Sherwood Anderson’s “Hands” in The Masses

This transcription is taken from beginning Sherwood Anderson’s “Hands,” as it appeared in The Masses in March 1916. I have transcribed the text from page images on New York University’s Digital Library site. The text differs, in ways I think interesting, from the original book appearance of story in Winesburg, Ohio.

“OH, YOU Wing Biddlebaum! Comb your hair! It’s falling into your eyes!”
Wing Biddlebaum, a fat, little old man, had been walking nervously up and down the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine. He could see, across a long field that had been seeded for clover, but that had produced only a dense crop of yellow mustard weeds, the public highway. Along this road a wagon filled with berry pickers was returning from the fields. The berry pickers, youths and maidens, laughed and shouted boisterously. A boy, clad in a blue shirt, leaped from the wagon and attempted to drag after him one of the girls, who screamed and protested shrilly.
As he watched them, the plump little hands of the old man fiddled unconsciously about his bare, white forehead as though arranging a mass of tangled locks on that bald crown. Then, as the berry pickers saw him, that thin girlish voice came mockingly across the field. Wing Biddlebaum stopped, with a frightened look, and put down his hands helplessly.
When the wagon had passed on, he went across the field through the tall mustard weeds, and climbing a rail fence, peered anxiously along the road to the town. He was hoping that young George Willard would come and spend the evening with him. For a moment he stood on the fence, unconsciously rubbing his hands together and looking up the road; and the, fear overcoming him, he ran back to the house and commenced to walk again on the half decayed veranda.
Among all the people of Winesburg, but one had come close to this man; for Wing Biddlebaum, forever frightened and beset by a ghostly band of doubts, did not think of himself as in any way a part of the life of the town in which he had lived for the past twenty years. But with George Willard, son of Tom Willard, the proprietor of the new Willard House, he had formed something like a friendship. George Willard was a reporter on the Winesburg Democrat, and sometimes in the evening walked out along the highway to Wing Biddlebaum’s house.
In George Willard’s presence, Wing Biddlebaum, who for twenty years had been the town mystery …

The remainder of the story seldom differs in wording, except this one line:

He was one of those men in whom sex is diffused, not centralized. (see pg. 7, para. 5).

He was one of those men in whom the force that creates life is diffused, not centralized. (Winesburg, Ohio)

Anderson, Sherwood. “Hands.” The Masses 8:5 (March 1916): 5–7. Web. 28 Mar. 2013.

Also see:
Anderson, Sherwood. “Hands.” Winesburg, Ohio. New York: Modern Library, 1918. 7-18.

If you’ve read in book version, doesn’t this The Masses version of Wing Biddlebaum seem, well, smaller and older? The words are more or less the same, though ordered differently, but my impression is that his smallness is more noticeable. Also, browse the page images of The Masses at NYU.Notice the image of the female figures, one nude, that interrupts the story. And notice the charcoal drawing of “Youngstown, Ohio,” strikers that follows. How might the first image affect your understanding of the presence of sexuality in Anderson’s story? Also, might the second image alter your understanding of the mob that drives Adolph Myers out of the town?

In the “Hands” text of The Masses, Adolph Myers’ (Biddlebaum’s) interaction with the boys is more openly acknowledged as sexual in nature (second quote). If the energy that encourages his interest is “diffused,” doesn’t the half-witted boy detect or intuit Myers’ interest in a way that the more gifted boys do not? I ask in class, when teaching, whether Myers’ incursion into the personal space of the young boys hint at predation or molestation? But I usually ask that question more pointedly to make sure the question is clear, “Is Myers a child molester?” Or does the quality that makes his action “diffused,” the way that his interaction is characterized, eliminate the possibility that his interaction with the boys is a type of predation?

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