Winesburg, Ohio

Winesburg, Ohio

by

Sherwood Anderson

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Winesburg, Ohio: 5. The Philosopher Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Doctor Parcival, an unkempt man with an off-putting appearance, takes a liking to George Willard. When George’s boss Will Henderson goes out to the saloon in the afternoons, Parcival makes a habit of stopping by the Winesburg Eagle office to share stories of his life with George. Parcival, who was once a young newspaper reporter like George, admits that he wants the young man to admire him. George looks forward to these visits because he believes that Parcival’s lessons are deeply meaningful. Although Parcival is a doctor, he tells George that he does not want patients, taking only a few who cannot afford better care.
Like Wing Biddlebaum, Doctor Parcival is an older man who picks up on the innocence and potential that George Willard’s youth grants him. Parcival sees his younger self in the boy and hopes to impart wisdom onto the young man before he makes irreparable mistakes. George, who is somewhat naïve, is constantly trying to gain a deeper understanding of the world around him and is enthralled by the wild stories that Parcival tells.
Themes
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Doctor Parcival moved to Winesburg five years ago from Chicago, immediately got into a drunken fight, and now lives in a filthy office above a local diner. George sometimes thinks that Parcival’s wild stories must be fabricated, but that they also contain “the very essence of truth.” Parcival tells George that he grew up poor with a troubled home life, a selfish older brother, and an “insane” father. He hints that he may have been a thief or a murderer in his younger days. Parcival also says that he studied to become a minister and traveled to bless his father’s body after he died in an insane asylum. He shares his cynical outlook on humanity with George, wanting to “fill him with hatred” so that he will triumph over other men and not make foolish mistakes.
Parcival’s unsavory demeanor alienates him from other people in town and he further isolates himself by neglecting his medical practice. The doctor’s difficult upbringing and past mistakes have imbued a sense of failure and loss that leads him to resent life itself. Rather than inspiring George to overcome life’s obstacles with a positive outlook, Parcival wants to impart a similar sense of hatred onto the young man so that he will be motivated to succeed.
Themes
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Grief Theme Icon
One day, a little girl is killed in a buggy accident. While the other three doctors in Winesburg rush to the scene, Parcival refuses to leave his office. No one notices his absence, but George finds the doctor shaking and terrified that the “useless cruelty of his refusal” will cause the townspeople to hang him in outrage. Parcival asks George to write the book that he may never get to write if he is hanged, pleading with George to never forget the simple idea that “everyone in the world is Christ and they are all crucified.”
Parcival’s refusal to help the little girl indicates just how deeply his resentment permeates. His inflated sense of self-importance is reflected in his assumption that the townspeople will be so enraged by his refusal that they will have him hanged. In reality, people don’t even notice that he isn’t there—they are much more concerned with the tragedy at hand than they are with Parcival. The doctor’s attitude of self-victimization is further underlined by his plea with George to remember than everyone in the world is as unfairly oppressed as Christ.
Themes
Grief Theme Icon
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