An American Childhood

Awakening Symbol Icon

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

The An American Childhood quotes below all refer to the symbol of Awakening. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Interior Life  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper & Row edition of An American Childhood published in 1989.
Epilogue Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Annie Dillard (Annie Doak) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Awakening
Page Number: 248-249
Explanation and Analysis:

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Awakening Symbol Timeline in An American Childhood

The timeline below shows where the symbol Awakening appears in An American Childhood. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
The Interior Life  Theme Icon
Curiosity and Attention  Theme Icon
At ten years old, Dillard relates, children “ wake up ” in medias res to discover that they already know the neighborhood, they can read,... (full context)
Part One
The Interior Life  Theme Icon
Curiosity and Attention  Theme Icon
...living while gazing outside the window and sinking into daydreams. The icebox motor jerked her awake and it (or the dripping faucet or other things children notice) told her she was... (full context)
The Interior Life  Theme Icon
Curiosity and Attention  Theme Icon
...the cold neighborhood, looking at the deep blue shadows, until the streetlights came on and woke her up : now it was winter. (full context)
The Interior Life  Theme Icon
Place and Environment  Theme Icon
...Molly was born there two years later, and it was there that Annie began to wake up truly, beginning a life of reading and drawing. During the summer they’d spent at the... (full context)
The Interior Life  Theme Icon
Curiosity and Attention  Theme Icon
...remain in the double digits till she died. She thought to herself that she was awake now forever: she felt time and her consciousness joining together. (full context)
Part Two
The Interior Life  Theme Icon
Dillard describes how a person’s interior life expands and thickens: she wakes up one day to discover her grandmother, then to discover boys. First there were the “polite... (full context)
The Interior Life  Theme Icon
Curiosity and Attention  Theme Icon
...hurling you around, as you’re aware that life is only for a short while and awake to life. (full context)
Part Three
The Interior Life  Theme Icon
Family, Authority, and Institutions Theme Icon
Annie awakened again into a new stage of life, the speed and excitement of high-school life. She... (full context)
Epilogue
The Interior Life  Theme Icon
Curiosity and Attention  Theme Icon
...on her personal trajectory. Instead she says that what’s important is for any person to awaken and discover a place, to find the globe already spinning before his or her eyes.... (full context)