Study Guide

Machine Dreams

by Jayne Anne Phillips

Machine Dreams Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Phillips’s first novel, Machine Dreams, focused on one very ordinary West Virginia family, the Hampsons. Phillips chose to write her first novel about the less shocking of her preoccupations in Black Tickets: generations of families and the changing roles of men and women. Written from many perspectives, the novel combines first-person narrative (each family member is given a chance to speak) and third-person narrative and includes two chapters of letters sent home from soldiers at war.

The letters are an effective tool that Phillips uses to reveal her interest in generations. First, one reads Mitch Hampson’s letters written from boot camp, then from various stations in the Pacific during World War II, where he operates heavy machinery to bulldoze airstrips and sometimes to bury corpses. Later, one reads a modernized version of those same letters, this time written by Billy, Mitch’s son. These letters are written from boot camp, then from South Vietnam, where he is a helicopter machine gunner.

The lives of the female generations also reflect, mirrorlike, upon one another. Jean Hampson, who, emotionally and financially, holds her family together until the children are grown, inherited her mother’s strength, which she then passes on to Danner, her daughter.“I always assumed I’d have my own daughter,” Jean tells Danner in the opening chapter. “I picked out your name when I was twelve, and saved it. In a funny...

(The entire section is 570 words.)