Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

True to the philosophical and multilayered nature of Charles Johnson’s writing, “Moving Pictures” explores a number of issues, which derive from an epistemological concern with illusion and reality in the postmodern world. Johnson complicates the act of viewing a film by probing the unspoken thoughts of the man. The monotony of routine American life is relieved through the imaginative escape of film and the dream of Hollywood success. Johnson explores the way a person can assume a different identity. The despair caused by death and the failure of love are two of the universal themes of the story.

On the one hand, Hollywood and the film product provide escape, which is useful because it interrupts routinized existence. The escape is itself an illusion, however, because the observer displaces his own dilemmas by creating a parallel identity on which these dilemmas are reinscribed. The film industry is presented as materialistic, shallow, and corrupt.

Another theme is the role of the artist as writer, especially the dilemmas faced by the serious novelist who must compromise in order to be successful. The artist must struggle to maintain creative integrity in the face of commercial realities. Although creative work is in itself an achievement, it is also a commodity, which can be altered and modified to meet the requirements of the marketplace of illusion and dreams.

Johnson is concerned with the way American life not only...

(The entire section is 419 words.)