Summary and Analysis
A Man of Ideas
Joe Welling, a man of ideas, is proof that Anderson's grotesques aren't all horrible and hopeless. Indeed, Joe might better be described as ludicrous, for this strange little Standard Oil agent is very quiet and polite until he is seized by an idea; then he becomes uncontrollable. Words roll and tumble from his mouth as the excited man pounds on the chest of any bystander and demands attention. Anderson describes Joe as "a tiny little volcano that lies silent for days and then suddenly spouts fire." Thus his name, Welling, is appropriate.
Joe's ideas are not great perceptions. He points out excitedly that if Wine Creek runs higher it must mean there has been heavy rain in Medina County, that decay is taking place constantly, and that if all the plants in Winesburg were destroyed new ones would be developed. The reader probably wonders why the townspeople are so impressed by Welling and his ideas; is there such a dearth of ideas in Winesburg or is enthusiasm like Joe's so unusual?
Whatever the reason, Joe's loquacity and absorption with his absurd ideas disarm the town's citizens, even the belligerent Tom and Edward King. Joe Welling therefore becomes the best-liked, most socially accepted grotesque in Anderson's book. The townspeople are proud of the baseball team which Joe has organized and coached, and Joe himself is proud that he has found a girl to love him.
This story is tied to the others not only by its geographical setting but by George Willard's presence. Joe envies George his job as reporter and frequently seeks out the boy to give him tips. Eventually after his mother dies, Joe moves into the New Willard House and there the climactic confrontation between Joe and the truculent Kings takes place, with George an amused observer. What George doesn't realize is that Joe, humorous as he is, has been more successful in finding happiness than have most of the other Winesburg citizens. The story of Joe Welling suggests that walls of isolation can sometimes be broken down if one will but besiege them enthusiastically.