Summary and Analysis
The story of Alice Hindman is another study in appearance and reality. Alice, at twenty-seven, is a quiet, shy clerk in Winney's Dry Goods Store, but Anderson tells us "beneath a placid exterior a continual ferment went on." The first part of the story is really about the absence of adventure, the eleven years since Alice was sixteen, when she loved and was loved by Ned Currie. These eleven years are described in a deliberately non-dramatic narrative style to suggest the dull life of a small-town spinster. The time designations are vague; Anderson uses such phrases as "in the spring" and "during the fall" to suggest how monotonously the "weeks ran into months and months into years.
When Alice was with Ned Currie the "outer crust of her life, all of her natural diffidence and reserve, was torn away." But Alice suffered as many women have suffered because of the sex role forced on her by society. She had wanted to go with Ned to Cleveland and help him get a start, even suggesting that they could marry later. But Ned wanted to protect her and wouldn't agree to such an arrangement. So the young man went to the big city and, of course, he soon forgot "Alice in Winesburg"; thus Anderson implies that Ned had other Alices in other towns. Meanwhile, Alice Hindman, continuing to fulfill the sex role in which she is cast, remains the constant lover.
Alice finally realizes that she is getting old and that Ned is not coming back. She joins a church and begins to go to regular meetings, "trying feebly at first, but with growing determination, to get a new hold upon life." A drab drugstore clerk often walks her home and though she apparently realizes that she could marry him, she won't settle for such a sterile life. Alice's loneliness and frustration reaches a point of hysteria one rainy night — and she has an "adventure." She wants so desperately "to be loved, to have something answer the call that (is] growing louder and louder within her." She feels vaguely that the rain might have a creative effect on her, so she runs naked into the night.
Everything in the story has contributed to our impression of her isolation. Her widowed mother has remarried, her employer is a taciturn old man, the drugstore clerk who walks her home doesn't sit on the porch and visit as she wishes he would. Now, on this night of adventure, the man to whom she cries out is old and somewhat deaf, so he doesn't hear her plea for help. The adventure ends without anyone — except Alice — ever knowing about it. Her future holds nothing but increased loneliness.
In this basically non-dramatic story, the frustration of Alice Hindman's life is conveyed in a few memorable scenes culminating on a momentous night. Readers probably recall her with her head down on the counter in Winney's Dry Goods Store, or kneeling beside her bed where she shaped a human form out of a rolled blanket, or running naked in the rainy night, or crawling on her hands and knees through the grass to the house. Perhaps most vividly, one remembers the scene when Alice lies in bed thinking, "What is the matter with me? I will do something dreadful if I am not careful," and then turning her face to the wall, she begins to try "to face bravely the fact that many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg." In such scenes Anderson poignantly portrays the lonely, frustrated people not just in Winesburg but throughout the world.