The narrative shifts back to the time period between the events of “Godliness, Part I” and “Godliness, Part II” to focus on Jesse Bentley’s daughter Louise. Her father’s strict demeanor and resentment of her for being female causes her to become a neurotic, moody child who never receives the love she craves. Louise is sent to live with her father’s friend Albert Hardy and his three children so that she can attend Winesburg High School. Albert’s daughters Mary and Harriet resent, mock, and ostracize Louise because she outperforms them in school and earns the praise of their education-obsessed father. Louise is just as unhappy in Winesburg as she was on her father’s farm.
While Jesse Bentley believes that his wholehearted commitment to God will bring him enlightenment, his singular obsession leads him to neglect his daughter Louise. As a result, she is left feeling lonely and unloved, which is only compounded by the poor treatment she receives from Mary and Harriet Hardy. Rather than being judged for her character, Louise is disliked for things she cannot control—her father resents her for being born a girl and the Hardy sisters resent her for her intelligence.
Alienated by the Mary and Harriet, Louise decides she will befriend their brother John Hardy. Louise becomes obsessed with the idea of connecting with the young man, believing that opening herself up to people will revolutionize her life and allow her to find the love and understanding she has always sought. Young women in Winesburg are judged on purity rather than social class—a girl is either “nice” (chaste) or “not nice.” Although she is attracted to John, Louise’s desire to connect with him is not consciously related to sex.
Having never found the companionship or understanding she craves, Louise is convinced that forming a deep relationship with someone is what will give her lonely life meaning. Her decision to befriend John is somewhat arbitrary, as his similar age and proximity to Louise is what draws her to him. The narrator’s aside about girls’ purity standards in Winesburg foreshadows the fact that Louise’s interest in John may progress to become sexual.
After John acknowledges Louise while dropping off firewood in her room, she calls out to him out her bedroom window and becomes convinced that he is pining for her in the orchard outside. Louise leaves her room and stumbles upon Mary and a young man kissing. She decides to send John a note instead, writing that she wants someone to love her and to love in return and asking him to meet her under her window. After a few weeks pass with no response, Louise goes on a date with a young farmhand but is so distraught over John that she has an angry outburst and steals the farmhand’s buggy.
Louise’s ostracization from those around her makes her hyperaware of any potential social connection. This leads her to believe that John is pining for her when, in reality, he is likely uninterested. By sending John a note, Louise hopes that she will finally find relief from the lifelong loneliness she has felt. When he does not respond, Louise is left feeling even more alienated and rejected.
A few days later, John finally comes to Louise’s window and the two have sex. John and Louise become lovers over the next few months and get married when they fear that Louise might be pregnant. But after the pregnancy turns out to be a false alarm, Louise feels trapped, unsatisfied, and unsure of what she wants. When their son David is born, she is ambivalent toward him and unsure of whether or not she wants to be a mother. When John confronts her about this neglect, Louise tells him that she would have done anything for a daughter but that their son “is a man child and will get what it wants anyway.”
The sexual relationship between Louise and John is passionate and impulsive. While this connection fulfills Louise at first, it loses its excitement when she and John fear that she may be pregnant and hastily decide to get married. While this is an ostensibly mature, responsible decision, Louise is still young and unsure of what she wants out of life. Forced into adult roles as a wife and mother, Louise mourns her lost youth and becomes resentful of the male authority she believes has oppressed her throughout her life.