(short story by E.L. Doctorow) Question:  How would you interpret Jonathan's dream in "The Writer in the Family"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In "The Writer of the Family," after he begins writing letters that are purportedly from his father to his mother in a nursing home, Jonathan has a disturbing dream about his father in which his father comes back to life, but it is only for a short time until he dies again. After revealing the details of this dream, Jonathan narrates,

The dream represented our taking him home, or trying to, but it was nevertheless understood by all of us that he was to live alone. He was this derelict back from death, but what we were doing was taking him to some place where he would live by himself without help from anyone until he died again. 

The dream represents what has happened to Jonathan's father figuratively. By writing the letters that are purportedly from Jack to his aging mother, Jack has been resurrected in the minds of his family, but, of course, he cannot really live with any of them. Instead, Jonathan and his family "take" him to another place in their minds where he must be alone without any comfort or feeling until he will "die" again after the grandmother no longer hears the letters or she herself passes away.

Jonathan feels guilty for allowing himself to be swayed into exploiting his father's death in order to trick the grandmother. Even in death Jack is not allowed to rest or do what he wants, but is, instead, used for the comfort of a relative, just as he was made to get things wholesale for his mother and family members or provide a job for his brother-in-law while he was alive.  

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