Death in the Woods

Sherwood Anderson

BACKGROUND

This is a tragic story about a woman. There really is no concrete plot except for the brief biography on the woman leading to her death.

MAIN CHARACTERS

Narrator: Some dude who tells us a story about when he was a young boy and got to see a dead woman. He tells the story of the womanís life.

Jake Grimes: He is the husband of the woman who dies. He is a prick. He steals, lies, and cheats. He is also a drunk. He is basically a bad dude.

German Woman: She is the focus of the story. She marries Jake Grimes and all she does is serve him and take care of the family. She dies in the end. The narrator refers to her as "the old woman". She is not old, but he calls her that because she is overworked and looks worn down.

PLOT

The story starts out with this man talking about this old woman he sees in town. The woman is poor and goes to town for food. Then she has to carry all the food back to her house (heavy load for an old woman). This woman reminds the dude of a story back when he was a young boy. Then he starts to tell it.

The guy starts describing the old woman in his story. She wasnít that old, but she was just worn out from working so much. Her family was a bunch of scumbags. Her son was a jailbird and her husband (Jake Grimes) was an abusive, drunk who stole things. The narrator describes Jake some more. He didnít have many friends and everyone in the town always suspected him of stealing horses. He met his wife (the woman in the story) when he worked for a German farmer. This farmer had a young German girl working for him. The farmerís wife was pretty jealous because she thought the German farmer and the German girl were getting it on. When Jake worked for the farmer he met the girl and he started taking her out. One day the German farmer and Jake get in a fight over the girl and Jake and the girl beat him up, then run away together.

Jake and the girl got married and had some kids. They had a daughter, but she died. All they had left was a son. She worked very hard. All she did all day was cook and feed all the animals on the farm and feed her husband and son.

The whole family was really poor. The son treated the woman (his mom) like shit. He would bring slutty chicks home and yell at his mom and tell her to do stuff. Then the narrator describes the day the woman died. She went to town to go get food (grain/meat etc). The farm dogs went with her into town because they were hungry and knew the woman was going for food. She got some eggs and some meat and put everything in a big bag. Then she started carrying this heavy load home. On her way home she was tired and cold (the temperature was really low) and she decided to take a nap by the tree. Then she died during her sleep because she froze to death. The dogs just circled around her and eventually ripped the bag of food from her and started eating.

Then one day a hunter came along and found her body lying face down in the ground. She was half naked because the dogs had ripped her clothing trying to get to the bag of food. All these guys from the town rushed to the body because they thought it was a murder. One of the people who went into the woods to see the body was the guy telling the story (but he was a little boy back when this happened...now he is a grown man). The narrator was there with his brother (also a young kid). The men carried the dead girl back into town. Then the narrator talks about how when his brother told the story he didnít do it very well, that is why the narrator is telling it again.

THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART

  • The narrator talks about this story and says that it finally makes sense when he was older. That means the story about the old womanís life has some meaning. He didnít know when he was a kid but he understands now that he is an adult
  • The old womanís story is very tragic. She was a slave and her life was dedicated to serving scumbags. It is probably appropriate then that she died so horribly.
  • When she died, the dogs that are with her are very symbolic of her family. Even though she is dead, all they care about is getting the bag of food from her.