(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” which lends its title to the title of this collection of prose, poetry, and drama, was apparently written over a weekend in July, 1935. Vladimir Nabokov recognized its merit and recommended it as the lead piece in the Partisan Review. Schwartz’s literary career was launched. The enigmatic title suggests that destiny is located in dreams, what Schwartz would later call in his fictional autobiography Genesis (1943) “a fixed hallucination.” The attempt to realize dreams in poetry and to acknowledge the past as prologue to the future draws its inspiration from the artistic context established by William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot—perhaps the most powerful forces to influence Schwartz’s writing.

The narrator witnesses the events leading up to his father’s marriage proposal. The narrator watches a series of six film episodes depicting Sunday afternoon, June 12, 1909, in Coney Island, New York. The climactic moment when his mother accepts proves unbearable to the eventual offspring of this union and, in the darkened, womblike theater, he screams in protest against his future birth. An authoritative usher, representing the narrator’s superego, reminds him that he has no control over his birth, and hence the outburst is futile. The scene closes when a fortune-teller predicts an unhappy marriage, ending in divorce.

The theme of the anguished child continues in the...

(The entire section is 463 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The first-person narrator sets a tentative tone at the beginning with his uncertainty: “I think it is the year 1909.” The reader then learns that the narrator is dreaming that he is in a motion-picture theater, viewing a Sunday afternoon in 1909. He sees the man who is to become his father walking the streets of Brooklyn on the way to visit the woman whom he is courting. As the narrator dreams and casts the characters, he can know their thoughts and feelings: his father’s awkward impressiveness, for example, his hesitancy about marriage.

The couple—the narrator’s “prospective parents”—go to Coney Island, where they stroll the boardwalk, watch the bathers, and stare at the ocean. Throughout this section, the narrator reacts to their movements and is shocked by the seeming shallowness of his father and mother. He knows that the father is hesitant about marriage, exaggerates his earnings, and has always believed that “actualities somehow fall short.” The narrator begins to weep but is consoled by an old lady in the theater of his dream. Unable to control his tears, he leaves the theater momentarily but returns to view his parents riding on a merry-go-round, after which they walk at dusk to a fashionable restaurant “so that they can look out on the boardwalk and the mobile ocean.” As they eat, the father talks about his plans for the future, about his achievements, about his independence since he was thirteen, until, moved by the music...

(The entire section is 449 words.)