In “Winter Dreams,” each of the four seasons symbolizes a different stage and aspect of Dexter’s aspirations to wealth and an upper class status. The cyclical seasonal calendar parallels the fluctuations of his attitudes towards his goal of acceptance by higher social circles (as represented by Judy Jones).
During the winter, Dexter feels depressed with what he has; he dreams of what he wants but cannot yet attain. To him, winter is oppressive and sterile. During long winters in Minnesota, he feels melancholy that the signs of money and leisure—the course at Sherry Island Golf Club—are hidden and trapped.
on the tees where the gay colors fluttered in summer there were now only the desolate sand-boxes knee-deep in crusted ice.
The wind is miserable, and even the sun brings no warmth or hope. It just imposes a sharp, painful glare. Years later, after his first summer fling with Judy,
succeeding Dexter's first exhilaration came restlessness and dissatisfaction. The helpless ecstasy of losing himself in her was opiate rather than tonic. It was fortunate for his work during the winter that those moments of ecstasy came infrequently.
Winter is physical removal from and a psychological escape or break from the diametrically opposite summer season.
Summer, on the other hand, represents immersion into the upper-class lifestyle. As a teenager, Dexter is surrounded by wealth and high society while working as a caddie at the golf club. As a young adult, he experiences his first affair with Judy during the summer at that same club. Now, though, he is there as a guest of a member, not as an employee. Just before he spots Judy, he notices
Later in the afternoon the sun went down with a riotous swirl of gold and varying blues and scarlets, and left the dry, rustling night of Western summer.
The intoxicating moonlight, gentle waves on the lake, jumping fish, swimming, and boating all represent a dreamy, romantic leisure class that Dexter has not fully entered but is only visiting. While dining with Judy at her summer home, he feels he has almost attained what he dreams for during the winter: admission to the carefree, affluent high society.
Unlike winter and summer, however, autumn and spring are transitional periods when Dexter’s moods shift from depression to hope and then back to depression. He holds a different attitude toward each transitional season. During the fall, he feels potentiality—perhaps being fresh from positive summer experiences—before entering hopelessness and painfully aspirational dreams in the winter. When Dexter was a boy,
Fall made him clinch his hands and tremble and repeat idiotic sentences to himself, and make brisk abrupt gestures of command to imaginary audiences and armies. October filled him with hope which November raised to a sort of ecstatic triumph.
Autumn is when his dreams are filled with optimistic possibility before becoming taunting objects of longing during the winter. The fall after his first summer with Judy, Dexter happily learns that she grows bored with son of trust company owner visiting her during September. Ironically, while the leaves are dying, Dexter’s hopes are thriving.
Spring symbolizes Dexter’s painful realization of his winter dreams—the season teases him with the dreams’s potentiality, yet mock how far removed he is from attaining them. As a boy, he notes the abrupt transition from winter to summer with the observation that
there was something dismal about this Northern spring, just as he knew there was something gorgeous about the fall
During college, he hears piano music (later played at the golf club when he reconnects with Judy) wafting from an out-of-reach dance “when he could not afford the luxury of proms, and he had stood outside the gymnasium and listened.”
Dexter’s hopeless courtship of Judy is represented by the seasonal calendar:
Summer, fall, winter, spring, another summer, another fall—so much he had given of his active life to the incorrigible lips of Judy Jones.
The second autumn is when Dexter finally realizes she is not interested in him beyond a superficial fling. This season is also when Dexter decides to change the course of his life. In October he and Irene meet; by January, they are engaged to marry that summer. So interestingly, now winter and spring briefly symbolize hope, rather than harshness and anxious longing, for Dexter.
The Minnesota winter prolonged itself interminably, and it was almost May when the winds came soft and the snow ran down into Black Bear Lake at last. For the first time in over a year Dexter was enjoying a certain tranquility of spirit.
Quickly, however, spring returns to a negative, dangerous time. That spring, Dexter runs into Judy at the University club and they resume their affair. Although Irene and her parents break off the engagement and Judy ultimately rejects him, he does not regret their reconnection.
The following year,
He went East in February with the intention of selling out his laundries and settling in New York—but the war came to America in March and changed his plans. He returned to the West, handed over the management of the business to his partner, and went into the first officers' training-camp in late April. He was one of those young thousands who greeted the war with a certain amount of relief, welcoming the liberation from webs of tangled emotion.
Dexter again changes the course of his life and goals. Finally, winter and spring become seasons of potential, hope, and freedom.