Winesburg, Ohio

Winesburg, Ohio

by

Sherwood Anderson

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George Willard Character Analysis

The protagonist of Winesburg, Ohio. George Willard’s coming-of-age from an adolescent boy to a man serves as the central plot arc, and his interactions with the novel’s myriad characters link the interconnected stories together. The son of Tom and Elizabeth Willard, George is a reporter for the local Winesburg Eagle newspaper. This role, combined with the tendency of older townsmen to seek him out as an endeared confidante, gives him a rich knowledge of the town and its people. A sense of uncertainty and confusion plagues George throughout much of the novel as he matures and navigates a variety of personal and interpersonal challenges. He has many friends and casual acquaintances in Winesburg, as several of the town’s older men (such Wing Biddlebaum, Doctor Parcival, and Wash Williams) attempt to mentor George and impart their beliefs about life and love onto him. Younger peers like Seth Richmond and Elmer Cowley are envious of George’s sense of purpose and the status he holds in the Winesburg community. George also has a number of romantic relationships throughout his adolescence that range from shallow and purely sexual (as with Louise Trunnion and Belle Carpenter), to confusing (as with Kate Swift), to deep and meaningful (as with Helen White). Throughout the narrative, George struggles with whether or not to branch out and leave Winesburg to start a new life. He has an especially complicated relationship with his mother Elizabeth, a depressed, sickly woman who is extremely possessive of him. Elizabeth dies just as George turns eighteen and this trauma solidifies George’s decision to embark on “the adventure of life” in a new city. The novel ends on a note of optimistic possibility for George’s future as he finds closure, matures into a grown man, and leaves his past in Winesburg behind.

George Willard Quotes in Winesburg, Ohio

The Winesburg, Ohio quotes below are all either spoken by George Willard or refer to George Willard. 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:
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Signet edition of Winesburg, Ohio published in 1993.
2. Hands Quotes

“You must try to forget all you have learned,” said the old man. “You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices.”

Related Characters: Wing Biddlebaum / Adolph Meyers (speaker), George Willard
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
4. Mother Quotes

The hotel was continually losing patronage because of its shabbiness and she thought of herself as also shabby. Her own room was in an obscure corner and when she felt able to work she voluntarily worked among the beds, preferring the labor that could be done when the guests were abroad seeking trade among the merchants of Winesburg.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), George Willard, Elizabeth Willard, Tom Willard
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

George Willard had a habit of talking aloud to himself and to hear him doing so had always given his mother a peculiar pleasure. The habit in him, she felt, strengthened the secret bond that existed between them. A thousand times she had whispered to herself of the matter. “He is groping about, trying to find himself,” she thought. “He is not a dull clod, all words and smartness. Within him there is a secret something that is striving to grow. It is the thing I let be killed in myself.”

Related Characters: Elizabeth Willard (speaker), The Narrator (speaker), George Willard
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
5. The Philosopher Quotes

“If something happens perhaps you will be able to write the book that I may never get written. The idea is very simple, so simple that if you are not careful you will forget it. It is this—that everyone in the world is Christ and they are all crucified. That’s what I want to say. Don’t you forget that. Whatever happens, don’t you dare let yourself forget.”

Related Characters: Doctor Parcival (speaker), George Willard
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
11. A Man of Ideas Quotes

“Let’s take decay. Now what is decay? It’s fire. It burns up wood and other things…This sidewalk here and this feed store, the trees down the street there—they’re all on fire. They’re burning up. Decay you see is always going on…The world is on fire. Start your pieces in the paper that way. Just say in big letters ‘The World is On Fire.’ That will make ‘em look up.”

Related Characters: Joe Welling (speaker), George Willard, Doctor Parcival, Wash Williams
Page Number: 90-91
Explanation and Analysis:
17. The Teacher Quotes

“If you are to become a writer you’ll have to stop fooling with words,” she explained. “It would be better to give up the notion of writing until you are better prepared. Now it’s time to be living. I don’t want to frighten you, but I would like to make you understand the import of what you think of attempting. You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say.”

Related Characters: Kate Swift (speaker), George Willard
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:
18. Loneliness Quotes

His room began to be inhabited by the spirits of men and women among whom he went, in turn saying words. It was as though everyone Enoch Robinson had ever seen had left with him some essence of himself, something he could mould and change to suit his own fancy, something that understood all about such things as the wounded woman behind the elders in the pictures.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), George Willard, Enoch Robinson
Page Number: 157-158
Explanation and Analysis:
19. An Awakening Quotes

“There is a law for armies and for men too,” he muttered, lost in reflection. “The law begins with little things and spreads out until it covers everything. In every little thing there must be order…I must myself be orderly. I must learn that law. I must get myself into touch with something orderly and big that swings through the night like a star. In my little way I must begin to learn something, to give and swing and work with life, with the law.”

Related Characters: George Willard (speaker), Kate Swift
Page Number: 170-171
Explanation and Analysis:
24. Sophistication Quotes

The eighteen years he has lived seem but a moment, a breathing space in the long march of humanity. Already he hears death calling. With all his heart he wants to come close to some other human, touch someone with his hands, be touched by the hand of another. If he prefers that the other be a woman, that is because he believes a woman will be gentle, that she will understand. He wants, most of all, understanding.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), George Willard, Elizabeth Willard, Helen White
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

There is something memorable in the experience to be had by going to a fair ground that stands at the edge of a Middle Western town on a night after the annual fair has been held. The sensation is one never to be forgotten. On all side are ghosts, not of the dead, but of living people…One shudders at the thought of the meaninglessness of life while at the same instant, and if the people of the town are his people, one loves life so intensely that tears come into the eyes.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), George Willard
Page Number: 229-230
Explanation and Analysis:

He began to think of the people in the town where he had always lived with something like reverence. He had reverence for Helen. He wanted to love and be loved by her, but he did not want at the moment to be confused by her womanhood…In that high place in the darkness the two oddly sensitive human atoms held each other tightly and waited. In the mind of each was the same though. “I have come to this lonely place and here is the other,” was the substance of the thing felt.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), George Willard, Helen White
Page Number: 230-231
Explanation and Analysis:
25. Departure Quotes

The young man’s mind was carried away by his growing passion for dreams. One looking at him would not have thought him particularly sharp. With the recollection of little things occupying his mind he closed his eyes and leaned back in the car seat. He stayed that way for a long time and when he aroused himself and again looked out of the car window the town of Winesburg had disappeared and his life there had become but a background on which to paint the dreams of his manhood.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), George Willard, Helen White
Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:
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George Willard Character Timeline in Winesburg, Ohio

The timeline below shows where the character George Willard appears in Winesburg, Ohio. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
2. Hands
Alienation Theme Icon
...he fits in with the other townspeople who live in Winesburg. His only friend is George Willard, a young man who works as a reporter for the local newspaper, the Winesburg... (full context)
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...work and go about their day. Wing finds it easier to hold a conversation with George while beating his fists on the nearest surface. (full context)
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...The narrator notes that Wing’s hands made him grotesque yet somewhat endearing to the townspeople. George is curious about the hands, sensing that there must be a hidden reason for their... (full context)
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Faith, Fate, and Meaning Theme Icon
George had almost reached the point of asking Wing about his hands once before. The two... (full context)
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Grief Theme Icon
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...of bread spread with honey. He is lonely and still longs for the presence of George, who is “the medium through which he expressed his love of man.” After his meal,... (full context)
4. Mother
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Tom Willard, George Willard’s father, is the proprietor of the New Willard House hotel that had originally belonged... (full context)
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Elizabeth believes that she and her son George share a deep bond, and she wants to see her lost dreams re-created through him.... (full context)
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Elizabeth, who has been ill for several days, is worried that George hasn’t visited her. She sneaks out of her room, afraid that the hotel guests will... (full context)
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On the way back to her bedroom, Elizabeth realizes that George had not been speaking to himself, but to Tom. She overhears a conversation in which... (full context)
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...is interrupted when she suddenly loses the strength from her body, collapsing on the floor. George then enters Elizabeth’s bedroom to tell her that he will be leaving home within a... (full context)
5. The Philosopher
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Alienation Theme Icon
Doctor Parcival, an unkempt man with an off-putting appearance, takes a liking to George Willard. When George’s boss Will Henderson goes out to the saloon in the afternoons, Parcival... (full context)
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...into a drunken fight, and now lives in a filthy office above a local diner. George sometimes thinks that Parcival’s wild stories must be fabricated, but that they also contain “the... (full context)
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...to the scene, Parcival refuses to leave his office. No one notices his absence, but George finds the doctor shaking and terrified that the “useless cruelty of his refusal” will cause... (full context)
6. Nobody Knows
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One night, after a day of work at the Winesburg Eagle, George Willard hurries nervously out of the office. He has been deliberating all day about whether... (full context)
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George arrives at the house of Louise Trunnion and calls out to her. He had received... (full context)
11. A Man of Ideas
Alienation Theme Icon
Grief Theme Icon
...Joe believes his true destiny is to be a reporter and he is jealous of George Willard because he works for the Winesburg Eagle. He points out the physical decay around... (full context)
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...meets with Sarah King’s brother Tom and her father Edward at the New Willard House. George is terrified of the Kings, but Joe manages to win the men over by sweeping... (full context)
13. Respectability
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One evening, Wash spots George Willard out walking with Belle Carpenter. After seeing the two teenagers kissing, he decides to... (full context)
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Wash continues on with his tale, telling George about his early days of marriage in Columbus, Ohio when he and his wife were... (full context)
14. The Thinker
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Faith, Fate, and Meaning Theme Icon
...feels that he has no underlying purpose or plan. He is envious of his friend George Willard, whose job at the Winesburg Eagle gives him a path in life and “a... (full context)
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
One day, George tells Seth that he is writing a book and has resolved to fall in love... (full context)
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Alienation Theme Icon
Walking around Winesburg, Seth feels envious of George’s rapport with the same townspeople from whom he feels alienated. He goes to Helen’s house... (full context)
16. The Strength of God
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
Faith, Fate, and Meaning Theme Icon
...Hartman deliriously runs out of the church and into the Winesburg Eagle office to tell George Willard that Kate Swift is an instrument of God and that he has been delivered... (full context)
17. The Teacher
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
...same bitterly cold day leading up to Reverend Hartman’s revelation in “The Strength of God,” George Willard is glad that the weekly newspaper has already been printed because it gives him... (full context)
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Back home at the New Willard House, George lights another fire and begins to have “lustful thoughts.” He embraces his pillow, pretending it... (full context)
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Kate has become fixated on George Willard, attracted to the childhood whimsy and burgeoning manhood that he dually embodies. She attempts... (full context)
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Faith, Fate, and Meaning Theme Icon
...Kate, she goes to the Winesburg Eagle office and has a deep, hour-long conversation with George in hopes that she can “open the door of life” to him. She notices how... (full context)
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This moment of frustration is when Reverend Hartman bursts in on George, overlapping with the same moment from the minister’s point of view in “The Strength of... (full context)
18. Loneliness
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Grief Theme Icon
...of Winesburg from New York City after fifteen years, decides to tell his story to George Willard. George is apprehensive due to Enoch’s unstable reputation, but Enoch can sense George’s introspective... (full context)
19. An Awakening
Coming of Age, Independence, and Manhood Theme Icon
...loses control of his daughter as she grows up. Belle occasionally goes out walking with George Willard but is secretly in love with Ed Hanby, a local bartender. She continues to... (full context)
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...nature had prevented him from properly expressing his strong feelings for her. Ed believes that George is the sole obstacle standing in the way of his courtship of Belle. (full context)
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The story pivots to George, who one night goes out with Seth Richmond and Art Wilson to the town pool... (full context)
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Faith, Fate, and Meaning Theme Icon
George leaves his friends in the pool hall and walks around town under the night sky,... (full context)
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Still reeling with deep emotions, George goes to Belle Carpenter’s house and she agrees to go on a walk with him... (full context)
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Suddenly, Ed Hanby appears and attacks George, believing that he is trying to steal Belle away. George tries to fight back but... (full context)
20. Queer
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...as “selling everything and nothing.” As a newcomer in town, Elmer is intensely resentful of George Willard and imagines that the young reporter can hear everything being said in his family’s... (full context)
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...the country along the railroad tracks. He passionately declares that he will prove himself to George Willard. Elmer has no reason to hate George but views the young man as representative... (full context)
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...not worry about what other people thought of him. Again, he pins his angst on George Willard and vows that he will stand up to him. (full context)
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Back in Winesburg, Elmer marches into the Eagle office and demands that George follow him outside. The two boys walk through Winesburg and George (unaware of Elmer’s secret... (full context)
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...hanging over him. Inspired with newfound hope and confidence, Elmer decides that he will challenge George (and, by proxy, all of Winesburg) before he leaves.  (full context)
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Elmer goes to the New Willard House hotel and demands that the night clerk wake George and send him downstairs. Again, Elmer is too flustered to speak his mind and instead... (full context)
22. Drink
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George Willard finds Tom Foster wandering drunkenly around town and takes him into the Winesburg Eagle... (full context)
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Tom Foster again tells George that he had sex with Helen, and George becomes angry. Tom puts his hand on... (full context)
23. Death
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The narrative shifts backward to a few years prior when George Willard is around thirteen years old. Doctor Reefy has an office above the Paris Dry... (full context)
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Before Elizabeth married George’s father Tom Willard, she was a free spirit who had many adventures and “half a... (full context)
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...few months later, Elizabeth succumbs to her ongoing illness and dies before she can tell George about the $800 she has kept hidden from Tom behind the drywall in her bedroom.... (full context)
24. Sophistication
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Alienation Theme Icon
Grief Theme Icon
Faith, Fate, and Meaning Theme Icon
George Willard avoids the festivities of the Winesburg County Fair, hiding in a stairway away from... (full context)
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Feeling a distinct shift toward manhood in himself, George longs to see Helen White, who has come from college in Cleveland to spend the... (full context)
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On the night of the county fair, Helen and George both remember a summer evening when they had walked together through the countryside and discussed... (full context)
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...girl of Helen’s breeding.” Frustrated, Helen runs out into the street and calls out to George, who has coincidentally arrived at her house. Unsure of what to do or say, George... (full context)
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George and Helen climb up a hill to reach the Winesburg Fair Ground. George feels that... (full context)
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George and Helen both experience a profound sense of mutual understanding and share a brief kiss.... (full context)
25. Departure
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George Willard wakes up at four in the morning and prepares to leave Winesburg. He reflects... (full context)
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When the train pulls into the station at seven forty-five, George hurries aboard before Helen White can have a parting word with him. He counts the... (full context)