“The Philosopher” by Sherwood Anderson is constructed to portray a certain multitude of paradoxical and unexpected contradictions as well implicitly as explicitly. This story has the ironic contrasts that illustrate the various emotions which are introduced by the philosopher – Doctor Parcival. That is why I would like to analyze “The Philosopher”, concerning Doctor Parcival.
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We can remember the dialogue of Parcival and George in which the philosopher tells some facts about his family. The author are gives simple and common textual ironies in this dialogue to Parcial. He says: “I studied to be a minister and prayed. I was a regular ass about saying prayers” (Anderson, 2000). Here we can see the deep religiosity that is combined with a brutal curse word. This is both amusing and insightful. If we could hear a minister speak that he was an ass about already mentioned prayers, then we would be really surprised. However, we can see that Parcival became a doctor instead to become a minister. There is also a grotesque, because Parcival is not able to lead the life he already intended. I think that the breaks and distortions Anderson’s character life is what makes Parcival incomplete and also grotesque.
If we regard Parcival’s views about himself, then it is necessary to say that they are overloaded with contradiction. He is a very self-centered character. The narrator tries to tell us that Parcival would relate to George very long tales about Doctor Parcival himself.
A paragraph later we can see that not only is character enormously dirty but he will eat anything. This might be even the food Biff that is unable to sell. It may seem that Doctor Parcival is self-centered but in this situation we can assert that he cares nothing for himself. So here arises the question if Parcival is not self-conscious but self-centered. Such analysis of the contrary facts allows the common reader to look into the heart of the personality of Parcival. We can sate that he lives inwardly, thinking and, maybe, devising, but not realy taking part in the humanity that is around him.
The most noticeable of the Parcival’s characteristic is the “twitching left eye lid which flaps like a window shade” (Anderson, 2000). This represents a form of metonymy that shows the whole nature of Doctor Parcival’s character. He specially sees the world – from inward out. His outward shown persona, his own body and his cleanliness, do not concern him at all. I we regard this case from the Anderson’s theme about life in death then we can assert that Parcival indeed lives only on the inside. Those stories that he tells to George come from within and represent his only one living force. The book that he tries to write about “all of man being Christ” (Anderson, 2000) is in greater importance than his actual doctor practice.
Such feature as the lid with the shade of his eye symbolizes the window of the Parcival’s soul. Parcival allows, through his eyes, his soul to speak. He also tries to look into the George Willard’s soul, because he feels that he could share with him. It is necessary to mention that Parcival appeared immediately at George Willard’s office just after Will Henderson left. We may even suppose that he had been probably watching. That is why we may say that Parcival can function just from within. He is shown to us as turned inside out character; he is twisted and even irregular.
But still the story of Parcival is represents a universal man. In the world of modern man that is anesthetized to certain normal social and, maybe, personal emotions, one is not able to say such simple thing as what he feels; he is not able to act even as he wishes. Anderson’s work shows us the disillusioned sensibility which popped out in the United States after well known World War I. The twisted grotesque in “The Philosopher” was also represented as an everyman, where we can meet those issues and emotions that entire humanity was facing at that particular time.
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Parcival tries to search George Willard out because he represents himself as the medium of entire communication in their town. Parcival indeed needs someone to listen to his stories and, what is more important, to take him seriously. Parcival has been looking out “through his window shade” (Anderson, 2000) in search of some other soul that he can share his life with. George fulfills this symbolic function. Those stories that Parcival tells George are not of a great importance for his own life though he includes various details. The true motivation for such storytelling is to show himself as a personality to George, to make a try to represent him whole. Doctor Parcival is not able to give his direct locations in the story because as he say: “Sit makes no difference” (Anderson, 2000). He is just any man who needs someone to listen to him. In this story we learn of his ideas of a kind of superior being. He has a wish to lead George Willard in the same direction. Though brother of Parcival was killed without any glory at all, he is misguided in his view that a man who can control others and to spend money whatever way he wished was indeed a superior being. Well, in the circumstances of the modern world, it may seem that money and power rule.
Another major ironic contradictory situation that we can meet embodies Parcival’s theory that “all people are Christ and all are crucified” (Anderson, 2000). We can see a great irony when Parcival is worried about that he will be forbidden to complete his book including this idea if the entire town hangs him for such crime as being unchristian. Doctor Parcival refuses to see a young girl that was injured after a serious accident, but he has no apparent reason for this. Such situation may be easily considered as evil. Yet Parcival is proclaiming the idea that he and all men are Christ! Anderson was trying to show by these that the idea of religion itself had degenerated and spoiled in the modern world society. Instead of understanding the true meaning of the theories of the religion, Parcival has indeed twisted and entirely distorted it. He is not able to reach the man, that fellow him, with his crazy theories, that is why he refuses to aid that man when he asked him for help. The lack of courage is a certain symbol of the degeneration, actually, of the invisible ties between man and his community.
Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life. New York: Modern Library, 2000.