Winesburg, Ohio | Study Guide

Sherwood Anderson

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Winesburg, Ohio | An Awakening | Summary



In Winesburg Belle Carpenter is a tall and strong young woman whose own father, a bully, is afraid of her. Belle has endured his petty fits of anger all throughout her childhood, but once she gives him a dose of his own medicine, he leaves her alone. Belle works in the millinery shop, and likes going out to walk with George Willard. She likes him well enough, but believes him entirely manageable, and therefore not much of a challenge. She secretly loves Ed Handby, a bartender. She is uncertain Ed could be kept "within bounds," and this thrills her. Ed has quite a reputation as a wild young man who got into fights, squandered his inheritance, threw wild parties, and enjoyed "the terror in the eyes of clerks who had come from Sandusky to spend the evening at the resort with their sweethearts." However, at age 30, Ed figures it's time to settle down and get married, so he sets his sights on Belle. Ed expresses himself with his body, but he does tell Belle, "It's you and me for it and I'm going to have you before I get through."

At the same time, George is trying out the new skin of manhood, telling himself he "must begin to learn something, to give and swing and work with life, with the law." He thinks things over, and finally convinces Belle to take a walk with him. They have kissed, but it didn't feel right, because as George remembers, he had felt like "one being used for some obscure purpose." As it turns out, his impression is correct. Belle is using him to stir up jealousy and possessiveness in Ed. Just when the two of them embrace and kiss, Ed shows up and takes charge of the situation. He easily knocks George down three times before leading Belle away. George runs away from the scene of his humiliation.


It is interesting George is experiencing not one, but two different related "awakenings." The first is large thoughts have begun to crowd his mind, and although mystified as to where they come from, George makes an attempt to place them into some sort of order. The implication Anderson gives here is that the responsibility George will have toward these large ideas and the words with which they must be expressed is similar to the responsibility of ordering troops in battle. They cannot, as they do for the verbose Joe in "A Man of Ideas," simply tumble about in a flood of words to which no meaning or result can be made of them.

The second kind of awakening for George is appearances—especially when it comes to women—are deceiving. George feels there is something off about the way Belle treats him, but if he had any doubts, certainly Ed Handby's willingness to repeatedly knock him down clears up George's opinion on the matter. In his own autobiographical sketches, Anderson comments on his own inability to understand women because he says he didn't have any sisters. The reader is left to speculate on how things might go with Ed if he does manage to marry a girl who knows how to defend herself from bullying. After all, Belle has had plenty of practice with her father, and she certainly won't let any man get the better of her.

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