Andersons The Egg in its socio-political context

Term Paper, 2001

15 Pages, Grade: satisfactory



1. Introduction

2. Historical facts- America in the Twenties
2.1. The turn of the century
2.2. The end of war and Harding’s “Return to normalcy”
2.3. The New Era, prohibition and the crash in 1929
2.3.1. The birth of the consumer society
2.3.2. The role of the automobile
2.3.3. America- from a rural to an urban nation
2.3.4. Prohibition and crash

3. “The egg” as a modern social satire
3.1. Symbolism of the egg
3.2. Approach to the egg in Anderson’s short story
3.3. a story of human defeat- The narrator’s father as the archetypal loser
3.4. The mother, her role and the outcome
3.5. the word choice in “The Egg”

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The role Sherwood Anderson plays in American literature is undoubtedly important and his influence on other authors like Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner remarkable.

“Winesburg, Ohio” (1919) can be considered as a breakthrough[1] for Anderson. His critical reflection of narrow-minded people and social relations in an American small town, seen through the spectacles of satire, is brilliant.

His short story collection The Triumph of the Egg (1922) followed Winesburg, Ohio and continued this literary style which he is known for today. Nevertheless, one should take a look on Anderson’ s exceptional and unusual biography which stays so much in contrast to the life he describes in his short stories.

If one says that one day might change people’s life, November 28th, 1912 was the day for Sherwood Anderson. On this day he left his job as president of the Anderson Manufacturing Co. including his wife and three little children in order to leave “business for literature [...]”[2].

Of course this was not a simple decision which he made but the result of many unhappy years and a general disappointment of his life. Not only left he his family and Ohio, with this action he denied a middle-class life and examined the American way to prosperity and success which was omnipresent at that time.

Anderson can also be counted to the lost generation, which Gertrude Stein defined towards Hemingway. The idealism and energy which could be found at the turn to the 20th century was all killed and buried on the battlefields of France, where thousands of Americans lost their life leaving a whole generation of emotional scattered and disillusioned men. Although Anderson did not take part in World War I, he was confronted with the sufferings of the war when he traveled Europe and met Gertrude Stein in Paris. But, one the other hand he got to know French mentality and their intention to overcome war. ‘These are my people’ he wrote in his diary[3] when he came across passionate people full of temperament.

To Anderson it must have been something like the living contrary to the people from his Hometown Clyde, Ohio, and so to the life, ideals and moral he introduces in The Egg.

The next chapter will deal with the social, economic and cultural facts and figures of the United States of America between 1898 and 1929.

2. Historical facts– America in the Twenties

2.1. The Turn of the century

The first step away from the political theory of an isolated America after the Civil War was undoubtedly the Spanish-American war, which begun in 1898. Like the European colonial powers, America foreign policy was dominated by expansionism and military presence in self-defined areas of national interest.

At the end of this “little” war America became a colonial power with taking control over Cuba, Guam and the Philippines. This was the first appearance of America on the stage of international politics and, as the winner of this confrontation, a psychological change took place. America became aware of its huge economical and military power and created a new self-understanding. Historically, in the last decades of the 19th century America’s economy and population increased exponentially , millions of immigrants came to the young nation and their labor-force was warmly welcome in the newly established industries. Also, at this time the founding stone for America’s economic-industrial complexes was laid. A good example of this fast development is the City of Chicago which was a little village by 1840 and grew into a metropolis at the turn of the century[4].

Anderson himself was completely involved in this rapid change into an industrial society. He worked as unskilled laborer in a cold-storage warehouse in Chicago where meat and eggs were stored. Afterwards he joined the army and was stationed on Cuba for nearly one year[5].

But the other side of that growth was an unplanned urbanization with a separation into ethnic quarters and slums, combined with a vast increase of crime.

Also, the concentration of capital in banks and insurance companies led into a big influence on everybody’s economic life[6]. Loans were available to many people for the first time but many who borrowed money were not aware of their dependent situation and neglected simple economic rules. Dependency and debts were results of that.

2.2. The end of war and Harding’s “Return to normalcy”

This époque of permanent changes and internal reforms during the war created a vast majority of Americans who desired an end of the fights and the ‘Return to normalcy’ which was promised by Warren G. Harding. Around 1920 several strikes and riots broke out, race riots resulted in hundreds of deaths, especially in Chicago where the black population has doubled in a decade[7].

Generally spoken, these rapid metamorphoses of social values broke up old traditions and habits, however, the certain return of economic prosperity as well as the election of Harding calmed the public down. Harding’s program could be characterized by his aims, which were complacency, nationalism and isolationism. This key issued shaped the basic opinion for America of the upcoming decade.

Anderson himself had a skeptic view on this development, after several trips to New York he wrote ironically into his diary “New York. The great vogue for understanding America and Americans.”[8] He has doubts about these ‘modern’ men and criticized their behavior.


[1] White, Ray Lewis. The Achievement of Sherwood Anderson. p. 62 f.

[2] cp.

[3] cp. Townsend, Kim. Sherwood Anderson. p. 177 f.

[4] cp.

[5] Townsend, Kim. Sherwood Anderson. p. 31 f.

[6] cp. Schaller, Wolfgang. Der amerikanische Roman des 20. Jahrhunderts p.71 f .

[7] cp. Reeves, Thomas C. Twentieth- Century America p. 82

[8] Townsend, Kim. Sherwood Anderson p. 147

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Andersons The Egg in its socio-political context
Dresden Technical University  (American Studies)
20th century American short stories
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
622 KB
Sherwood Anderson The Egg
Quote paper
Uwe Scheunemann (Author), 2001, Andersons The Egg in its socio-political context, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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