In "Shoeless Joe", what is the difference between dreams and reality in Dr. Graham's life?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dr. Graham's life represents how some dreams do not materialize and yet remain a distinct part of who we are.  By all accounts, Doc Graham is loved in his community as the town doctor who was able to help all and represent a source of happiness.  Certainly, we do not get the impression that Doc Graham is unhappy, for he has carved out a niche in life that benefits him and others around him.  However, Doc Graham still has a part in him that yearns for a dream that was never to be accomplished.  This represents a few elements.  The first is that some dreams are never meant and will never be fully realized.  Such an idea is not meant to hinder our growth, for as evidenced in the novel, individuals, like Doc Graham, should make peace with this.  Doc Graham never loses sight of his dream, "the one that got away," but he is neither vengeful nor angry.  This strikes Ray as odd, at first, since having come so close and not realize his dreams is something that Ray sees as intensely painful.  However, through Doc, Ray understands this condition and how it is a part of the human predicament.  Essentially, the author, through Doc, is saying that some dreams are meant to remain as that only: Dreams.

However, the choice of baseball as the setting of these unrealized dreams is also significant.  For every Shoeless Joe or Willie Mays, Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron who have been able to fulfill their childhood dream of playing the game at the highest of levels, there are millions of people who shared such dreams that were never to be realized.  They number of people who are like Doc Graham, ball players who wanted so badly to "stare a pitcher down" or "feel the cut of the outfield grass," yet never had the chance to do so.  These individuals far outnumber the amount of those who accomplished their dreams.  In presenting Doc Graham to us as an elderly man, the author might be making a statement on baseball, in general.  The idea of baseball dreams and denied baseball dreams might be able to forge a connection, a tapestry that links old generations to new generations.  When Ray sits and talks with Graham, it is magical because 1)  They are of two generations and 2) One of them is dead.  The "magic" in this scene is that they both connect, despite the elements of time and space that deny such links.  Baseball, the discussion of its dreams and denied hopes, connects old and young, people from Doc Graham's generation to Ray's.  Baseball, in the ability to inspire dreams and in its ability to have those dreams unrealized, represents a way to connect people from different narratives and experiences.