Juan Carlos Onetti Critical Essays

Juan Carlos Onetti Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Frequently compared to William Faulkner, both for his elaborate prose style and for his creation of a postage-stamp fictional world, Juan Carlos Onetti is often praised for his modern focus on alienated human beings and his postmodern experiments with self-reflexive metafictions. Many of his characters, facing old age and death, desire to find a way to retreat into the past or to escape to an ideal fictional creation to regain what is lost. As a result, his stories often focus on the power of the imagination and feature characters who are writers, actors, and dramatists. Ultimately, this emphasis compels Onetti to examine the nature of fictionality and playacting, which, finally, forces many of his stories into a realm somewhere between fantasy and reality, where the nature of reality itself is questioned.

“A Dream Come True”

The narrator of the title story of Onetti’s first collection is a theater producer asked by a woman to stage a play for her. The woman has in mind a single scene featuring herself, a man, and a girl who comes out of a shop to give the man a glass of beer. When pressed for a title, the woman says she will call it “A Dream Come True.” She is willing to pay to see the scene enacted once for her alone. Even though the producer thinks the woman is crazy, he has had a bad season and needs the money to escape to Buenos Aires; he thus contracts an actor he knows and makes the arrangements.

The woman has a mythical ageless quality about her; although she appears to be fifty, she has a girl’s air from another century “as if she had fallen asleep and only awakened now, her hair in disarray, hardly aged but seemingly at any moment about to reach her own age all of a sudden and then shatter in silence.” In the dramatized scene, she sits on a curb beside a green table next to which a man sits on a kitchen stool. When the man crosses the street to get a beer the girl has carried out, she fears he will be hit by a car. The woman lies on the sidewalk as if she were a child, and the man leans over and pats her on the head. The woman wants the scene enacted because she has dreamed it; during the dream she felt happy, and she wants to recapture that feeling.

During the enactment of the scene, while the woman lies on the stage being patted on the head by the actor, she dies, and the story ends with the producer concluding that he finally understands what it was all about, what...

(The entire section is 1000 words.)