Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

A Sorrow Beyond Dreams can be classified as “metaliterature,” literature which explores the process of making literature and which, self-reflectively, asks the reader to think about what literature is and does. The fact that the novel begins not with the mother’s life story but with the narrator’s discussion of his reasons for writing that story makes the reader acutely aware that the narrator’s account is his version of events. There is no pretense of mere disinterested objectivity; from the beginning, the narrator hopes for some sort of personal salvation through telling the story.

Nevertheless, he worries that the very conventions of storytelling will discredit his story: “‘it began with...’; if I started like this, it would all seem to be made up.” When, in the following sentence, the narrator writes, “Well then, it began with...,” he seems to suggest that all stories are made up, even true ones. Throughout the novel, the reader sees the narrator’s process of making up the story, which he presents as a series of fragments separated by asterisks (or other marks) and interrupted by explanations of his method.

The themes the narrator explores in his mother’s story appear simple enough: the oppression of women, the deprivation produced by lack of education, and the need for individual self-fulfillment. The narrator presents his mother as a bright but uneducated woman who never had a chance to make something...

(The entire section is 450 words.)