Saturday, March 17, 2012

Countdown: The 10 Most Grotesque Residents of Winesburg, Ohio--#3

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#3.Enoch Robinson

Enoch Robinson is the type of guy who walks down the middle of the road reading a book, oblivious to the passing traffic.  Not surprisingly, he was "once hit by a street car and thrown against an iron post."  He was rendered lame by that accident, but what makes Enoch a true grotesque is not his physical handicap or his walking about carelessly but the fact that he is caught up in a world of his own device.

The story "Loneliness" concerning Enoch Robinson recounts the man's young adulthood amongst a bohemian clique in New York City.  Enoch is a painter during this period, but comes to believe that his pictures inadequately express his feelings.  Incapable of articulating his artistic intentions to his peers, Enoch forsakes realism: "With quick imagination he began to invent his own people to whom he could really talk and to whom he explained the things he had been unable to explain to living people.  His room began to be inhabited by the spirits of men and women among whom he went, in his turn saying words."  According to author Sherwood Anderson's narrator:
They were an odd lot, Enoch's people.  They were made, I suppose, out of real people he had seen and who had for some obscure reason made an appeal to him.  There was a woman with a sword in her hand, an old man with a long white beard who went about followed by a dog, a young girl whose stockings were always coming down and hanging over her shoe tops.  There must have been two dozen of the shadow people invented by the child-mind of Enoch Robinson, who lived in the room with him.
A "child-mind" in an adult body: there lies the essence of Enoch's grotesquerie.  The man's infantile belief in the power of fantasy prevents/distorts his relationship with real, living people.  Even after getting married and moving into an apartment with his family, Enoch keeps his old room on Washington Square secretly rented; eventually he abandons his wife and children so he can stay in his old haunt with "the people of his fancy."  Enoch later meets a violinist who visits him periodically in his room, but the would-be relationship ends disastrously.  As Enoch confides to George Willard: "One night something happened.  I became mad to make her understand me and to know what a big thing I was in that room.  I wanted her to see how important I was."  But Enoch changes his mind in the middle of the attempt, and instead decides to chase the woman off with screams and curses and stamps of his foot.  Unfortunately for Enoch, though, "all the life there had been in the room followed her out.  She took all of my people away."  So that is why Enoch now lives as a lonely old man back in his hometown of Winesburg, Ohio.  There Enoch is widely "spoken of as a little off his head," yet it's unlikely that his fellow residents quite realize the extent of the man's eccentricity.

No comments: