Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

David Malouf, best known in his native Australia as a novelist and poet, demonstrates the poet’s fascination with the short story, which has always been the most lyrical of prose forms, in this title story to his collection Dream Stuff (2000). The central themes of this story, common to several others in the collection, are the primitive nature of dreams and the notion that “nothing ever gets lost,” which suggests the writer’s obsession with the past—both personal and primitive. In “Dream Stuff,” a writer, who seems very much like Malouf, comes to Brisbane to give a book reading and is caught in a combination of memory, dream, and threat. Now forty-eight years old, he has come back to Brisbane to find one of his earliest selves, a vulnerable self that never left the place. As a writer, he is fascinated by situations fraught with mystery, for he knows that his own stories derive from some occasions that he has never fully understood. “Dream Stuff” is about one such mysterious encounter.

The event at the center of the story—one Colin says he would have rejected outright as being too extravagant for a plot—involves his being approached on the street by a man who accuses him of having sex with his girlfriend or wife and then slashes his own neck with a knife. The man does not die, but Colin is arrested and questioned, after which he is tormented by his inability to wash away the claim that this strange man has placed on him—a...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Dream Stuff” is told in third-person point of view focused solely on the perspective of the protagonist Colin. Malouf communicates his theme of the ambiguous relationship between outer physical reality and inner dream reality by having Colin, who is a writer, self-consciously reflect on his constant movement back and forth between the outer and the inner worlds. This technique is introduced at the beginning of the story as Colin recalls his earliest memory of crawling under the house and holding his sick dog. He awakes from this dream in a hotel room in Brisbane acknowledging that this is an “interior view,” while down below in the real world, the country of his childhood had been leveled to make way for parking lots and city towers. He knows he has been drawn back to the place of his birth not out of nostalgia for a physical world that has disappeared but rather for a more personal sense that one of his selves, his earliest and most vulnerable, has never really left this place.

Malouf suggests a split in Colin between the self that lives in the real world and the self that experiences mysterious disruptions and is defined by dreams and fantasies. For example, his recollection of the man who mysteriously appeared and then disappeared while he was in Athens hoping to recover some “defining image” of his dead father is for him an exemplary afternoon of his imaginative life, for it left a teasing suggestion of something more to come and appealed...

(The entire section is 548 words.)