The short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” which lends its title to the title of this collection of prose, poetry, and drama, was apparently written over a weekend in July, 1935. Vladimir Nabokov recognized its merit and recommended it as the lead piece in the Partisan Review. Schwartz’s literary career was launched. The enigmatic title suggests that destiny is located in dreams, what Schwartz would later call in his fictional autobiography Genesis (1943) “a fixed hallucination.” The attempt to realize dreams in poetry and to acknowledge the past as prologue to the future draws its inspiration from the artistic context established by William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot—perhaps the most powerful forces to influence Schwartz’s writing.
The narrator witnesses the events leading up to his father’s marriage proposal. The narrator watches a series of six film episodes depicting Sunday afternoon, June 12, 1909, in Coney Island, New York. The climactic moment when his mother accepts proves unbearable to the eventual offspring of this union and, in the darkened, womblike theater, he screams in protest against his future birth. An authoritative usher, representing the narrator’s superego, reminds him that he has no control over his birth, and hence the outburst is futile. The scene closes when a fortune-teller predicts an unhappy marriage, ending in divorce.
The theme of the anguished child continues in the...
(The entire section is 463 words.)