Winesburg, Ohio: Novel Summary: The Strength of God & The Teacher

The Strength of God
Reverend Curtis Hartman, the minister of Winesburgs Presbyterian Church, regularly prays to be more fervent and more religious. One night, he looks out the window of his study in the bell tower of the church and sees in a room in a neighboring house the bare shoulders of a woman reading a book and smoking. He has had limited experience with women, and he is both shocked and attracted. He then enters into a many month period of struggle with his own desire to watch this woman, whose name is Kate Swift, read and smoke. Sometimes, he resists; sometimes, he cannot help peeking. Finally, he gives in to temptation and sits by the window, waiting for her to arrive. He breaks the glass of his window so he can see her and sits by the window in a storm. When she finally does arrive, she is weeping and then prays naked. Hartman stumbles out of the church and into the street. He feels he has been delivered from his temptation and that Kate Swift is an agent of God. He informs George Willard that he has been delivered by the body of a woman.
The Teacher
Much of this story takes place on the same night that the Reverend Hartman sees Kate Swift naked and praying. Kate lives with her mother, Aunt Elizabeth, in Winesburg. She has traveled and lived in cities, but then she returned to be the schoolteacher. She seems stern and forbidding, except when her passion for life overtakes her and she becomes a vibrant teacher. She is actually quite passionate. George Willard was her student, and she thought she recognized something of a genius in him. She has spoken with him several times in hopes of communicating to him all her dreams for him to become a true writer. On this stormy night, her passion for imparting this knowledge gets confused with sexual passion, and they embrace. She runs out, frustrated that he will not understand her. Shortly thereafter, Reverend Hartman, not knowing what has transpired between Kate and George that evening, comes into Georges office and tells him that Kate Swift is an instrument of God.
Kate Swift is incredibly passionate. But, there is little outlet for a fervent, intelligent woman in a small town in the early twentieth century. She cannot become the writers about whom she teaches, so she tries to impart her passion for life, beauty, and truth to George Willard. But, like all communication in this text, it gets garbled by the human facts of loneliness and desire. She is so overtaken by her desire to be a part of art that she is a grotesque — caught in her loneliness.
The men in these two stories misunderstand her. They, too, want something. The minister wants God to be within him, and George is a young man with sexual passions. They place their desires on her and use her for them, turning her into a receptacle for their own needs. This is much like the drunken man who makes Tandy a receptacle for his own desires.