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George Willard, the most prominent and often recurring character in Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, matures in the midst of the various encounters he has with other characters throughout the course of the story. In some of the stories comprising Winesburg, Ohio, George's lessons on the way to maturity come through direct experience such as in "Nobody Knows" in which George learns the double meaning of the phrase "nobody knows": It can be used as a tool of persuasion to encourage behavior (either good or bad behavior, if you think about it) and it can also provide a cloak for or protection from secret (good or bad) behavior, which is what George discovered:
[George] stopped whistling and stood perfectly still in the darkness, attentive, listening as though for a voice calling his name. Then again he laughed nervously. "She hasn't got anything on me. Nobody knows," he muttered doggedly and went on his way.
One significant aspect on the way to George's maturity is his encounters with Helen White. In one encounter, recorded in "Sophistication," George and Helen both learn to recognize their own identity by sharing a moment of mutual recognition of each other. They realize an affinity of similarity between themselves that is expressed by the thought that "I have come to this lonely place and here is this other."
In other stories, characters or the narrator tell George their experiences in life from which George may--or may not--learn a maturing life lesson. Some of the lessons George learns rightly though some, as in "Nobody Knows," he may learn backwards or not at all--some are lessons he should not learn. An example of such a lesson in maturity that comes from another character is in the story of Doctor Parcival whose obsessive ideas prevent him from acting normally or rightly as in when he refuses to go to a child who was fatally thrown from a buggy in "The Philosopher." Parcival's terror at the anticipated reaction of the townspeople to his callousness leads him to utter what he obsessively thinks a great lesson for George:
everyone in the world is Christ and they are all crucified. That's what I want to say. Don't you forget that.
The final step in George's maturation comes after the death of his mother, which is recorded in "Death," when he finally fulfills his dream--and his mother's hope (though not an unconflicted hope)--of leaving Winesburg in “Departure.” The story ends when Winesburg fades from George's life as the train carrying to the remainder of his manhood pulls out of Winesburg and “his life there had become but a background on which to paint the dreams of his manhood.”
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