The play opens in the living room of the Bergmann house. Mrs. Bergmann is having Wendla try on her new dress, which is much longer than her last dress, because Wendla has just turned fourteen - in fact, today is Wendla's birthday. Wendla begs her mother to let her wear her old dress a little longer, at least through the summer, because this one is so very long.
Mrs. Bergmann is a little concerned that Wendla's old pinafore is too short, but is clearly glad that Wendla does not seem to want to grow up too quickly. She wonders aloud whether Wendla will grow as tall and lanky as the other girls already have, but Wendla comments that perhaps she will not be around long enough. This comment - quite understandably - upsets Mrs. Bergmann, and Wendla explains that she often has such thoughts before she goes to sleep at night. She wonders whether this is a sin, and Mrs. Bergmann, changes the subject by agreeing to let her wear her old dress. Wendla teases her mother by suggesting that when she has to wear long dresses, she will go without underclothes, because it will be so hot.
Melchior, Moritz, Otto, George, Robert and Ernst are playing outdoors on a Sunday evening. Melchior decides that he is bored and wants to go for a walk, even though it is growing dark. The other boys decide to stop playing as well, most declaring that they must get home and begin their homework. Moritz accompanies Melchior on his walk, where Melchior tries to initiate a philosophical discussion about the meaning of life. Moritz, however, is focused on complaining about school - he is clearly not a success in the classroom, and knows that several students will have to be flunked out before the next year begins. He insists that the only reason he stays at all is because of his father. They see a black cat and discuss whether it is a bad omen, which leads Melchior to scoff at superstition in general, although he shows off his knowledge of the classics with ostentatious language.
The boys sit down under a tree and continue their free-flowing discussion. Moritz suggests that shame is a product of upbringing. He says that when he has children he will have them all sleep in the same bed, boys and girls together, and wear the same kind of simple clothes. Melchior agrees, but is a little disturbed by what seems to be the natural result of this scheme - the girls will get pregnant. He argues that people are like animals: even if they are not told what to do, they will naturally experiment when they start to feel desire for one another. Melchior goes so far as to suggest that even the girls feel desire, though he seems slightly confused by how this idea will play out.
Moritz interrupts the discussion for a moment to ask Melchior whether he has completed a classroom exercise, but Melchior presses on. Moritz expands on his child-rearing theory, talking about the value of exercise, hard work, and hard beds. This leads Melchior to comment that, since it is spring, he is going to start sleeping in a hammock. Then they begin talking about dreams; Melchior says that the worst dream he ever had involved flogging his dog until it couldn't move its legs.
Moritz asks Melchior whether he has felt what they call "masculine stirrings," to which Melchior replies in the affirmative. Melchior obliquely asks Moritz whether he first felt them because of a dream, and Moritz tells him that he had a dream about "legs in sky-blue tights climbing over the lectern." For a few moments the boys discuss how another friend dreamt of his mother, then go into further detail about their fears surrounding these new feelings.
When he awoke from the dream, Moritz says, he did not understand what was happening to him - he thought he had a disease, and the only thing that calmed him down was beginning his memoirs. Melchior says that he was prepared to experience such things, but still felt a bit ashamed. Moritz is surprised that Melchior knows so much, as Melchior is almost a year younger than he, but Melchior explains that it happens to different boys at different ages. Moritz seems almost angry at the difficulties associated with becoming an adult, and once again he begins discussing the question of why they were born at all.
Melchior realizes that Moritz does not know "how" he got here, since he does not know about sex. Moritz admits that he is indeed ignorant in these matters, though he knows that he has "disgusting" feelings towards girls - he just does not know how that relates to the fact that he was born. Melchior offers to tell him all about it, and Moritz admits that he looked through the encyclopedia for an explanation but could not find anything. Melchior starts to explain reproduction to him, but Moritz interrupts, insisting that he cannot possibly think about such things when he has so much homework to do. Melchior suggests that Moritz come to his house: he will help Moritz with his work, after which he will explain the mechanics of reproduction. Moritz refuses, but asks Melchior to put the explanation in writing if he absolutely must. That way he'll come upon it "unexpectedly" and have no choice but to read it, thereby expunging his guilt. He suggests that Melchior include a few illustrations, and Melchior agrees, but wants to know whether Moritz has ever seen a naked girl. Moritz says that he has, so Melchior decides that illustrations will not be needed. Moritz refers to a school trip where he snuck off to a "different room" in an Anatomical Museum. At the end of this section, the boys part.
It is interesting to note that Wedekind chose to begin Spring Awakening with a scene about Wendla, rather than Melchior or Moritz. Many interpretations of the play focus primarily on its male characters - a poor choice considering Wedekind's signals that Wendla is equally important. This scene introduces one of the models of the parent-child relationships that will be prevalent throughout the play.
Mrs. Bergmann is torn between the practical necessity of recognizing that Wendla is growing up and her desire to keep Wendla young and innocent. She has made Wendla a longer dress because Wendla has grown so much since her last birthday that the dress she now wears is too short for her.
Mrs. Bergmann: The dress isn't too long, Wendla. What do you expect? I can't help it if my daughter is an inch taller every spring. A big girl like you can't go around in a little girl's dress.
Wendla objects to the garment so strenuously that Mrs. Bergmann eventually gives. It seems that she is heartened by the fact that her daughter doesn't want to grow up too quickly. However, it becomes apparent that this wish extends beyond the normal desire to keep her children close when Mrs. Bergmann refuses to offer Wendla the knowledge and information that should go along with her longer dress. In this scene, Wendla tells her mother that she thinks about the possibility of her own death, especially before she goes to sleep at night. Wendla's recognition of the inevitability of death is a clear indication of her impending adulthood, but rather than acknowledging and discussing Wendla's fears, Mrs. Bergmann prefers to keep her innocent - even if that means denying the reality of Wendla's maturity.
The scene at least partially predicts later events of the play when Wendla begins to tease her mother, telling her:
You can think yourself lucky if one fine morning your little precious doesn't cut her sleeves off or come home in the evening without shoes and stockings. -- When I wear my penitential robe I'll be dressed like the queen of the fairies underneath. . .
Wendla's developing sexuality is implicit in her speech, although Mrs. Bergmann is unwilling to recognize it. By keeping Wendla in her child-like dress, ignorant of her own development, Mrs. Bergmann leaves Wendla unguarded against the obstacles and difficulties she may soon have to face.
Scene ii is representative of Melchior and Moritz's conversations throughout the play, but it also sheds light on the overall structure of the play. The boys' conversations move rapidly from topic to topic, and it is rare that the boys are even talking about the same thing. In this way Spring Awakening does not thoroughly explore a few themes or ideas, but rather touches on many, suggesting two sides of an argument or complicating an assumption. One might say that Wedekind is encouraging readers and audience members to think about an idea, rather than telling them what they should think.
Two of the primary themes touched on in this scene are sexuality and education. Melchior and Moritz not only reveal elements of their developing sexuality and their reactions to these changes, but also explore the question of how they do learn versus how they should learn about these uncomfortable topics. Moritz gives voice to one notion when he admits that he "was sure [he] must be suffering from some internal complaint." He says that when he has children they'll "sleep in the same room from the start. If possible in the same bed. Boys and girls. I'll make them help each other dress and undress...Brought up like this, they'll be, well, less disturbed than we usually are." Moritz is suffering from a lack of knowledge, and so he believes that ideally children should be brought up being perfectly aware of and comfortable with each other. Moritz's ignorance is so complete that he went looking for answers in an encyclopedia, Meyer's Lexicon: he doesn't seem to understand that this information is generally hidden as much as possible.
Melchior, coming from the perspective of someone who is at least moderately more knowledgeable, is more aware of practical considerations. He points out that the problem with Moritz's child-rearing scheme is "when the girls have babies, what then?" He believes that "there's some kind of instinct at work." Melchior has gleaned his knowledge "partly from books, partly from pictures, partly from observing nature."
Wedekind does not suggest that one boy has been brought up in a better way than the other, or that one boy is dealing with adolescence better than his friend. Melchior and Moritz's conversations and actions demonstrate that adolescent sexuality is fraught with complications, conflict, and even danger; at the same time, Melchior and Moritz prove one basic thing: "The stirrings of manhood" cannot be prevented from appearing, whether or not Melchior or Moritz understands them.
Two other ideas are touched on briefly in this scene. Melchior and Moritz discuss whether "the sense of shame is simply a product of upbringing." It is already clear that Moritz has too great a sense of parental authority, and that his own personal desires and fears mean little in comparison to his desire to please his parents. Finally, a joking discussion of a black cat crossing the road foreshadows future contrasts between religion and superstition.