“The Triumph of the Egg” by Sherwood Anderson is a short story of a childhood recollection of a boy watching his father, his egg, and his failed ambition. It takes place in and around early Bidwell, Ohio, during pre-automobile America. The boy tells of his father, an otherwise simple, hardworking, farmhand, up until, at thirty-five, he met the boy’s mother, a responsible country schoolteacher, that changed him for possibly the worse.
He also introduces the son of a merchant, Joe Kane.The story starts out a little after the spring of the marriage of mother and father, when the narrator was born. The farmhand, at the advice of his wife, quits his job, sells his horse, and attempts to climb a shaky ladder. They rent a few acres of hard-boiled land a few miles from Bidwell and embark on a life of chicken raising. Living on the farm allowed the narrator to witness the circle of life of these chickens; starting out as eggs, a few weeks as a fluffy chick, sometimes a rooster, or then an ugly hen having to lay those eggs, where the cycle is complete and begins again.A few eggs did not quite make it out to complete the cycle, however, and hatched into these poor little deformed eyesores with multiple body parts, in which the father kept in jars of alcohol because, “people like to look at strange and wonderful things. ” After the failed attempt at chicken raising, the small family, and small family of oddities, sold it all, picked up, and traveled eight miles by foot and wagon to their second failed attempt at a business: a restaurant opposite a railroad station.
When Joe Kane came into the empty restaurant one night while waiting for a late train to arrive, the father, again trying to fulfill his ambitious desires, took a crack at entertaining Kane with an egg. He tried to get the egg to stand up, tried to get the egg into a bottle, softening it with vinegar, both to no avail. A few frustrated failed attempts later, Kane left the establishment with a laugh, leaving the father with both a broken egg and spirit. The man goes up to see his family and tell them the story in tears, while the narrator cries with his father.
Anderson does not outright say the time period, but one would assume because they did not pack up their U-haul and drive quickly the eight miles to their new location that it was very early America. The narrator was most likely no younger than seven, but no more than ten years of age. He was able to walk along side the wagon with his mother, and absorbed everything he saw the walk, while his father drove; the fact that he reacted to his fathers tears with his own shows that he was still young and innocent, only crying with the adult instead of consoling him.
Most people during, before, and after this time, have this idea of “the American dream” where one can be, and do, anything they put their minds to, if they are only ambitious enough to set out to do it. One can earn a lot of money and be a, as the narrator describes, “a man of the towns. ” With all of that said and done, there is no point in being successful, trying to make so much money, in taking advantage of opportunities that are there just because they are there if it means you are not happy.The purpose of the story was to show that ambition, although for the most part is a good thing, does not necessarily mean a definite solid, positive, outcome. For example, the father tried his best, but the egg still cracked and in the end and he was not happy. The narrator seems very compassionate towards his father; his father was slightly unusual in keeping the disfigured chickens in the jars of alcohol, but the narrator was not embarrassed by this at all.
This leads to the central theme of the story, in addition to the American dream, there is the circle of life.The narrator tells of the sad lives, or lack thereof, that he witnesses the eggs hatch into; he says, “I wondered why eggs had to be, and why the egg came the hen who again laid the egg. ” It is an unfortunate, unfair and viscous cycle; a few growing into roosters, a few into hens that lay these eggs, or they can become abnormalities on display.
Overall, Anderson seems to have written a very realistic, pessimistic, view of life; ironically, from the perspective of a younger person, where the outlook should be a bit more auspicious and bright.