Leaves of autumn : Sherwood Anderson and the season of epiphany



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The autumnal season is an important motif in the writings of Sherwood Anderson, Although Anderson is attentive to all the yearly seasons, his writings demonstrate a marked preference for autumn. This is the one season which appears most often in his work, especially at times of epiphany, Anderson's feeling for the fall season is established through an examination of his autobiographical works where the season takes a prominent position at critical points in the author's own life. The handling of the season in these autobiographical works is particularly revealing when checked against biographical fact to show that Anderson is manipulating the season as a motif in his own life story. The character of the autumnal motif is best defined in Anderson's own words as he treats its many faceted personality in his journalistic writings for The Smyth County News and The Marlon Democrat, In these non-fiction accounts he deals directly with the season, noting his own partiality to that time of the year which can be both glorious and sad. The most significant use of the motif is, of course, in the fiction where the autumnal season appears both as background setting and as antagonist, A significant number of Anderson characters reach epiphany in the fall, and many of these are actually moved to their recognition by the forces of the season. Although these forces are varied, the season is characterized by a restlessness which reflects and agitates a similar restlessness within the human character. There are, in fact, numerous metaphorical references in which the human character is likened to an autumn leaf. The autumn leaf is either a dry, rustling leaf or a wet, clinging leaf, and the difference separates the Anderson hero, who adapts himself to the uncertain winds of life, from the Anderson grotesque, who clings to his truth while life passes him by. Thus, the autumnal motif takes on thematic significance as the metaphor of man's precarious position on the tree of life.