Over the course of the memoir, Dillard uses “waking up” as a metaphor for the workings of her inner consciousness as she comes to recognize the world outside her and her own place within it. Awakening is something that doesn’t happen all at once, but rather in steps, making it an apt metaphor for growing up. At the same time, Dillard describes her childhood as a series of awakenings, as waking up multiple times and in different ways. She wakes up from one season to the next, for instance, after having paid little attention to the outside world for a time, and she awakens from middle school into high school. She also wakes up as she begins to embrace reading and writing and learns to see and think in new ways. For Dillard, one of the most important goals in life is to be truly awake: that is, to be alert and attentive to the surrounding world, rather than obsessed with one’s own life or with the petty goings-on of society. To grow up is to wake up, then, but awakening is also something to strive for even as an adult.
Awakening Quotes in An American Childhood
For it is not you or I that is important, neither what sort we might be nor how we came to be each where we are. What is important is anyone’s coming awake and discovering a place, finding in full orbit a spinning globe one can lean over, catch, and jump on. What is important is the moment of opening a life and feeling it touch—with an electric hiss and cry—this speckled mineral sphere, our present world.