Summary and Analysis
In "Nobody Knows," George Willard has the first of three significant encounters with women of Winesburg. In this particular story the young reporter has received a note from Louise Trunnion stating, "I'm yours if you want me." As the tale opens, its setting is evening, as it is in so many of the stories. George jumps to his feet — although Anderson tells us, "There had been no decision." Driven, however, by some inner compulsion, the youth sneaks through the dark alleys to Louise's house and takes her for a walk. George is obviously awkward and unsure of himself at first, but he gradually becomes more confident, eventually having his way with the girl.
This is, of course, a story that readers might consider pornographic, and some did when Winesburg was first published, although the meeting between Louise and George is described with restraint. In fact, Anderson seems to be suggesting that George's first sexual encounter is only physically satisfying; it is really a perfunctory, meaningless act. For Louise, one suspects it is even more frustrating. She seems to have been trying to communicate to George her need not for sex but for love and understanding; however, as in several other of the early stories in the book, George proves insensitive. In his later encounter with Belle Carpenter ("An Awakening") and Helen White ("Sophistication"), George's growing maturity and sensitivity will be evidenced.
"Nobody Knows" is one of the shortest stories in Winesburg, yet it would be even shorter if Anderson had described only the meeting between George and Louise. He has filled out his story, however, with a wealth of details about the other townspeople and the town of Winesburg. In addition to Louise Trunnion and her father, Jake, Anderson mentions four other new characters and five stores or landmarks in the town. These fragmentary glimpses of people and places make the reader feel that he knows a good deal about Winesburg and that it is a real town. One can almost hear the team of horses stamping on the hard-baked ground and see the circus posters on the high board fence. It is probably this verisimilitude which has led some critics to speak of Anderson as a realist.