Study Guide

Death in the Woods

By Sherwood Anderson

Death in the Woods Introduction

With a title like "Death in the Woods," you might think we're about to read the sequel to The Blair Witch Project, or you accidentally picked up an album by some terrible '80s metal band (wait, we thought this was a book…).

Fortunately for us, "Death in the Woods" is simply a killer short story from American legend Sherwood Anderson. Anderson was actually a bit of a late-bloomer—he didn't publish his first novel, Windy McPherson's Son, until he was forty years old. In fact, Anderson was a successful businessman long before he started writing, and it was only a nervous breakdown that caused him to commit himself to becoming an author. The short story "Death in the Woods" is actually one of his later works, written in the late 1930s.

"Death in the Woods" is a simple tale about an old woman who's had one tough life. She lives with her abusive husband and bratty son outside a small town, but the two men are always traveling and getting up to no good. That leaves her alone to take care of the house and visit town to buy food. As the title implies, the old woman never makes it home from one of those trips.

Seems simple, right? But Anderson adds an extra layer of intrigue to the situation by using an unreliable narrator to tell the story. This is like adding sprinkles and hot fudge to the top of a sundae—it makes things way better. It's actually quite fitting, too, because much of the story's plot is culled from Anderson's real-life experiences.

So forget about sequels to classic '90s horror films; ignore that annoying metal band that your dad probably used to listen to; sit down, relax, and see for yourself what's waiting in the woods.

What is Death in the Woods About and Why Should I Care?

Memory is a tricky thing.

Let's put it this way—how real are the photographs you see in magazines? Pictures are supposed to be exact replicas of reality, but most cover-shots have been retouched and edited so much that they almost seem like they came from another dimension. In an attempt to make their models look better, the magazine editors end up making them look weird beyond belief.

Memory works in a similar way. Often, we think of memories as indisputable facts . Yeah, right. Over time, memories have a tendency to change their shape for a variety of reasons: to repress bad experiences, to fit in line with new information, or to simply rewrite history.

"Death in the Woods" is all about this bizarre concept. What seems like a simple story about a simple old lady has tons to say about our relationship with our own brains. There's more than meets the eye in "Death in the Woods"—you're just going to have to do a little digging to figure out what.

Death in the Woods Resources

Websites

Sherwood Anderson Foundation
There's no better place to start than the Sherwood Anderson Foundation for all your Sherwood Anderson needs!

International Wolf Center
Word on the street is that Anderson spent a ton of time researching wolves before writing "Death in the Woods." We're not trying to guilt-trip you or anything, but you probably should too.

Articles and Interviews

An Interview with Sherwood Anderson Expert Charles Baxter
While it's difficult to find an interview with a man born in 1876 on the interwebs, we've got the next best thing: a detailed chat with true Sherwood Anderson expert Charles Baxter.

Wal-Mart Open Store in Winesburg, Ohio
You know you're a lit nerd when an Onion article about Sherwood Anderson makes you laugh so hard that you spew the soda out of your nose. Not that that happened to us, or anything. No way.

Video

A Reading of "Death in the Woods"
Want to watch some dude read the story you just read? As always, Shmoop has you covered.

Will Schuck on Sherwood Anderson
Check out this brief chat with Will Schuck (director of the Sherwood Anderson Literary Center), focusing in part on the real-life inspiration behind "Death in the Woods."

Audio

Author Tom Perrotta on Sherwood Anderson and Small Town America
Although this brief chat doesn't touch directly on "Death in the Woods," it hits on many of the small town themes that are so integral to Anderson's work.

Robert Boswell read "Death in the Woods"
Can't get enough "Death in the Woods" in your life? Want to listen to an audio-book of the story while reading it yourself? Well, that's pretty ambitious, but check out this link to get started.

Images

Sherwood Anderson
Check out this vintage picture of the always-classy Sherwood Anderson. #nofilter.

Camden, Ohio
This is a picture of the only traffic light in modern Camden, Ohio, the city of Anderson's birth and likely a partial inspiration to the town in "Death in the Woods." Small town America at its finest.