A Cure for Dreams Summary
by Kaye Gibbons

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A Cure for Dreams Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

A Cure for Dreams, Gibbons’s third novel, was written with the help of a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. In preparing for writing this novel, Gibbons read transcripts from the Federal Writers’ Project of the Great Depression and found much inspiration in the voices of the common, average men and women. Voice, then, becomes the centerpiece of A Cure for Dreams, with three extraordinary women characters sharing their stories.

The primary narrator is Betty Davies Randolph, but the reader gets to her voice only through the frame of her daughter, Marjorie Polly Randolph. Marjorie opens the novel, and she ends it. Marjorie provides the perfect segue for Betty’s narrative as she says, “Talking was my mother’s life.” Then, the majority of the novel is told through Betty, with an occasional intrusion by Lottie O’Cadhain Davies, Betty’s mother.

The southern art of storytelling, as well as reverence for the past, is alive in this novel, for Betty immediately acquaints the audience with the details of her mother’s heritage and the stories surrounding her mother and father’s courtship and marriage. For the most part, what seemingly emerges is the portrait of a typical southern woman who will acquiesce to her husband’s wishes as Lottie follows her husband from Kentucky to North Carolina, but the picture quickly changes. When Lottie realizes that Charles merely wants a companion in the fields, she asserts her own will and draws more inward; the arrival of Betty then allows her to form a new bond which leaves her husband out. From this point on, the relationships between mothers and daughters, and among women in general, become the focal point of the novel.

As the story progresses, Lottie grows more distant from her husband and closer to her daughter and eventually to other women in the small community of Milk Farm Road. Lottie and Betty are practically inseparable, and their adventures include instigating card games in a local store, holding political discussions with other women, and helping other women in need. At Lottie’s side, Betty learns how important it is to have such a network of women to depend upon, yet she also learns to be somewhat self-reliant. For the most part in Gibbons’s work, men seem rather incapable of understanding women or contributing to their growth. For instance, Betty’s father never has an active relationship in the Davies household, and his suicide seemingly frees the women to engage in life more fully. Also, when Betty attempts to live in New York for a short time, the man she dates introduces her to drugs, and only when she returns home to her nurturing community is she able to find happiness.

Betty does eventually marry, but her husband immediately goes off to war, so she is left again to find support and comfort (and await the birth of her first child) with women, her mother, and Polly Deal, the local midwife. All throughout this novel, the steady voice of Betty remains constant. She is an ordinary woman, yet she recounts the details of a rather extraordinary life.