T O M F O S T E R S L I F E W I T H I N H I M S E L F
The story Drink from Sherwood Anderson s Winesburg, Ohio describes a young man by the name of Tom Foster. This man lives his life with minimal contact to the rest of the world and experiments with each one of life s experiences alone and only once. He accepts things as they are and treats them as an experience and an opportunity to learn. He keeps his thoughts under strict control. Occasionally there is an act he wishes to experience and he proceeds to do so, in solitude. He lives within himself. Although he may stand around in a circle of men and occasionally contribute a word or two, he is not really involved. It is a defense mechanism to allow him to precisely control his life and to protect others from suffering due to how he lives.
On page 129 the story states, The women in the houses knew and loved Tom Foster and the tough boys in the gangs loved him also. They loved him because he gave them no reason not to. He never exposed enough of himself to give them a reason to dislike him. I am sure his relationship with the prostitutes and gangs of Cincinnati was much like his relationship with the men and boys of Winesburg described on page 130 a standing about, listening and occasionally, when addressed, saying a few words. It was easy for him to fit into Winesburg because he could fit in anywhere. He spoke too little for there to be something to dislike about him. He lived in his own world, separated from everybody else.
When Tom steals the money to buy food and is caught he takes the consequences. He is ashamed, but likes the feeling because he learns from it. I suspect the crime was much like the drink in the story. He stole it for the experience, hoping he would be caught. This is how Tom Foster lives. He does not wait for things to happen naturally but instead he makes a conscious decision to try something, the kind of thing that would just come to you or I. He creates his own events to gain his own experiences and knowledge. This is a protective mechanism. It developed when his parents died. I expect that to be a traumatizing situation for such a young boy. He was not all to comfortable with the experience and knowledge gained from that event so he began to take control to of his life and specifically decided when he would try something. Also he wanted to control himself so he would not hurt anybody else, as his parents did to him. This is described as he speaks to George Willard on page 134, I thought f a lot of things to do, but they wouldn t work. They all hurt someone else. He created his own world of which he is the leader and the only citizen. He physically exists in our world but mentally he lives in his own as described on page 130, As in the city in the houses of prostitution and with the rowdy boys running through the streets at night, so in Winesburg among its citizens he had always the power to be part of and yet distinctly apart from the life about him. He is complete control of what goes on. He keeps strict restraints on his thoughts as stated on page 132, He let himself think of Helen White whenever her figure came into his mind and only concerned himself with the manner of his thoughts. He had a fight, a quiet determined little fight of his own, keep his desires in the channel where he thought they belonged, but on the whole he was victorious. These restraints are to prevent parts of his mind from influencing him participate in activities that he has not completely determined whether to do so or not, such as speaking to Helen White. His idea of women was spoiled by the prostitute in Cincinnati for he tries things only once as mentioned on page 133, It taught me something. I won t have to do it again. It was important to him that parts of him that may not totally agree with his decision to avoid women stay disciplined.
Tom Foster decided to become drunk. He walked out of town to sit in peace to experience intoxication. It caused him to loose control. He made his attraction to Helen White obvious to George Willard. He lied to George saying that he was romantically involved with Helen. Repressed emotions had escaped due to the intoxication. His tightly bound thoughts were now free. He describes the experience as being wonderful. He compares it to making love. For the first time, since he was a boy, he was free. He let things flow. He held back nothing. But this is what he had hoped to happen. He was tired of being an invisible man. He was tired of hiding his attraction to Helen and not having close friends. He was tired of standing in a circle of men and not speaking. He wanted to let go, so he took the drink. It was still an experience to him, one he created to gain knowledge and one that he would only participate in once. But it was different than the experiences of being with a woman or stealing and becoming ashamed. The experience was not simply getting drunk but rather to escape from his world and live with the rest of us, although only for a short while, for the first time since his parents passed away.
Tom Foster lives alone in a world he created when his parents died. He lives his life under tight restrictions, carefully deciding when each event will happen and focusing his thoughts so they do not stray. No matter what the event was he enjoyed it because he learned from it. His most important decision was to take the drink. For those few hours with George he was out of his world and in ours. He was free to think what any part of him wanted to. He was free to open himself up to George. For the first time since he was a child he let somebody in.