Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio is a collection of short stories set in the obscure, hick town of Winesburg, Ohio. Every story contains within it a character with an obsession that labels the character grotesque. This grotesqueness is exhibited through odd behavior, such as self isolation, lack of communication, and becoming defined by one event in life, and is expressed in the novel's many themes and motifs. Moreover, these themes and motifs offer insight into America's involvement in WWI and WWII. The common character among these stories is a 19-year-old reporter named George Willard who, for unknown reasons, connects with the grotesques of the community and listens to their tales. After involving himself with many strange characters, George Willard realizes the town's peculiar nature and goes west in hopes of beginning a "normal" life. The themes of isolation, failure to communicate, and being defined by one event in life pervade many of the novel's stories. .
The two stories following "The Book of the Grotesque," "Hands" and "Paper Pills," exemplify the themes of isolation and failure to communicate. The story of Wing Biddlebaum, an old Pennsylvanian schoolteacher, unfolds. Gaining his name from his hands that shake "like the beating of the wings of an imprisoned bird," Biddlebaum left Pennsylvania to avoid a lynching after being unjustly accused of molesting one of his students. Settling in Winesburg, Wing lives isolated in the outskirts of the community, breaking his solitude only to talk with his friend George Willard. .
Wing Biddlebaum's hands offer insight into his motives for isolation and inability to communicate. His overly active hands help and hinder his ability to communicate with others. Wing was described as communicating "by the caress that was in his fingers," however, in his past, his hands have been the source of his downfall. Consequently, Wing decided that he would rather be isolated than in trouble and was "forever striving to conceal [his hands] in his pockets or behind his back.