An old writer has a bed that his carpenter raised up so the writer can see out the window. Unfortunately, it is now difficult for him to get in and out of the bed. From this bed, he dreams “a dream that was not a dream” (5) in which all the people has had ever known pass before his eyes. These figures are grotesques. From this parade of figures, he creates the stories in this book.
It is important to note the definition of “grotesques” that he provides in this early section. Men create “truths” about the world: “There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carelessness and abandon.” These truths are beautiful in themselves, but when a person takes them for himself, they become limited and limiting. A truth is beautiful because there are other truths that are its opposite, but when it is instead a rigid principle to which a person adheres, it can deform the person who keeps trying to fit into it. “It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood” (6). Winesburg, Ohio, is about people who have treated truths as guiding principles of life instead of beautiful, fluid possibilities and are hence deformed by their truths.