A Dreambook for Our Time

by Tadeusz Konwicki
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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 466

Konwicki offers an existential view of postwar Poland in which no one knows how to contemplate happiness. Although Paul and his coworkers build railroad tracks leading away from the village, there is no escape. No trains even appear until the end of the novel. While A Dreambook for Our Time presents political criticism of Poland under Communism, the characters are imprisoned, as much as by anything else, by their weaknesses. They represent the despair of modernity, as well as of twentieth century Europe.

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A sense of doom pervades the novel. The impending flood is but the latest uncontrollable event to uproot the characters. Something bad is always about to happen, and once it occurs, some other problem will follow. Every event in the characters’ lives underscores the futility of finding lasting happiness, the impossibility of sharing one’s life. Neither Christian nor romantic love seems to work. Nevertheless, Konwicki considers the search for meaning and understanding admirable; Paul admits that he does not understand how people live, but he persists in trying to find out despite his alienation from them.

The need for political, social, and personal order is emphasized throughout A Dreambook for Our Time. Paul says that their lives are “the result of our getting a handful of playing cards and then to the end we shuffle and rearrange them, seeking order and meaning.” During the war, Paul crumples a piece of paper ordering him to carry out an assassination and tosses it into the snow: “I know it will drown in this fluff, the rain will wash away everything written on it before the grass breaks through and the trees turn green. I know that this white, soaked leaf will be carried away by some bird to make a nest of it.”

Faith in the order of nature, however, is presented as somewhat naive. Not only is the village about to be destroyed by man’s control over nature, but also the forest the water will cover is a symbol of man’s chaos, since centuries of wars have occurred there. Trees will be buried beneath the reservoir, but so will the graves, mostly unmarked, of thousands killed in war. Rains pour down throughout the last half of the novel, creating a natural flood in anticipation of the controlled one. Nature’s excesses and unpredictability reflect those of the characters.

The water symbolism is appropriate for a novel whose events are nightmarish: The rain heightens the unreality of this chain of terrible events. At the end of the novel, Paul longs to awake from the “stifling dream” of his life and scramble “to an ordinary, commonplace day, with its usual troubles, its everyday toil, its so well-known, familiar drudgery.” Willing to settle for uneventful lives, these characters are unable to escape from chaos.

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