Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The theme of the story, the importance of consciousness, is the primary theme of Henry James’s fiction as a whole. The “great good place” is consciousness. The scenes in the study provide the frame for the dramatization of the process of a developing consciousness, which constitutes the dream sequence. George Dane’s literary correspondence and obligations have diminished his contact with his own consciousness, the source of his creative abilities and of his sense of identity. Dane’s despair and rejection of the work of his everyday life, his distraction, his overall feeling of being overwhelmed by the details of his life brought about by his success, result from this lack of nurturing contact with his consciousness. Dane’s withdrawal from the world into his dream is the vehicle for reunification with that inner life of which the principal component is consciousness itself.

The conjunction of “the great good place” with “the great want met” signifies that Dane has come to the right place to fulfill his desire to regain contact with himself even though he does not yet realize exactly what this means. The place is, in effect, consciousness unadulterated by the facts of the world. The “blessed fact of consciousness” antedates all values or perceptions. From being conscious, Dane moves through stages of becoming self-conscious to awareness of the significant patterns of the world of both the inner and outer life. He wakes from his dream with the realization that through consciousness, inner and outer worlds are united.