Essays of Elia/Last Essays of Elia

by Charles Lamb

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We are nothing; less than nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence and a name.

Quick answer:

The last few lines of Charles Lamb's essay "Dream Children—A Reverie" express the narrator's regrets about what might have been. The children of his dream do not exist because the narrator never married the woman who would have become their mother. The narrator is now left to his dreams and his sorrow, for he will never have either Alice or the children.

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In Charles Lamb's essay “Dream Children—A Reverie,” we listen as the narrator tells his children, John and Alice, all about their great-grandmother and their uncle. He shares stories both humorous and sad, and the children listen with both emotion and enjoyment. The narrator and the children both seem to enjoy this time together even though they all feel the melancholy of lost loved ones.

But at the end of the essay, readers are in for a surprise, for the whole scene has been a dream. As the narrator gazes at the children, they fade away, and he hears a voice telling him that they are not his children with Alice. Alice has children, but their father is Bartrum. Alice is not the narrator's wife at all. In fact, these children “are nothing,” even “less than nothing.” They are only dreams with no existence and no names. The narrator then wakes up in his armchair. His sister is sitting beside him, and he has returned to his real life. He has no children, no wife. His loved ones are still gone, especially his brother John, but now even these dream children have been taken from him.

The children seem to represent a deep longing in the narrator. At one time, he must have loved and wanted to marry a woman named Alice, yet for whatever reason he did not. Now he regrets that loss and the loss of the family that might have been. He is left to his dreams and his imagination and his grief. He will never have those children about whom he has just been dreaming, but they will always haunt him with their “might have been.”

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