Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 347
J. G. Ballard's "Dream Cargoes" (1991) is a short story published as part of the short-story collection titled War Fever. The third-person narration follows the fantastical experience of one Johnson, a worker aboard a ship that is carrying chemical waste, of which the containers start leaking. When this leak occurs, the ship is denied entry at various ports for fear of ostracizing the safety risk posed by the ship's cargo. The rest of the story follows Johnson's experience on an island where he finds himself awakened by an American biologist.
Johnson is a native of the island of Nassau and remembers hearing airplanes coming and going from the nearby airport. Johnson is portrayed as a working-class young man, eager for the opportunity to claim power for himself when the captain of the contaminant-bearing ship abandons it. Johnson is attracted to Christine, an American biologist whom he tells that he is a captain. She explains her botanical experiment to him and later becomes pregnant with his child (after a single night of love). Johnson eats the fish, crabs, and fruit of the island, at first without consequence but eventually at his own peril. He begins to hallucinate and suffer from double vision as well as a distorted concept of time.
Christine Chambers is the American biologist who is undertaking a botanical project on the island. She rescues Johnson when she finds him asleep behind the steering wheel of a car on the island. She reluctantly believes Johnson's story that he had been the ship's captain and shows him the kindness of offering him her sandwich. She is very curious and devoted to her work (in fact, she views her child with Johnson as an experiment). She also compels Johnson to eat the island's produce in order to study the effects on him.
The other major character is Captain Galloway. Captain Galloway picked up Johnson at Veracruz. He is an alcoholic who takes to excessive drinking after the spilling of the contaminants. Discouraged by the unfortunate fate of his ship, "the Prospero," he abandons it in the ship's only lifeboat.