like the idea that this story was successful because it struck a nerve with how people were feeling at the time. Dark times=dark stories. But I also think Anderson was offering something new as a literary contribution that would have seemed very different from Lovecraft. :)

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  2. 11. Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

    Sherwood Anderson writing style is written in a way to mimic everyday speech (Britannica). In the short story "Brothers" it feels like (to me at least) someone was orally telling the story and someone else was typing it down. With how the narrator would repeat lines in the story, rephrase what they just said, or add onto what they said feels like hearing a story orally. Also taking into consideration on how he would work in labor I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of his short stories were based around people he actually met while going to and from work.
    Randomly I choose a short story by Sherwood Anderson called "Senility" to see how it compared to "Brothers." There was some similarities off the bat with an unnamed main character who is listening to an older gentleman rambling about a story. Surprisingly, the old man is rambling about a story about how his brother killed someone (this time another man instead of their wife). There is a lot of repetition in the writing similar to "Brothers." With the old man repeating a line that was said before mimicking how someone would try to reestablish where they were in recalling a story. With the amount of repetition and how the man speaks Anderson really captured a feeling of listening to a "senile" old man in how he wrote.
    Overall I feel like the story "Brothers" is a good example of Sherwood Anderson's writing style. His style being copying how people speak onto paper to give his writing a more intermate feeling.


    https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sherwood-Anderson

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    1. Virginia Van Eaton
      Link to the short story: https://americanliterature.com/author/sherwood-anderson/short-story/senility

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    2. I actually have never read that second story. How interesting? I feel like Anderson is writing in a somewhat "cleaner" way than people actually speak, but you're right in that it feels like a much more conversational style than the writing of the previous time period. It feels less formal, certainly.

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  3. 5. What is the climax of the story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

    From what I can tell, the climax was finding out that the spirit of the murderer had possessed the old man telling her the story. It changes everything by making the audience realize that it was about a murderer telling the true story of why he killed his wife and the things we will do to reach something unattainable.

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    1. 1) What makes this story “literary”?

      In truth, the way that it goes about setting up morals and topics is why Brothers by Sherwood Anderson can be seen as literary. It isn’t in the plot, which is convoluted and requires several readings of it. It is in the way it handles it’s main point; connection. Much like the speaker, the old man has no connection to any of the characters he brings up. Just as the speaker’s relationship is with the Old man and by proxy all the people he tells of. The story, in my opinion, reflects on the nature of America and how we can connect so easily to people who we never meet. Or perhaps only meet in passing, the amorphous speaker allowing another sense of connection. Connecting the audience to the story, and putting us in their shoes. The way you can imagine a conversation like this, playing on our empathic nature, is a tool Anderson does well. This multifaceted way of talking on the topic, and how the characters embody this form is vital to the literary nature of the work.

      Though in the several readings I have done, you can get different perspectives and things out of this work. Ranging from loneliness, seen in how the speaker and the old man seem to live in similar conditions, or at least view where they are in the same way. To escape, in how the Old Man pretends in some regard to be related and tells stories.

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    2. Sorry I took you so literally on this in class--I actually thought you meant that he was being physically inhabited by the bicycle foreman's spirit, but I see how you're actually meaning it here. And yes, I think you're right on target about that moment being the climax of the story.

      Nicole-- I like how you did so much thinking into the "theme" of the story here and what is American about that and those deeper levels of meaning that Anderson is alluding to. I think you're right especially about how the unique angles of how the story is told is part of what makes it literary.

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    3. Also I do realize that "the spirit of the man" is literally a line from the story itself, not something you just came up with.

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  4. 6. Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

    I think this question is especially interesting in the context of this story. Anderson's terse, minimalist style of writing doesn't leave much room for the normal details about characters that audience's use to get to know them. The story provides few physical descriptions, most notably the narrator, who has none given at all. None of the characters even get a name. This makes the details we do get are significant. Such as the foreman's greasy hands contrasted with the clean hands of the women he watches. These details bring the characters together; they both have hands. But also separates them; they are from different socio-economic classes and she has no interest in him. The story also talks about the foreman's grey eyes. They are the only feature on the otherwise milquetoast man that shows any passion. He has fantasies and desires, but denies them.

    Another way the story shows character, is by their physical surroundings. The old man lives deep in the forest, alone except for a little dog. He is so desperate for human connection, he concocts elaborate fantasies that connect him to people that he couldn't possibly know. The foreman is also lonely, but unlike the old man, he lives in a giant city, surrounded by people. He wants to be alone, claiming that life is too intimate, and hates his life in a cramped apartment with a fair-sized family from which he feels disconnected. This leads him to create fantasies where he imagines a person he doesn't have to talk to and be around. Ultimately, the characters' locations create a sense of isolation, and the fantasies they use to combat the loneliness leads them to destroy the actual connections they have, the wife and unborn child, and the little dog.

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    1. Sorry, I forgot to write my name after I wrote this. The original post was written by Logan.

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    2. Great job with this: you're getting right at how writers can SHOW character, rather than simply telling us about it. The physical surroundings are key, and the smaller details like the greasy hands, are very telling.

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  5. 13. How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?
    Given we've only read this and "Hills Like White Elephants", I figured the best way to go about this would be for me to compare and contrast the two. The pieces both have a tendency to “write the hot cold”. “Brothers” walks through an account of a murder with seemingly lukewarm interest on the part of the narrator. “Hills Like White Elephants” takes a tense conversation and strips away everything but the dialogue and a few actions.
    These pared down narratives leave the reader to fill in the blanks on everything that is left unsaid.
    Despite the fact that “Brothers” has a first person narrator and “Hills Like White Elephants” is in third person, the narrator in “Brothers” almost fades into the background in contrast to the foreman and the old man.
    I think to me, two of the main differences between the two pieces is what the writing focuses on, and the source of the internal conflict for the main characters.
    For Anderson, the bulk of the piece takes a look at the life of the foreman who murders his wife and focuses on the actions of everyone but the narrator, while Hemingway focuses on the intensity of the dialogue and the tension between the man and woman.
    The internal conflict from “Hills Like White Elephants” comes from the woman’s feelings of inadequacy and the man’s concern that the woman is only making her decision to appease him. The internal conflict for “Brothers” comes from the narrator’s difficulty understanding why people act and do the things they do.
    -Cassie

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    1. I love this "write the hot cold"!! I had actually forgotten that phrase before now. Really insightful thoughts here about what's similar and different in the two stories.

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  6. 7. Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

    In "Brothers" by Sherwood Anderson, there are many characters that all drive the story in a different way. The narrator who talks about the old man walking with his dog uses the old man to tell the story of a man who falls in love with an Iowa girl and murders his wife. By using the old man, who thinks he is related in some way to everyone in the news, the narrator easily moves the events in the story forward.
    The switch from the Iowa girl's perspective to the man's perspective is also a useful tool because it made us as readers understand how each of them was thinking of the other. The actions within the story were quick and not drawn out because the characters and narrator decided to continue on and not dwell on what had happened.

    -Taylor

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    1. I find that switch to the Iowa girl so interesting, as well. It rounds our understanding out nicely.

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  7. 10. Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

    1. "In fancy the foreman took the girl from Iowa home with him to his apartment in Thirty-Second Street and into the presence of his wife and his mother-in-law. (pg. 29)" This line stuck out to me because of the imagery it generates. In the passages after this one, the reader is led along wistful imaginings of a yearned-for reality. With just those first two words, we're sent careening through a fabricated journey that ultimately ends in very real tragedy.

    2. "He would lie awake thinking, would hear the creaking of the springs of a bed from where, in another room, his mother-in law was crawling under the sheets. Life was too intimate. He would lie awake, eagerly expecting- expecting what? (pg. 31)" This passage as a whole really resonates with me, but 'Life was too intimate' was the part that really struck me as I read. I found it appealing to explore the implications made by this line; here we have a man who seems to crave intimacy in one context (with the girl from the factory), but loathe it in another (at home with his family). It was an interesting glimpse into the complexity of man that furthered the depth of the foreman character.

    3. "The spirit of the man who had killed his wife came into the body of the little old man there by the roadside. It was striving to tell me of the story it would never be able to tell in the courtroom in the city, in the presence of the judge. The whole story of mankind's loneliness, of the effort to reach out to unattainable beauty tried to get itself expressed from the lips of a mumbling old man, crazed with loneliness, who stood by the side of a country road on a foggy morning holding a little dog in his arms. (pg. 34)" The poetic way in which the indescribable emotions felt in the depths of loneliness are put into context is used to great effect here. Where words sometimes fail, relating experiences to one another help us to draw different sufferings together. Very little separates us from each other in terms of emotions. It's how those emotions are responded to that lead people down different paths, toward different courses of action.

    -Alec

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    1. All three of these are so good. I loved the "Life is too intimate," as well. And last one, about the spirit of the man, speaks to the very heart of the story and why it works.

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  8. 8. Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

    I thought that Anderson chose a very interesting point of view for this short story. It was told from the perspective of a person who is never named, or even given any discernible characteristics -- yet, it feels familiar. I could be mistaken, but I don't think that the speaker's perspective was ever assigned a gender. I found that this allowed whoever is reading to more easily step into the shoes of the character. In addition to the main perspective, I thought that there were three attributing angles in this story. The first was the character alone in their house, the second was the character on a walk in the fog with the old man, and the third was the telling of a newspaper story. The narrative then wove back through the foggy walk with the man, and ended back at the house in a sort of retrograde. It provided a very interesting contrast. I felt a detachment in the house scenes -- they were more observational. The conversations with the old man allowed for more comfort, but also raised more questions. The retelling of the newspaper story was probably the most interesting for me because it was written with an "all seeing" perspective. The speaker knew the man's thoughts, and how he carried his employee's essence with him. The speaker even knew that the employee felt flattered at the attention. The last paragraphs seemed to tie everything together into a strange conclusion. It seemed like Anderson wanted to achieve both closeness and distance to create a meaningful ending drawn from this emotional dichotomy.

    - Elizabeth

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    1. I find it SO interesting that we really feel like we understand the essence of these characters, but are never given their names, and we never even know the gender of the narrator. I also felt that the most compelling part of the story was the third person omniscient turn in the middle, about the bicycle foreman and the girl from Iowa. Nice analysis here.

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  9. 12. What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it?

    “Brothers” is a story that centers around feelings of profound loneliness and how this feeling can drive people to seek connection through any means. The story begins with the unnamed narrator mentioning that “the yellow, red, and golden leaves fall straight down heavily. The rain beats them brutally down. They are denied a last golden flash across the sky.” The depiction of the weather defeating the once beautiful leaves represents the lives of the four central characters; the narrator, the old man, the factory worker, and the young girl who works in the office, unhappy due to their feelings of isolation. The four characters mirror each other, as they all desire companionship that they don’t already have. The old man writes people he hears about in the news into his life’s story to feel connected to other human beings. The girl in the office entertains the factory worker’s attraction and takes walks with him but imagines a younger man in his place. Her actions reveal that she is desperate to be with someone even if she has to reimagine reality. The factory worker is not content with just his wife and kids and seeks companionship from the office girl. Although not much is known about the narrator, we get a sense that he too is lonely— even though the connection he finds isn’t substantial, the narrator continually takes walks and reads the newspaper to seek closeness to others in the world.

    At the story’s closing, Anderson repeats the lines about the “yellow, red, and golden leaves,” how they still fall to the ground instead of being able to “go dancing away.” This shows that while the four characters all are troubled by their lives and the loneliness they feel, their situations do not get any better, nor do they change much at all.

    -Samantha W.

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    1. That's depressing, but I think you're right. A connection through loneliness.

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  10. 2. Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

    Sherwood Anderson's piece "Brothers" is the culmination of various factors that keep it afloat in literary waters. The author's background, in particular his predecessor title to William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, solidifies himself as a landmark in American novelist history. This however does little to credit his own work and the legacy that he left behind; rather, this piece "Brothers" exemplifies how the niche he carved was popular.

    Diving into this story I had little expectations and little background knowledge. Yet even as just a student, it's understandable to see this tale time and again. The themes of hopelessness, isolation together and inevitability are timeless, but even more so is the piece's ability to flex and bend to the reader's impressions. Comparing my notes with another student who read "Brothers" at the same time I did, our interpretations on what we saw were similarly dark avenues of theme and plot, equally touching on differences that we found between our individual perspectives.

    But plot and theme could not be done justice without the emphasis upheld by the sheer style the piece was written in. The odd perspective that intersected third and first person helped weave a narrative both in formal and informal tones. Characters sprung out of the woodworks with vague dissonance. The observations of Alice was executed in such a way to illustrate her believable unraveling. "Brothers" was created in such a way to directly showcase the protagonist and her fragile grasp on hope, but the world around her is used to portray this message up to the reader's own devices. This balanced strike between what is told versus what could be interpreted solidifies Anderson's story as an understandable classic.

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