Winesburg, Ohio

Winesburg, Ohio

by

Sherwood Anderson

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Winesburg, Ohio: 17. The Teacher Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the same bitterly cold day leading up to Reverend Hartman’s revelation in “The Strength of God,” George Willard is glad that the weekly newspaper has already been printed because it gives him the day off of work. George walks along Wine Creek in the deep snow, comes to a grove where he builds a fire, and sits down to think. George has begun to talk regularly with Kate Swift, his former schoolteacher, and is convinced that she must be in love with him. He pretends that she is there with him and warns her that he knows she’s “just letting on” and that he will find out her true intentions.
“The Teacher” is unique in that it is the only section in the novel to tell another story (“The Strength of God”) from an alternative perspective. Whereas George Willard has had several other romantic encounters with girls his age, his relationship with Kate Swift is particularly confusing for the young man. While George tries to convince himself that he can outsmart Kate, he cannot help but be thrown into a state of contemplative uncertainty at the thought of her.
Themes
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
Back home at the New Willard House, George lights another fire and begins to have “lustful thoughts.” He embraces his pillow, pretending it is Kate Swift or Helen White, with whom he is “half in love.” Later that evening, the deep snow causes nearly all of Winesburg to stay home and go to bed. Only three people are awake—George working in the Winesburg Eagle office, Kate leaving for a walk through town, and Reverend Hartman waiting in the bell tower.
George struggles to make sense of his feelings and is conflicted over his affections for both Kate and Helen White. While he genuinely cares for Helen, he is also sexually frustrated by Kate. This dilemma suggests that George is trying to make sense of what he wants out of a romantic partner as he matures.
Themes
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
Recently, Kate has been experiencing an internal crisis of “grief, hope, and desire” that drives her to take long walks around town at night. That afternoon, Kate had been to the doctor and was told that she was in danger of going deaf, but she decides to risk going for a walk in the blizzard. The narrator tangentially discusses Kate’s reputation as a cold, severe schoolteacher who is only rarely happy and has a tendency to invent anecdotes about the authors whose work she teaches.
Kate’s unapproachable demeanor and strange behavior lead her to be alienated from the rest of Winesburg. The ongoing existential crisis she is experiencing only amplifies her solitary nature. Kate’s decision to take a walk in dangerous weather despite having just received a serious diagnosis suggests the deep sense of desperation and confusion that Kate is experiencing.
Themes
Alienation Theme Icon
Faith, Fate, and Meaning Theme Icon
Kate has become fixated on George Willard, attracted to the childhood whimsy and burgeoning manhood that he dually embodies. She attempts to impart her wisdom onto the young man, telling him that he will have to gain experience and develop his intuition about what people are thinking if he wants to be a writer. On the night, before Reverend Hartman waits to catch a glimpse of Kate in the bell tower, she meets with George and is attracted to him but frustrated that he is not mature enough to understand all of life’s complexities.
Kate’s relationship with George has been gradually progressing up to this point. Her attitude toward George is ambivalent, since she’s attracted to him but finds him immature. Kate’s confusion toward the situation is just as pronounced as George’s, as she struggles between her conflicting feelings of attraction and frustration toward the young man. 
Themes
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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On the night of the blizzard, while Reverend Hartman waits for Kate, she goes to the Winesburg Eagle office and has a deep, hour-long conversation with George in hopes that she can “open the door of life” to him. She notices how mature George looks in the lamplight and the two are suddenly overcome with a confusing desire for one another. But when George embraces Kate, she beats him with her fists and runs away, leaving George bewildered as he paces the Eagle office and swears to himself.
Kate, though adamant that she can “open the doors of life” to George, seems equally hopeful that a relationship with him will give her the sense of meaning that she has been craving. She is let down when George fails to understand the lesson she is trying to give him and lashes out with violence. George is left confused and furious after their encounter, unsure of where he went wrong in his attempts to pursue Kate.
Themes
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
Faith, Fate, and Meaning Theme Icon
This moment of frustration is when Reverend Hartman bursts in on George, overlapping with the same moment from the minister’s point of view in “The Strength of God.” Hartman, having seen Kate naked and emotionally praying in her room after her confusing encounter with George, proclaims that she is an instrument of God. Believing that “the town had gone mad,” George returns home and lies in bed, trying to make sense of what the minister had said in relation to his strange evening with Kate. Exasperated, he comes to the conclusion that he must have missed something Kate was trying to tell him and finally drifts off to sleep.
This is the point in the story that fully intersects with the same scene in “The Strength of God.” While the reader already knows the events that led up to this moment in the previous chapter, George is left utterly bewildered by Hartman’s declaration that Kate is “an instrument of God” considering the heated conflict he just had with her. George’s subsequent frustration reflects his inability to surmount the gap in maturity between himself and Kate.
Themes
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
Faith, Fate, and Meaning Theme Icon