What is the awakening of George Willard in "An Awakening" in Sherwood Anderson's collection entitled, Winesburg, Ohio?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the story entitled, "An Awakening," by Sherwood Anderson in his collection, Winesburg, Ohio, George Willard awakens to his potential in life. He becomes caught up in a sense of who he can be, simply by believing in himself. He speaks words that transform him and the world around him. He is so strongly convinced of his power, that he calls at Belle Carpenter's house, who is actually in love with someone else. She goes out with George, and George believes that his "awakened self" should be able to change Belle as well, even though he seems to feel that she has not be very nice to him in the past.

In the past when he had been with her and had kissed her lips he had come away filled with anger at himself. He had felt like one being used for some obscure purpose and had not enjoyed the feeling.

However, even though an awakening has come to George, it is still in its "infancy." I do not believe that George embraces strongly enough the things that come into his mind about being different and perceiving the world in a new way. He is not convinced enough to alter his world or his sense of who he is.

In fact, George only begins saying "the words" because "[i]n a spirit of play…", he is pretending: first to be a drunken man, then a soldier, and next an inspector of soldiers. The persona he adopts is foreign to him. The exercise makes him think about what he is saying: he really should get his life in order.

The narrator then points out at the beginning of this exercise of "enlightenment," that George is:

Hypnotized by his own words...

This gives the reader the sense that this change may be temporary. George starts to think about things that have never occurred to him before, seeing the world through a wider, and new "lens." Soon he has convinced himself that he is better for knowing that he can be more, and should expect more of himself. He acts as if he is committed to his new course when he is alone, in the back alley of a poor neighborhood. Many of George's thoughts appear to be valuable, with the potential of being life-changing for him. However, when he is confronted by the realities of the world in which he lives, he cannot hold fast to his new sense of self. Because this has been more an awakening of what he could be, rather than a determination of what he will be, he folds in on himself when threatened by Ed Handby, the bartender who wants Belle. (Sadly, it seems she wants him, too, and has only used George to make Ed jealous.) Three is the "magic" number here. George tries three times to stand up to Ed, only to be thrown each time into the bushes. That quickly, even in the face of this new belief in himself, he loses sight of who he might be.

Ed and Belle leave, and instead of seeing this as the first battle of his newfound self, he is humiliated. He returns to the place where he had learned to look at the world with new eyes, but his sense of failure has robbed him of purpose and shown the reader that he was truly not committed to changed. The world is ordinary again, as is George's perception of himself.

When his way homeward led him again into the street of frame houses he could not bear the sight and began to run, wanting to get quickly out of the neighborhood that now seemed to him utterly squalid and commonplace.

George is unwilling to stay "true to his dreams."

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