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Short Story Springboard

Sherwood Anderson's _Sophistication_ & Emergence

The first step in your inquiry is to refresh your memory of Sophistication by Sherwood Anderson. Just click on the title to read it again.

Remember the crucial moment in the narrative when George Willard and Helen White fatefully come together at the narrative climax:

    "Helen ran down a flight of stairs at the back of the house and into the garden. In the darkness she stopped and stood trembling. It seemed to her that the world was full of meaningless people saying words. Afire with eagerness she ran through a garden gate and, turning a corner by the bankerís barn, went into a little side street. ìGeorge! Where are you, George?î she cried, filled with nervous excitement. She stopped running, and leaned against a tree to laugh hysterically. Along the dark little street came George Willard, still saying words. ìIím going to walk right into her house. Iíll go right in and sit down, ì he declared as he came up to her. He stopped and stared stupidly. ìCome on,î he said and took hold of her hand. With hanging heads they walked away along the street under the trees. Dry leaves rustled under foot. Now that he had found her George wondered what he had better do and say."
Sherwood Anderson is clearly interested in the dynamic forces affecting his protagonists. Besides underlying biblical allusions to the Fall through associations to the garden of Eden and the tree of knowledge, he delineates a struggle between _biological determinism_ and _free will_. Directly addressing the reader, Anderson describes George's newly emerged sophistication: "In youth there are always two forces fighting in people. The warm unthinking little animal struggles against the thing that reflects and remembers, and the older, the more sophisticated thing had possession of George Willard." One moment, George seems the embodiement of his family name in representing will, especially in his urge to become successful by moving to the big city. Helen has college and enhanced self development in the big city. Yet, in the story's denouement, George and Helen, like Jack and Jill, symbolically, "like excited little animals," fall down the hill. The narrative almost demands that we consider to what extent they will fulfill their individual dreams. Will they ever leave Winesburg? Can we distiguish which of these two forces, biological determinism or free will, Anderson perceives as more influential?

    "George and Helen arose and walked away into the darkness. They went along a path past a field of corn that had not yet been cut. The wind whispered among the dry corn blades. For a moment during the walk back into town the spell that held them was broken. When they had come to the crest of Waterworks Hill they stopped by a tree and George again put his hands on the girlís shoulders. She embraced him eagerly and then again they drew quickly back from that impulse. They stopped kissing and stood a little apart. Mutual respect grew big in them. They were both embarrassed and to relieve their embarrassment dropped into the animalism of youth. They laughed and began to pull and haul at each other. In some way chastened and purified by the mood they had been in, they became, not man and woman, not boy and girl, but excited little animals."

    "It was so they went down the hill. In the darkness they played like two splendid young things in a young world. Once, running swiftly forward, Helen tripped George and he fell. He squirmed and shouted. Shaking with laughter, he roiled down the hill. Helen ran after him. For just a moment she stopped in the darkness. There was no way of knowing what womanís thoughts went through her mind but, when the bottom of the hill was reached and she came up to the boy, she took his arm and walked beside him in dignified silence. For some reason they could not have explained they had both got from their silent evening together the thing needed. Man or boy, woman or girl, they had for a moment taken hold of the thing that makes the mature life of men and women in the modern world possible."

A major question that arises is just how much _irony_ does Anderson employ. How much control over their lives, or agency, do George and Helen exhibit? Is free will or unconscious biological determinism ruling the day? Your task is to write an essay on _Sophistication_ using key scientific concepts relevant to this dynamic struggle between biological determinism and will. There's a fascinating interactive computer simulation called _Langton's Ant_ that provides us with terms and a conceptional framework to help analyze Anderson's story. Playing _Langton's Ant_ should be a lot of fun, but it will also generate ideas that you can profitably apply to _Sophistication_, as well as other literature.
First, click on Langton's Ant. Carefully proceed through all four parts of this interactive exhibit exploring _emergence_ before writing your essay. However, you will notice that there is an on-line forum associated with the site, and I would encourage you to participate if you have any impressions you want to share. You can just follow the links from the original website, but I am also giving you the same links below to follow. As you work through _Langton's Ant_, some of the key vocabulary that you are to incorporate in your essay are italicized adjacent to the links. Later, you will incorporate them in your essay. Naturally, as you are proceed through this exhibit, I want you to consider it's relevance for Anderson's _Sophistiction_. In what sense do George and Helen represent _emergent_ or _complex systems_?

Part 1: Click on: Watching: What's It Do? - _purpose_, _deterministic system_, _barriers_

Part 2: Click on: Looking Inside: How's It Work?

Part 3: Making Sense of the Observations

* A. Click on: Agents, Environments, and their Interactions - _agent_, _environment_, _time_, _pattern_

* B. Click on: The World, with an Observer/Participant Added - _observer_ (reader), _purpose_

* C. Click on: The Existence? and Significance? of a Designer/Architect/Planner - _architect_ (writer), _artificial_ versus _natural world_

* D. Click on: Beyond Determinism: Randomness as a First Mover? - _randomness_, _free will_, _exploration_

Part 4: Click on: Summarizing and Going Beyond

Most importantly, I want you to arrive at an understanding of _emergence_. Even though Langton's Ant represents an interactive deterministic system, it leads you to an understanding of more _sophisticated_ behavior through emergence. It helps to understand how this can be articulated in biological systems. Just click on: Emergence. It's a very crucial concept. You want to view Anderson's _Sophistication_ through the lens of _emergence_. What brings George and Helen together? Is their coming together to be viewed as demonstration of free will, an enhanced sense of agency? Or, should we view their coming together as biologically determined? You may want to revisit the importance for George of his mother's death. You might also consider the need for adolescents to develop independence and maturity through leaving their parents, their home. You might argue that Anderson has encapsulated a crucial rite of passage within his short story.

Here is your task. Write a fully developed essay on Sherwood Anderson's _Sophistication_ while employing most of these terms: climax, denouement, irony, free will, biological determinism, emergence, deterministic system, emergent system, barrier, agent, agency, environment, time, pattern, observer, purpose, artificial versus natural world, architect, randomness, and rite of passage. You are not required to use all of the terms, but I do expect that you should clearly relate the concepts that emerge from _Langton's Ant_ with _Sophistication_. One direction for exploration is to what extent has Sherwood Anderson, like Langton, created an _artificial_ world to explore the dynamic struggle between biological determinism and free will. Do you think that he is conscious of himself as _architect_, with you as observer? What does he want the observer to take away from the experience of reading _Sophistication_? Have fun.

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