Discuss the maturation of George Willard in "An Awakening," in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio.
In the story entitled, "An Awakening," by Sherwood Anderson in his collection, Winesburg, Ohio, George Willard's maturation is short-lived. He is initially carried away with this "awakening" of his potential. In seeing it in his mind, in hearing his voice say the words, he believes that an entirely new world has been opened to him.
However, as he begins to see these things, we get the sense that he is child-like in his approach to this revelation, indeed to life, and it doesn't seem as if this man has what it takes to embrace his new-found confidence and hold fast to it—regardless of the obstacles he may face.
First, it might be important to note how Willard reacts to the words when he first hears himself utter them. The narrator points out that George is:
Hypnotized by his own words...
Hypnosis is an action practiced on a receptive second party. The one hypnotizing his subject is in control. The spell is broken by the one in control, and the state of being hypnotized is temporary. This makes me wonder about George's state-of-mind, and we might see this detail as foreshadowing, for he does not seem to be in control. Take Belle Carpenter as an example. She is a source of hopes unrealized. George admits that in the past he felt that Belle used him. Their time together has left him feeling dissatisfied.
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.
Even recognizing this, George feels empowered by this new "vocabulary" with which he defines himself. Armed with a belief that he has reinvented himself, George approaches Belle again, but he ignores the very real "gut feeling" he had before; he plans to pursue her because he thinks he has changed—Belle, however, has not. She is much more interested in making the bartender, Ed Handby, jealous than worrying about George's feelings.
Then, when the true test confronts him in the form of Hanby, all of George's resolve disappears. It does not happen at once. He is pushed down by Hanby three times, but only gets up twice. After the third time, Ed drags Belle away, and George is humiliated and devastated. This is the telling moment: can George's newfound self stand up to the trials and obstacles that life throws in an attempt to knock one down, or at the very least, see what one is truly made of? Perhaps George's "maturation" is too young. Perhaps he has not tried long enough to embrace it. Maybe he could have succeeded if he had started small—experimenting with a friend. However, having thrown himself into this change so completely, with dreams of a new place in the world, George's words and ideas, as dear as they are to him, cannot stand up against the harsh reality of the world.
George has learned to speak new words out loud, about himself—trying them on for size. It seems a good fit, but like a new pair of shoes, when he tries to implement his new ideas of self into the world, he wobbles and falls down. Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that it doesn't seem that George will rethink what happened and try again. This would be true maturity—but his self-confidence disappears, and he returns home, totally disenchanted.
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.