Winesburg, Ohio: Novel Summary: Death

Elizabeth Willard often visited Doctor Reefy in her middle age. Together, they would discuss their lives and people in town. They became friends and almost became lovers. She told him about her life and when she spoke, she seemed like a younger woman, not the old, worn out woman she had become. When she tried to communicate how she had longed for love, he embraced her. Just then, they were interrupted by footsteps and she ran out of Doctor Reefys office. Elizabeth explained to her friend that she had had several lovers before marrying Tom Willard, and she had married him because he was available when she was ready to be married. Her father tried to convince her not to marry Tom, but to take $800 he had saved and flee. When she decided to marry Tom anyway, he gave her the money and encouraged her never to tell Tom about it. Very quickly, her marriage was a disappointment. She hid the money behind her wall and left it there for many years. She died before she could tell her son George, who is eighteen years old, about the money. After his mothers death, George decided he would leave Winesburg and get a job on a city newspaper somewhere. As he sat in the room with his mothers corpse, he also imagined himself kissing Helen White, but then he felt ashamed of his thoughts and began to cry. He left the room sobbing and full of grief.
In this text, people are caged by their lives and their beliefs. Death and passion both represent a type of escape or release from the unhappiness of everyday life. Elizabeth held onto the money, hoping for “the release that after all came to her but twice in her life, in the moments when her lovers Death and Doctor Reefy held her in their arms” (236). The passions of sexual desire or of death are both promises of release from the strictures that keep people from connecting with one another. 
Caught up in the release that comes with passion of any kind, three men call Elizabeth “You dear! You lovely dear!” (231), but they cannot provide her with a permanent release because they do not fully understand her and only express this appreciation in moments of passion. Once the passion is over, the connection between the two people fades and the people are left with the cages of everyday life.