Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Schwartz combines two imagistic devices—the whole a dream structure within which the narrator is watching a film. The dream device permits quick switches of time and place, distorted focus, and shifting images. The narrator, though unable to control or choose his parents in real life, has control in the sense that he is able to know their thoughts in the past of the film and contrast them with his emotional reactions in his own present. The narrator, once the silent-film atmosphere is set, can then posit a surrounding audience, which serves also to reinforce the theme of the young man’s growing awareness of the restraints and judgments in society. The film device combined with the dream permits abrupt shifts in scenes, time telescoping, and sharp, telling visual images. The narrator thus can both view and feel because of the interaction between the internal dream and the seemingly external film.

With the swings between the narrator’s understanding and rejection, the paradox of denying his parents’ fitness and yet desiring his own existence, Schwartz uses the dream device to suggest the youth’s ambivalence and to compress the whole family life into a few pages. The focus is on the narrator’s reactions, but without the overt self-pity that a direct first-person “realistic” narration might have engendered. The narrator’s level of perception suggests his sensitivity without explicit statement. His perceptions provide insight into his capacity to feel. The narrator does not need to “tell” the reader. His growing awareness is set with sharp images, bleakness contrasted with shining, the reiteration of the paradox of rejection and acceptance, and the suggestion that he realizes through the dream that after all, for everyone, what one does matters very much.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Atlas, James. Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1977.

Breslin, Paul. “Delmore Schwartz.” In American Writers, edited by A. Walton Litz. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981.

Kloss, Robert J. “An Ancient and Famous Capital: Delmore Schwartz’s Dream.” Psychoanalytic Review 65, no. 3 (1978): 475-490.

McDougall, Richard. Delmore Schwartz. New York: Twayne, 1974.