In Winter Dreams, what is the thematic significance of Irene's characterization?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Irene's characterization is vitally important to the overall destructive nature of Dexter's "winter dreams."  After experiencing a sense of tumult with Judy, where Dexter's emotions and finances are spent to a level that can no longer be tolerated, he regroups and gets away from the destructive Judy, the one with "incorrigible lips."  In doing so, he finds Irene.  She is described in terms that make it clear that from nearly every point of view, Irene is better for Dexter than Judy:

That old penny's worth of happiness he had spent for
this bushel of content. He knew that Irene would be no more than a curtain spread behind him, a hand moving among gleaming tea-cups, a voice calling to children...

These terms bring out how Irene is seen as something "safe" and very reliable, elements that could never be associated with Judy.  Irene's characterized in a manner that would complement and not challenge Dexter.  Yet, Dexter's rejection of Irene after such a description helps to bring out Fitzgerald's theme that the "winter dreams" that drive Dexter are destructive in their very essence.  This is seen in the ending of the short story.  Irene ends up becoming a casualty to these "winter dreams" as does Dexter.  In showing Irene in such a manner, Fitzgerald is able to evoke the pain and sadness that lies at the heart of self- destructive pursuits.