Elizabeth Willard owns the Winesburg hotel, which she inherited from her parents. Her husband, Tom, runs the shabby, unnprofitable hotel and behaves as though he is a very important man. He has a dream that one day he will become a Congressman or even governor. Elizabeth, on the other hand, has faded away and does not like to be seen by people. She feels defeated by life. However, she believes she has a special relationship with her son George, who sometimes comes to sit in her room with her when she is sick. But, they are just awkward with each other. One time, she hears her husband admonishing her son to be bold, and she wants desperately to communicate with George that he should not be too slick but should instead harbor dreams. Unfortunately, she is unable to communicate this to George.
Elizabeth has big dreams that her son, George, will live the dreams she did not live. She wants him to be able to grope and find a way of expressing himself truly, rather than living a life of surface and convention. However, she is unable to express this to George because their awkwardness intervenes. Instead, she lives caged in her own unfulfilled dreams.