Study Guide

Dream Cargoes

by J. G. Ballard

Dream Cargoes Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Dream Cargoes” is narrated in the third person, for the most part through the consciousness of a simple young sailor named Johnson. The story takes place over a period of six months but is presented in brief episodes, with flashbacks supplying details necessary to explain Johnson’s peculiar situation and the anomalous condition of the island on which he is marooned.

The story opens one morning with a description of the fantastic plant life enveloping a Caribbean island. Beholding the spectacle is a sailor named Johnson aboard the beached freighter Prospero. Johnson realizes that the vegetation has grown even more luxuriant overnight, but he is more interested in one Dr. Christine Chambers, whose raft he has sighted on the beach for the past few days and whose name he has learned from labels on equipment in her raft. This morning, however, Chambers is not to be seen. Johnson wades ashore through the chemical wastes leaching out of the rusting hulk, but once there, he falls asleep in a ruined army staff car. As the story progresses, Johnson sleeps with increasing frequency and ease.

Thanks to its illegal cargo of poisonous chemicals, the Prospero had been denied use of ports throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The ship was leaking and listing badly, and when the freighter’s captain and crew abandoned it within sight of Puerto Rico, Johnson had decided—for the first time in his life—to seize control of events and to remain on board. However, the nearly illiterate young man quickly found himself lost at sea and sickened by chemical fumes. He had gladly run the Prospero aground near...

(The entire section is 676 words.)