Critical Analysis Essay of A Death in the Woods
A Death in the Woods is a short story written by Sherwood Anderson. It was first published in 1933 as part of a short story collection of the author. The story follows the life and death of an old woman, Mrs. Grimes as told by a seemingly unreliable narrator. According to the narrator, Mrs. Grimes, along with her husband and son is looked down by the society and lives by selling eggs. Within the narrative, the author uses the concepts of realism and mysticism which were exemplified by the narrator’s story telling.
One of the most interesting aspects of A Death in the Woods is the manner in which the author uses both realism and mysticism in the story. Realism is a literary technique whose main objective is to tell a story in the most accurate manner to represent reality. This story was writer by Anderson during the height of American realism. He used characters that depict ordinary individuals engaged in ordinary everyday activities. Mrs. Grimes for example, is depicted as a woman who is “nothing special”. Her life according to the narrator was a series of sad and harsh events which implies that much like other people, Mrs. Grimes also has her fair share of sufferings. Some of her unfortunate experiences include the death of her parents, her stay with abusive Germans, and her loveless marriage among many others. It is in here that the readers can see that the author despite of shaping a sad character; remained true to the technique of realism. In the same way, the author used realism to depict the characters that surround Mrs. Grimes. For example, she depicted the men as close to reality as possible. This includes the Germans, her husband as well as her son (Oates 256).
Alternately, realism was used by the author to depict the narrator. Although unnamed, the narrator is someone that is conversational, ordinary, and much like Mrs. Grimes, someone who has “nothing special”. In fact, the author made the narrator so real that similar to other people he also makes reference of himself and has some trouble remembering the details of his story. These flaws of the narrator are what make him exactly like everyone else. But what is most interesting about the narrator is that although he never meets Mrs. Grimes, the manner in which he tells her story makes it sound as if he knows her intimately. Despite the fact that he never met the old woman, the sight of her corpse created a long and lasting effect on him. And it is through the death of this character that the author inserted hints of mysticism (Werlock 173).
Mysticism as a literary tool is used to tell a story that is beyond the realm of reality. In short, it is the opposite of realism as it is something that does not depict reality or the ordinary. The concept of mystic was primarily explored in the part where the author related the events the surround the death of Mrs. Grimes. In the story, the narrator never elaborated on the reason behind the death of the old woman. What the readers know is that she was sore and exhausted as she sits down the wood where she eventually closed her eyes. The interesting part is the behavior of the dogs which the narrator refers to as “a kind of death ceremony” (Anderson 34). He relates that each dog sniffs the old woman as she dies. And as soon as the old woman dies, the dogs gather around her and drag the large meat and soup away. In here, the author inserted hints of mysticism through the behavior of the dogs and the inability of the narrator to explain the events.
Based on the points provided, it can be concluded that the author made used of realism and mysticism as a literary tool. These techniques were evident in the manner in which the author shaped the characters as well as how the author used the narrator to relate the details of the story.
Anderson, S. A Death in the Woods. NY: Read Books Design, 2013
Oates, J. Book of Short Stories. NY: Read Books Design, 2013
Werlock, A. Companion to Literature. NY: Infobase Publishing, 2009