The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

A Dreambook for Our Time opens with Paul’s attempted suicide. He thinks that he can no longer live with his guilt and despair. He feels guilty for his mother’s arrest by the Nazis and her subsequent death, for his accidental killing of a young comrade he mistook for a German, for surviving the war when so many of his friends and countrymen did not, for his failure and that of his society to live up to their potential. He has seen too much death, too many broken promises. Tormented by his memories, he sees his past in the often-accusing faces around him: “I look for meanings everywhere. Every face I see grows over with the thicket of memory. I shall never extricate myself from it.” While the villagers can find some respite in religion, Paul cannot: “I don’t need a faith from outside. I want to find peace in myself.” Tadeusz Konwicki offers little hope of his character’s ever finding it.

Paul is an idealist who has lost all of his ideals. Count Pac tells him, “You wanted to set the world right, make people happy. You swallowed any amount of these ideas, and they’ve eaten you up inside. Only have to touch you with one finger, and you all fall apart, like rot.” Paul’s decay is presented as that of Poland. He fought the Nazis and the Soviets to preserve his country’s integrity. Then he joined the Communist Party, only to be disillusioned.

Paul thinks that if he confronts Joseph Car his torment might be somewhat...

(The entire section is 553 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Paul, the narrator, an antihero who wanders Poland in an effort to escape his largely undeserved feelings of guilt, to find some meaning in his life and that of his war-ravaged country, and to awake from the nightmare of his unfinished past that includes the death of his parents and his experiences during the war in the Polish underground. Equating belief with surrender, he remains aloof, struggling to be loyal to himself without having to betray anyone else. The novel begins shortly after his attempted suicide and ends with his leaving the remote Polish village alone, his desires for love, forgiveness, and meaning still unfulfilled.


Regina (reh-JEE-nah), an attractive but no-longer-young manager of the village grocery cooperative. She leaves the village in search of a better life only to return and marry Debicki, a railroad foreman. Paul describes her stock of cosmetics as “a secret arsenal of female captivity, of female hope. A laboratory of forgery.”

Joseph Car

Joseph Car, the “Baptist,” a tall, dark leader of a local cult that is a more or less secular, or nonfaith, religion of hope. Car, an epileptic, is, or appears to be, the informer that Paul was ordered to execute during the war but could not, associating him in his mind with his own dead father. Car is the figure Paul would like to forget but cannot.


Justine, Car’s wife, an orphan and self-proclaimed enchantress. Paul is drawn by her “lustful softness” but fails to convince her to leave Car and the village and begin a new life with him.

Miss Malvina Korsak

Miss Malvina Korsak (mahl-VIH-nah KOHR-sahk), a sixty-five-year-old woman. She and her brother own the house in which Paul rents a room. One of Car’s most ardent followers, she repeatedly urges Paul to join them in their daily prayers. Although she also urges him to forget his past, she keeps her own past very much alive with endless...

(The entire section is 862 words.)