Wash Williams is a huge, dirty, misshapen man who looks something like an ugly monkey. He has no friends and he hates women. Only George Willard knows his story. Wash had a beautiful wife who he loved in his own lovely youth, when he worked in the telegraph office in Columbus, Ohio. Then, he found out she had lovers and sent her back to her mother's house. When her mother asked Wash to come see his wife in Dayton, he would have taken her back if her mother had not devised a plan that horrified him and destroyed his belief in women. She sent Wash's wife into the room naked, hoping that would make him take her back. Wash was shocked and attacked his wife's mother with a chair. Now he despises all women and pities all men. This event also made the telegraph operator much less effective in his job, and he was transferred to Winesburg.
Seth Richmond is a young man with a rather forbidding kind of demeanor. He is so quiet that people think he is a deep thinker and are intimidated by him. Actually, he is just a manipulative person who does not have much to say. Even his mother is frightened by him. Once, he ran away with some other youths to the county fair and spent a few days stealing farmers' lunches and having fun. Upon his return, he manipulated his mother so she did not admonish him. When George Willard decides to be in love with Helen White, he asks Seth to speak to her on his behalf, since Seth knows Helen better than he does. Seth is irritated by this request and leaves abruptly. He thinks George is a fool. Seth wanders the streets for a while, feeling depressed because he does not feel part of the life of his own town. Eventually, he reaches the Whites' house. Helen answers the door and he invites her for a walk. He tells her that he is going away to Columbus and talks about his plans to get into the university there. He says nothing about George. Helen is impressed by Seth's determination. There is affection between them but neither knows how to express it. After they part, Seth thinks that Helen will end up with someone like George rather than with him.
This brief story tells of how a girl named Tandy acquired her name. When Tandy was a little girl, her family did not pay much attention to her. One day, a drunken stranger told her that her name should be Tandy and that she could then be all that men want from a woman. After that, the little girl insisted on being called Tandy. The drunken man left Winesburg with nothing to show for his attempts to get sober.
All three of these stories focus on the difficulty of relations between men and women. Men and women simply cannot communicate with one another. Wash adored his wife, but they had secrets and the relationship clearly was not based on open communication. His mother-in-law misunderstood and thought that the relationship was simply sexual, and so she disgusted him. A relationship that he hoped would be a sustaining and fulfilling one turned out to be just a base, physical relationship, and so he is disgusted by all relationships. So, too, does Seth Richmond have communication problems. Everyone assumes that he is deep because of his silence, but "no great underlying purpose lay back of his habitual silence, and he had no definite plan for his life" (127). He is simply blustering, and so the moment of connection with Helen White is empty of honest communication. His mother's fear of him is also based on her misunderstanding his silence.
Tandy's story should be a moving one, because a stranger has given her a strong identity. Actually, his strong desire for women to fulfill his needs has led him to place his own desires upon her, whether she is really that person or not. Tandy, he explains, is a quality: "something men need from women and that they do not get" (141). Of course, she is just a little child, and he is projecting his needs upon her. This creates a great deal of stress for the child, who now feels she needs to live up to being Tandy.
These stories also reflect the city/small town divide. Wash had lived in the city with his young wife, and that is where everything went wrong. He has been sent to this small town because he is not fit to be a big city telegraph operator. Seth claims he is going to leave the town and go to the city. George Willard, he thinks "belongs to this town" but he himself does not because he is too silent (131). The town is provincial, where people know each other, George gathers up their stories, and people chat with each other. The town also has limited opportunity, which is why Seth claims to be leaving and why Wash was sent there. Young men who want to get ahead, like Ned Currie, go to the city, but then they lose their connection with people that they have in the town. Perhaps this is why Seth is so ambivalent about going away from the town. What he really wants is to be someone in the small town who is important enough to be leaving for the city.
Winesburg, Ohio: Novel Summary: Respectability, The Thinker & Tandy