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Edgar Lee Masters' "George Trimble"

Edgar Lee Masters' classic work, "Spoon River Anthology," offers a fascinating character study of the American mind in the mid-20th-century.

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq.

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq.

Introduction and Text of "George Trimble"

Edgar Lee Masters’ “George Trimble” from the American classic, Spoon River Anthology, features a failed politician, who blames his wife for goading him into throwing his hat into the ring. Lying unnoticed, therefore unmourned, in his Spoon River grave, George Trimble considers himself a victim of his wife's nagging. George joins the long sad parade of characters who use their epitaphs to complain about victimhood.

George Trimble

Do you remember when I stood on the steps
Of the Court House and talked free-silver,
And the single-tax of Henry George?
Then do you remember that, when the Peerless Leader
Lost the first battle, I began to talk prohibition,
And became active in the church?
That was due to my wife,
Who pictured to me my destruction
If I did not prove my morality to the people.
Well, she ruined me:
For the radicals grew suspicious of me,
And the conservatives were never sure of me—
And here I lie, unwept of all.

Reading of "George Trimble"

Commentary

As many of the Spoon River speakers in their epitaphs blame others for their bedraggled lot in life, this one, "George Trimble," features a speaker who blame his wife for his undoing.

First Movement: Remembering His Speech

Do you remember when I stood on the steps
Of the Court House and talked free-silver,
And the single-tax of Henry George?

George Trimble begins his lamentation from the grave by posing a question to his Spoon River fellow citizens: he asks them if they remember a speech that he gave standing on the courthouse steps; in that speech, he "talked free-silver, / And the single-tax of Henry George."

The references to "free silver" and "Henry George" demonstrate Trimble’s political positions: those who favored the Free Silver policies wanted to replace the gold standard with silver. And Henry George, who gained a reputation as an economist, believed that only land owners should be taxed. Trimble does not imply a strong belief in any political position; thus, his lament becomes even more pathetic.

Second Movement: Losing the Election

Then do you remember that, when the Peerless Leader
Lost the first battle, I began to talk prohibition,
And became active in the church?

Without much political savvy or ideological conviction, Trimble, of course, loses the election. He ironically refers to himself as "the Peerless Leader" who "lost the first battle."

After this loss, Trimble says he took up discussion of "prohibition," and he joined the church, becoming an active member. The disparity between his actions and his paltry discourse shows a deeply conflicted psyche.

Third Movement: Weakness of Character

That was due to my wife,
Who pictured to me my destruction
If I did not prove my morality to the people.

George Trimble now concedes that he has done those things because of his wife. She played on his sense of guilt by telling him he would court "destruction," if he did not prove to people that he possessed "morality."

George is revealing his weakness of character because he let his wife goad him into trying to be that which he was not. Sadly, the reader never learns what, if anything, George actually did accomplish. Many of the other grave-yard residents possess that same flaw; their opinion of themselves remains much higher than any of their neighbors could muster in their favor.

Fourth Movement: A Shrewish Wife

Well, she ruined me:
For the radicals grew suspicious of me,
And the conservatives were never sure of me—
And here I lie, unwept of all.

Finally, George levels his severe charge against his shrewish wife, declaring vehemently, "Well, she ruined me." He never gains any political backing, because "the radicals" became "suspicious of [him]," and "the conservatives were never sure of me." Now, George Trimble lies in his grave, and no one cares. By Spoon River standards, he has gotten off lightly.

At least, he does not seem to have suffered the severe trauma of living as the target of hatred, as some of the other residents have lamented. Still, George blames his wife that he has died an unremarkable death. Blaming others is often the modus operandi of the Spoon River grave speakers.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on April 06, 2017:

Yes, Spoon River Anthology is definitely an American classic that deserves much more attention. Masters' contribution to the American literary canon remains a significant one; his fine craftsmanship renders that unique work well worth a close reading.

Thank you for your response, Jamie. Have a blessed day! --lsg

Jamie Lee Hamann from Reno NV on April 06, 2017:

Thank you for bringing "Spoon River Anthology" to life. Edgar Lee Masters is really overlooked. Jamie

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