Sophistication Sophistication, an intriguing story by Sherwood Anderson, is written about George Willard and his lonely journey into manhood. He is a small town boy from Ohio who is discouraged by the lack of direction in his life. When he reached the age of 18, he began to see himself as just another soul to live and die. Willard realizes that unless he does something to change the course that his life is taking, he will never be a great man in anyone’s eyes. More than anything else, he needs someone to know what he was going through, and understand how he felt.
There is a time in the life of every boy when he for the first time takes the backward view of life. Perhaps that is the moment when he crossed the line into manhood. I think this one sentence is the essence of what Anderson is trying to communicate throughout the story. As George Willard looks at his meaningless life and his bleak surroundings, fresh ideas, new ambitions, oppressing sorrows, and lonely thoughts play with his mind, trying desperately to overcome him. He likens the transition into sophistication to a deep mood that takes over.
It sweeps over his whole being and completely encompasses all of his thoughts and actions. George Willard realizes and aches over the time limitations placed on his ambition. He knows death is inevitable and he is taunted by its gloomy calling. He intends to journey to a major city and get a job at a newspaper. He hopes that his feelings of immaturity will be erased by his importance there. Although it isn’t much, it is vital to him that he finds something to be remembered and admired for. George Willard has an intense craving to be different than other men.
He wants to amount to something more than every other small town farmer’s son. He has a need to prove himself to everyone so that he is given the recognition that he feels he deserves. One of the reasons that he wants this so badly was because the woman that he understands most fully is out of his class division. She is a college student with wealthy parents. Although he isn’t on the right ring of the social ladder, George cannot suppress his feelings for her.
Anderson states that at the moment George Willard came into sophistication is when his mind turned to her. Helen White is the only woman he longs for. Helen is a beautiful girl with all the necessary attributes to find a good husband. However, her mother doesn’t believe that anyone from a small town is good enough for her daughter. Suitors from other towns and cities are invited by her mother to visit.
They intend for Helen to fall for one of the men that her parents find appropriate for her to be seen with. If George Willard never amounts to anything, then he will never be granted permission to court her. George Willard had never really talked to Helen with the intention of seeking her hand. The feelings that they have are unspoken. He is conscious of the long-lasting impression that she casts upon him and the dignity that she possesses. He is acutely aware of her graceful yet significant presence and he longs for her closeness. They both need the other to feel and understand the changes that are taking place within their souls and minds.
In understanding each other, they join together to take the final step into adulthood. Their ability to sit and communicate without saying a word is a sure sign of growing up. Their thoughts have taken a transformation so that they now look at the world with a more knowledgeable and worldly view. George and Helen are changing and growing into sophisticated adults. At the same time, they are merely on the verge of adulthood and have an occasional tendency to slip back into the playful innocence of youth.
They are caught somewhere in an animal-kind of world that only evolves with time. In the company of another adult who understands, loneliness is banished but somehow deepened at the same time. It is like a security blanket. George knows that she is there to comfort him and be there to help him, but the comfort allows him to sink further into his isolation. Somehow this time of experimentation, loneliness, yearning, ambition and understanding is what all teenagers dream of. Yet once sophistication is obtained, the world gets smaller and everything around is less significant.
So why do we all want to grow up so badly? That is for each person to figure out as they cross the threshold of maturity and understand for themselves, just as George Willard did.