A Comparison of ‘‘Winter Dreams’’ and The Great Gatsby

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Fitzgerald wrote his short story ‘‘Winter Dreams’’ while he was drafting The Great Gatsby, which became one of the most celebrated novels of all time. The two works share several thematic and stylistic elements as they each center on a young man from a modest background who strives to be a part of the exclusive world inhabited by the woman he loves. A close comparison of the two works will reveal that while The Great Gatsby becomes a more complex and penetrating critique of the pursuit of the wealth and status, the short story stands on its own as a compelling portrait of a man who is forced to face the illusory nature of his ‘‘winter dreams.’’

There are strong similarities between Jay Gatsby and Dexter Green. Although Dexter, unlike Gatsby, came from a middle-class background, (his father owned the ‘‘second-best’’ grocery-store in his town), he subscribes to the same American dream as does Gatsby, who grew up in poverty. Both spent their childhood in the Midwest, and from an early age, were determined to gain entry into the glittering and glamorous world of the rich. Through a combination of ambition and hard work, they achieve their goal and become successful businessmen who are accepted into this exclusive world.

The process by which they rise to the top, however, is quite different. Fitzgerald clearly outlines the steps Dexter takes to become successful: he attends a prestigious Eastern university and upon graduation learns everything he can about the laundry business. The knowledge he gains, coupled with his confidence and a small financial investment, guarantees his prosperity. Fitzgerald is not as straightforward about Gatsby's rise. There are suggestions that he may have been involved in a cheating scandal and a bootlegging operation with some shady New York entrepreneurs. Fitzgerald's inclusion of the possibility that Gatsby may have prospered by his involvement in illegal activities highlights the sense of corruption he finds at the heart of American materialism, a theme he develops more completely in his searing portrait of Tom Buchanan, Daisy's fabulously rich and morally corrupt husband.

While both of Fitzgerald's protagonists start out wanting only the status and power that wealth will afford, they shift their focus to a beautiful woman who embodies their dream and with whom they fall in love. Eventually, each finds little satisfaction in purely materialistic gain. Initially Dexter, like Gatsby, is not a snob; he does not want ‘‘association with glittering things and glittering people,’’ but he does want ‘‘the glittering things themselves.’’ Both men amass fortunes, but their wealth ultimately does not fulfill their dream, which focuses on gaining the love of a beautiful woman who expresses the glamour and promise of that exclusive world. At Gatsby's extravagant parties, for example, the host retreats to the study, waiting for Daisy to appear, refusing to participate in the hedonistic atmosphere of the gathering. Likewise, Dexter has no social aspirations and ‘‘rather despised the dancing men who were always on tap for the Thursday or Saturday parties and who filled in at dinners with the younger married set.’’ Neither man is affected by the attitudes of others in his pursuit of his dreams, nor does either bear any malice toward the women who repeatedly scorn them.

Daisy and Judy also are quite similar in character. Each is a shallow, ultimately cold-hearted woman who is entertained, as Fitzgerald describes Judy, ‘‘only by the gratification of her desires and by the direct exercise of her own charm.’’ Like Judy, Daisy enjoys ‘‘the mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes ... gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.’’ The two male characters have their hearts broken by these lovely women who exhibit ‘‘a continual impression of flux, of intense life.’’ Daisy and Judy are ‘‘careless people’’ who ‘‘smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness ... and let other people clean up the mess they had made.’’

Daisy appears to be the crueler of the two, as she allows Gatsby to take the full responsibility for her accidentally running down Myrtle, Tom's mistress, which results in Gatsby's murder by Myrtle's husband. Judy's only crime is breaking hearts. Readers feel a bit sorry for her when she wonders to Dexter, in a broken voice, ‘‘I'm more beautiful than anybody else ... Why can't I be happy?’’ But ultimately, Fitzgerald creates a fuller, more sympathetic character in Daisy.

Through his manipulation of the narrative's chronology, readers are privy to a demonstration of the intense love Daisy had at one point for Gatsby, revealed when she breaks down in the shower, immediately before her marriage to Tom. Jordan notes how Daisy had to be forced into her wedding dress by her parents, who were determined that their daughter marry so well. Readers also see how she suffers in her relationship with her brutish husband. Fitzgerald portrays Daisy as someone who had the potential for happiness, but was not strong enough to achieve that goal. By the end of the novel, she retreats with Tom into the only world she knows.

Fitzgerald does not develop Judy into a complete character. Readers never know how she became so callous and shallow, and as a result, they have little sympathy for her, even when they discover at the end of the story that her beauty has faded. Like Daisy, Judy has become a passive wife to an abusive husband, but because readers do not see how that process occurred, as they do with Daisy, her character remains undeveloped and not as interesting as her counterpart.

The settings of the two works reveal Fitzgerald's rhetorical brilliance in his poetic descriptions of the landscape. He paints detailed portraits of the landscape that artfully reflect each work's themes. Throughout much of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald concentrates on images that illustrate the corruption at the heart of the American dream. His landscapes become the wastelands of garbage heaps and burned-out valleys of ashes. The eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckelberg, a symbol of crass materialism and loss of spirituality, peer down from billboards along the highway. At the end of the novel, however, Fitzgerald presents perhaps the most lyrical passage in literature when he describes Daisy's green light, representing to Gatsby the possibility of an ‘‘orgastic future’’ with Daisy.

Fitzgerald's descriptions in ‘‘Winter Dreams’’ are equally lyrical and resonant. They also reflect the dual nature of the main character's experience. At the beginning of the story, when Dexter can only fantasize about a golden future, the landscape reflects his depression: the long winter ‘‘shut down like the white lid of a box’’ as he skis over the golf course's snow-covered fairways. The narrator notes Dexter's identification with his surroundings when he describes his melancholic response to the links’ ‘‘enforced fallowness, haunted by ragged sparrows for the long season’’ and ‘‘desolate sand-boxes knee-deep in crusted ice.’’ At that period of his life ‘‘the wind blew cold as misery’’ and the sun cast a ‘‘hard dimensionless glare.’’

At the beginning of his relationship with Judy, however, when the world is filled with excitement and promise, the landscape dramatically changes. One afternoon, soon after he has run into Judy on the golf course, the sun sets ‘‘with a riotous swirl of gold and varying blues and scarlets’’ and the water turns ‘‘silver molasses under the harvest-moon.’’

While Fitzgerald ends the two works with each main character losing the woman he loves, he leads the two in different directions, and as a result, creates two distinct and compelling commentaries on the pursuit of the American dream. As each story draws to a close, Fitzgerald delineates important differences between Dexter and Gatsby.

At the end of ‘‘Winter Dreams,’’ Dexter accepts the fact that he has lost Judy, and accepts also ‘‘the deep pain that is reserved only for the strong’’ since he had also, ‘‘tasted for a little while the deep happiness.’’ He does, however, receive a shock at the end that alters his vision of the golden world he experienced for a time. When a business associate tells him that Judy has lost her beauty and her vitality, his dream shatters and he breaks down, overcome by a profound sense of loss. Joseph Flibbert, in his critique of the story in the Reference Guide to Short Fiction, argues, ‘‘As long as he could maintain a vision of Judy as the embodiment of genteel youth and beauty, he could continue to believe in an attainable ideal of power, freedom, and beauty.’’ The world now becomes cold and gray with no point to the accumulation of material objects.

Struggling desperately to regain that vision, Dexter tries to picture ‘‘the waters lapping on Sherry Island and the moonlit veranda, and gingham on the golf-links and the dry sun and the gold color of her neck's soft down,’’ but cannot, insisting, ‘‘these things were no longer in the world! They had existed and they existed no longer.’’ He finally understands that he can never follow the same vision that had compelled him to travel in one direction all of his life. All he is left with now is a sense of emptiness, for ‘‘even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished.’’

Gatsby, however, dies with his vision of Daisy and the promise of a life with her in tact. He never sees Daisy's beauty fade, nor does he realize that she has returned to the safety of her relationship with Tom. His inability to give up his dream earns Nick's respect and his conclusion that Gatsby was ‘‘worth the whole damn bunch put together.’’ Gatsby becomes a mythic figure in the novel, the tireless pursuer of the American dream—the ‘‘fresh green breast of the New World.’’ Fitzgerald's closing lines reinforce this mythic dimension when Nick notes Gatsby's inability to see through the illusion and so remain devoted to his vision of Daisy. Nick echoes this enduring sense of hope in the novel's last lines as he insists that although happiness eludes people, ‘‘tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.… So we beat on, boats against the current, bourne back ceaselessly into the past.’’

Fitzgerald's exquisite crafting of these two works has created enduring portraits of characters whose fate expresses a deep resonance of the American experience. Through Dexter Green, Fitzgerald has chronicled the journey of a realist, who forces himself to shatter the illusions he has held for so long. In his creation of Gatsby, Fitzgerald presents the romantic, who refuses to give up his pursuit of the woman he loves, who represents to him, all that is possible in America.

Source: Wendy Perkins, Critical Essay on ‘‘Winter Dreams,’’ in Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. Perkins is an instructor of English and American literature and film.

‘‘Magnificently Attune to Life’’: The Value of ‘‘Winter Dreams’’

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Men like Dexter Green do not cry easily; his tears and the language explaining them therefore point either to melodrama or to a complex significance. The difficulty lies in understanding precisely what Dexter has lost and whether its loss justifies the prostration of so strong and hard-minded a man. It seems clear that he is not mourning a new loss of Judy herself, the final extinction of lingering hopes; he had long ago accepted as irrevocable the fact that he could never have her. Nor has he lost the ability to feel deeply, at least not in any general sense: Fitzgerald makes it clear that Dexter has lost only the single and specific ability to respond deeply to images of Judy and of their moments together; and he is certainly able to feel deeply the loss of this response. Similarly, he is not crying over the loss of any illusions of eternal youth or beauty. Given his character, the nature of his dreams, and the history of his striving to achieve them, Dexter is simply not the kind of man to have such illusions. And in the unlikely event that he could somehow entertain them, he is even less the kind of man to weep over the loss of abstractions. Hardly more plausible are the views that he is shocked by a sudden awareness of the destructiveness of time or of the impossibility of repeating the past. Again, it seems unlikely that this man, especially at thirty-two, could have missed the reality of time and the finality of the past.

What is it, then, that Devlin's description of Mrs. Lud Simms has destroyed in Dexter Green? To begin with, Devlin has taken from Dexter's image of Judy the same things he would have lost if he had married her and seen her suddenly ‘‘fade away before his eyes’’: the specific features and qualities that comprised her unparalleled beauty and desirability, her appeal to him as one of the ‘‘glittering things,’’ one of the ‘‘best.’’ These had been the basis of his love for her—not her reflection of eternal youth or beauty but their physical and perishable realities. Once before, in turning from Judy to Irene Scheerer, he had found almost unendurable the loss of these tangible and emotional qualities: ‘‘fire and loveliness were gone, the magic of nights and the wonder of the varying hours and seasons … slender lips, down-turning, dropping to his lips and bearing him up into a heaven of eyes.… The thing was deep in him. He was too strong and alive for it to die lightly.’’ At first glance, thing may seem a strange and imprecise word for Dexter's profound and encompassing love, but it is more consistent and apt than it might appear. His love for Judy is no more Platonic than his other winter dreams; it is sensuous and emotional, and ‘‘thing’’ suggests this tangible reality as well as the nature of what he has lost. Moreover, Fitzgerald's conscious use of the term for these purposes is reflected in his repetition of it nine times in the final passage of the story.

Paradoxically, in finally giving up all hope of Judy and in going to New York, Dexter is able to have her in a way he never could had they married. With the real Judy out of his life, the girl he had dreamed of having can remain alive in his imagination, unchanging in the images of her youthful beauty and desirability. More importantly, these images keep alive in Dexter the ‘‘thing’’ they had his images of Judy Jones no longer create an imaginative present, he loses not only his ability to go on loving her but also something else equally and perhaps even more shattering. Gone, too, is a part of himself, originally so deeply stirred in him—his love for Judy and his dream of having her. It is all this that Devlin kills in Dexter by forcing on him a new and intolerable image of Judy.

In Devlin's description of her as Mrs. Lud Simms, Fitzgerald carefully strips away every feature and every quality of the Judy Jones Dexter had known and still loves in his images of her. His ‘‘great beauty’’ becomes an ordinarily pretty woman; the unique and imperious paragon courted by worshippers becomes a conventional and submissively put-upon housewife; the queen of his love and dreams becomes a rather mousy commoner he could not conceivably love. No wonder Dexter is devastated. Having accepted the loss of the real Judy Jones, he had thought himself safe from further hurt; now, with every word of Devlin's, he finds himself not only losing her again, but what is worse, losing the ability to go on loving her.

As long as Dexter knows little or nothing new about Judy, she can stay alive and immediate in his imagination; thus, the real past continues unchanged as the imaginative present. Responding to these images of Judy Jones, Dexter can continue to love her as he had in the beginning, when the dream of having this ‘‘glittering thing’’ and the striving for her could still be part of that love. But Devlin destroys the time-suspending equation. When he tells Dexter what has happened to Judy, when he forces him to imagine her as the older and fading Mrs. Lud Simms, then the young and vibrant girl Dexter had loved disappears into the wax museum of the irredeemable past. The real present supplants the imaginative present and forces the past to become only the past.

For Dexter, ‘‘the dream was gone’’; when he tries to recall his images of the earlier Judy, they come to him not as a continuing present but as a completed past, as ‘‘things … no longer in the world, ‘‘things that ‘‘had existed and … existed no longer.’’ Now they are only memories of a girl he had known and loved who has unaccountably become Mrs. Lud Simms, and they no longer have the power to stir his love or his dreams. ‘‘He did not care about mouth and eyes and moving hands. He wanted to care, and he could not care.’’ Dexter wants desperately to care because these images have been the source of his love for Judy Jones and the means of keeping it alive. The end of their power to stir him is therefore the end of that love, and his tears are a bitter mourning for a second and this time total loss of Judy Jones. ‘‘‘Long ago,’ he said, ‘long ago, there was something in me, but now that thing is gone.… That thing will come back no more.’’’

Dexter cries with good reason, then, but he has even more reason to cry. When his images of Judy Jones no longer create an imaginative present, he loses not only his ability to go on loving her but also something else equally and perhaps even more shattering. Gone, too, is a part of himself also deeply associated with and still alive in these images: the fragile moment in time when youth and his winter dreams were making his life richer and sweeter than it would ever be again.

Fitzgerald makes it clear that the story centers on this moment in time and its significance. The story is not Dexter's ‘‘biography … although things creep into it which have nothing to do with those dreams he had when he was young.’’ Specifically, Fitzgerald writes, ‘‘the part of his story that concerns us goes back to the days when he was making his first big success.’’ These are the years between twenty-three and twenty-five, the years just after college and just before New York. ‘‘When he was only twenty-three … there were already people who liked to say: ‘Now there's a boy—.’’’ Already Dexter is making a large amount of money and receiving guest cards to the Sherry Island Golf Club, where he had been a caddy and had indulged his winter dreams. At twenty-four he finds ‘‘himself increasingly in a position to do as he wished,’’ and at twenty-five he is ‘‘beginning to be master of his own time’’ as ‘‘the young and already fabulously successful Dexter Green....’’

This progress towards making his winter dreams come true is not, however, unqualified. Almost from the beginning, disillusion casts strange shadows on Dexter's bright successes. He had dreamed of being a golf champion and defeating Mr. T. A. Hedrick ‘‘in a marvellous match played a hundred times over the fairways of his imagination’’; now, as a guest playing in a foursome on the real fairways of the Sherry Island Golf Club, Dexter is ‘‘impressed by the tremendous superiority he felt toward Mr. T. A. Hedrick, who was a bore and not even a good golfer any more.’’ A year later, ‘‘he joined two clubs in the city and lived at one of them.… He could have gone out socially as much as he liked—he was an eligible young man, now, and popular with the down-town fathers.… But he had no social aspirations and rather despised the dancing men who were always on tap for Thursday or Saturday parties and who filled in at dinners with the younger married set.’’ The farther he moves into the world of his winter dreams, the more he is disillusioned with it.

Significantly, and again reflecting Fitzgerald's central concern with the relationship between reality and the imagination, the only one of Dexter's winter dreams with which he is not ultimately disillusioned is the only one he cannot have in the real world and time—Judy Jones. After quitting his job rather than caddy for her, he doesn't see her again until she plays through his foursome on the afternoon when he is a guest at the Sherry Island Golf Club. That evening they meet again and Fitzgerald carefully creates a scene in which Judy becomes identified with this particular moment in Dexter's life. ‘‘There was a fish jumping and a star shining and the lights around the lake were gleaming.’’ Lying on a raft, Dexter is listening to a piano across the lake playing a popular song, a song he had heard ‘‘at a prom once when he could not afford the luxury of proms, and he had stood outside the gymnasium and listened. The sound of the tune precipitated in him a sort of ecstasy and it was with that ecstasy he viewed what happened to him now. It was a mood of intense appreciation, a sense that, for once, he was magnificently attune to life and that everything about him was radiating a brightness and a glamour he might never know again.’’

For Dexter, the melody drifting over the water fuses the past and the present, the years of struggle just behind and the fulfillment just beginning. This is the magic moment when dreaming and striving reach out to grasp realization, the time of rapture before the fullness of achievement brings its seemingly inevitable disillusion. Suddenly, a motor-boat appears beside the raft, ‘‘drowning out the hot tinkle of the piano in the drone of its spray,’’ and Judy Jones becomes part of this moment in which Dexter is ‘‘magnificently attune to life’’ as he will never be again. She asks him to take her surf-boarding; and highlighting her association with Dexter's ‘‘mood of intense appreciation,’’ Fitzgerald repeats the line with which he had begun the scene. As Dexter joins Judy in the boat, ‘‘there was a fish jumping and a star shining and the lights around the lake were gleaming.’’ When she invites him to dinner on the following night, ‘‘his heart turned over like the flywheel of the boat, and, for the second time, her casual whim gave a new direction to his life.’’

This is the night Dexter realizes he is in love with Judy, and her identification with his sense of being ‘‘magnificently attune to life’’ deepens. ‘‘‘Who are you, anyhow?’’’ she asks him. ‘‘‘I'm nobody,’ he announced. ‘My career is largely a matter of futures.’’’ He is ‘‘‘probably making more money than any man my age in the Northwest’’’; and with all the ‘‘glittering things’’ shining just ahead of him, Dexter realizes that he has wanted Judy since boyhood. She ‘‘communicated her excitement to him,’’ and her youthful beauty thus becomes both a part of his dreams as well as the embodiment of his ‘‘intense appreciation’’ of life at the beginning of their fulfillment.

As the next two years bring him increasing success and his first disillusion with its products, Dexter's love for Judy remains constant. ‘‘No disillusion as to the world in which she had grown up could cure his illusion as to her desirability.’’ Not even her roller-coaster inconstancy can diminish his love for her or disillusion him with her. In Judy, he continues to find the excitement and anticipation that had made the striving for his winter dreams and the threshold of their fulfillment somehow better than their realization was proving to be. When he first loses her and becomes engaged to Irene, he wonders ‘‘that so soon, with so little done, so much of ecstasy had gone from him.’’ And when Judy returns to him, ‘‘all mysterious happenings, all fresh and quickening hopes, had gone away with her, come back with her now.’’ In finally giving up all hope of having her, Dexter is thereafter safe from being disillusioned with Judy and thus can keep imaginatively alive the excitement and anticipation she represents for him not only in herself but also in her identification with his youthful winter dreams.

Against this background, Dexter's tears are even more comprehensible. At thirty-two, he finds that all his winter dreams, except for Judy Jones, have come true, and there are ‘‘no barriers too high for him.’’ But the world he has won has lost the brightness it had had in his dreams; realizing them has cost him the illusions that were their most precious dimension. Now, having long ago accepted the loss of Judy and with his illusions gone, he thinks he has ‘‘nothing else to lose’’ and is therefore ‘‘invulnerable at last.’’ Devlin's detailed picture of Judy as Mrs. Simms strips away this last illusion.

Because Judy Jones and his love for her had become so closely associated with the untarnished richness of his youthful winter dreams, the imaginative present in which she remains alive for Dexter also preserves that youthful richness. When Devlin destroys this imaginative present, Dexter finally and forever loses not only Judy and his love for her but also his ability to keep alive in his imagination the best part of his youth and its winter dreams. He has ‘‘gone away and he could never go back any more.’’ Devlin has wrought a kind of death in Dexter's imagination, and ‘‘even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished.’’ Dexter's tears are justifiably for himself, then: he has lost even more than his love for Judy Jones. In realizing his winter dreams, he has discovered that their greatest value was in the dreaming; and now he has lost the only way left to preserve that priceless capacity.

In this complex and moving conclusion, ‘‘Winter Dreams’’ becomes a story with many values. In itself, it is an interesting and often profound treatment of the ironic winner-take-nothing theme, the story of a man who gets nearly everything he wants at the cost of nearly everything that made it worth wanting. In its relationship to Fitzgerald's other writing, ‘‘Winter Dreams’’ makes a valuable prologue to The Great Gatsby and reflects several of the themes that characterize Fitzgerald's view of the human condition.

Because of Fitzgerald's explicit linking of the two works, it is common to parallel Dexter Green and Jay Gatsby, but the difference between them are even more instructive than the similarities. Both men have generally similar economic and social backgrounds: Dexter's family is higher on the socio-economic scale than Jimmy Gatz' s shiftless parents, but neither boy starts out anywhere near the wealthy upper class or social elite. Both boys are bright and ambitious, dream of wealth and position, and associate their dreams with a rich and beautiful young girl. Both achieve wealth at an early age, only to find its products strangely disillusioning; each loses the girl he loves and thereafter makes her the center of his imaginative life.

Nevertheless, the differences between Dexter Green and Jay Gatsby are essential and revealing: they not only point up the separate interest of the story but also illuminate by contrast many of the complexities of the novel. Dexter, for example, is from beginning to end Dexter Green; he wants not a different self but a richer life, and his dreams are mundane and specific. Jimmy Gatz, however, rejects Jimmy Gatz in favor of a ‘‘Platonic conception of himself’’; he is ‘‘a son of God,’’ and he dreams of ‘‘a universe of ineffable gaudiness.’’ Similarly, Judy Jones is part of Dexter's dreams, one of the ‘‘glittering things’’ he dreams of having who also embodies his reasons for wanting them. But Daisy is the incarnation of Gatsby's dreams, the ineffable made flesh and therefore no longer ineffable.

Dexter gains his wealth by conventional and respectable means entirely consistent with his dreams and, indeed, largely indistinguishable from them. Gatsby's means are apparently corrupt; but, even if they weren't, no earthly means could be any more consistent with the nature of his dreams than is his incarnation of them in a mortal form. Dexter keeps alive his love for Judy Jones and the brightness of his youthful winter dreams in the only way the past can remain alive—by fixing its images out of time and the real world in an imaginative present. Gatsby tries to recapture the past by regaining the real Daisy and through her repeating in the real world the actual moment in time and the actual situation in which his dreams started to become ‘‘confused and disordered.’’

In effect, then, Dexter Green succeeds in recapturing the past only to lose it when new images from the real world and the real present destroy his imaginative present. Gatsby fails to repeat the past and therefore never loses the illusion that he can; his failure is only a temporary setback making even more necessary and stronger his resolve to regain and thereby reshape the past. In his tears, Dexter realizes what Gatsby never learns—that his dreams are forever ‘‘behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night,’’ back in ‘‘the country of illusion, of youth,’’ where dreaming was still untouched by the bruising fall of coming true. Dexter survives with most of his limited dreams realized but having lost twice and forever the richest dimension of those dreams; primarily, he symbolizes the power and also the tragic fragility of the imaginative present. Gatsby is killed, but he dies with his illimitable dreams apparently intact; ultimately, he symbolizes man's unquenchable and tragic capacity for imagining a perfection he not only can never achieve but also inevitably destroys in pursuing.

Beyond its useful relationship to Fitzgerald's masterpiece, ‘‘Winter Dreams’’ is also valuable in its early reflection of the themes that characterize most of his significant writing. The dream-and-disillusion motif in the story appears in varying forms and degrees from its intermittent emergence in This Side of Paradise to its central exploration in The Last Tycoon; it is Fitzgerald's major theme. Dexter Green's painful recognition that the richest part of dreams is not their fulfillment but the dreaming of and striving for them appears implicitly or explicitly in many other works; related to this theme and even more important in Fitzgerald's thought and art is the central stress of the story on the power and value of imaginative life and time. Taken together, these themes reflect the essentially tragic vision of the human condition working at the core of Fitzgerald's serious writing: his increasing concern with man as a creature whose imagination creates dreams and goals his nature and circumstances combine to doom. For any reader, then, ‘‘Winter Dreams’’ can be a fertile and challenging story; for a student of Fitzgerald, its careful analysis is a rewarding necessity.

Source: Clinton S. Burhans, Jr., ‘‘‘Magnificently Attune to Life’’’: The Value of ‘‘Winter Dreams,’’’ in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 6, No. 4, Summer 2000, pp. 401-12.

Tamed or Idealized: Judy Jones's Dilemma in ‘‘Winter Dreams’’

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In her first appearance, Judy is a ‘‘beautifully ugly’’ eleven-year-old whose behavior is unpredictable and outrageous (ordering people around, raising a golf club against her nurse). Also in this first scene she is described as ‘‘passionate’’ and ‘‘radiant,’’ and as having ‘‘vitality.’’ When she's next seen, at age twenty, she is again described as having ‘‘passionate vitality’’ (the word ‘‘passionate’’ is used three times in these first two descriptions, and later her ‘‘passionate energy’’ is noted); she gives an impression of ‘‘intense life.’’

And how do the men in the story react to her passionate vitality? ‘‘All she needs,’’ says Mr. T. A. Hedrick, ‘‘is to be turned up and spanked for six months and then to be married off to an old-fashioned cavalry captain.’’ Hedrick echoes the attitude of many other fictional characters, and those in society, who want to tame this New Woman. Dr. Ledsmar in The Damnation of Theron Ware believes that the outspoken and independent Celia Madden should be ‘‘whipped.’’ In The Awakening, Edna Pontellier's father, ‘‘the Colonel,’’ counsels Edna's husband that ‘‘authority, coercion are what is needed’’ to tame the wayward Edna; ‘‘Put your foot down good and hard,’’ the Colonel says; that's ‘‘the only way to manage a wife.’’ And, to cite one more example, a character in Main Street tells Carol's husband, Dr. Kennicott, that ‘‘the way to handle wives, like the fellow says, is to catch ‘em early, treat ‘em rough, and tell ‘em nothing.’’

Vitality and passion, though attractive, threaten the ability of men to contain women, so men like Hedrick want to beat those qualities out of them and render them childish (‘‘spanked’’) in their subservience and docility. In short, they want to tame these new creatures. Women, according to Hedrick, should be passive and silent (and, incidentally, not allowed on golf courses), active only in their service to men and children. Hedrick is perhaps most offended because Judy is a fiery young woman and not a wife-and-mother-in-waiting. "Contemptuously," he points out her propensity for ‘‘turning those big cow-eyes on every calf in town!’’ And the narrator says that ‘‘it was doubtful if Mr. Hedrick intended a reference to the maternal instinct.’’ Dexter has similar thoughts: while trying to convince himself that Judy is unworthy, ‘‘he enumerated her glaring deficiencies as a wife.’’ The irony is that Judy does turn out to be a loyal wife and mother; she loves her husband even though ‘‘he drinks and runs around,’’ and she ‘‘stays at home with her kids.’’ Her married life is admittedly not developed in the story, but it can be tentatively cited as making another point: that vitality and individuality in a woman do not necessarily negate her ability to be a good wife and mother, as Mr. Hedrick and Dexter believe.

But men not only try to tame and control women like Judy; they also, paradoxically, idealize them. On the night that Judy and Dexter go motorboating, Judy introduces herself and explains why she's riding alone on the lake: ‘‘I live in a house over there on the Island, and in that house there is a man waiting for me. When he drove up at the door I drove out of the dock because he says I'm his ideal.’’ This is the most explicit reference to the tendency of men to idealize Judy, but other attempts occur throughout the story and they, along with the attempts to tame Judy, create an intractable dilemma for her. She desperately wants to be treated fairly, not trampled over by ‘‘an old-fashioned cavalry captain’’ and not absurdly idealized, as by the man waiting in her house. But these are the only ways men know how to react to her—either to tame or to idealize.

Olive Chancellor in James's The Bostonians feels a similar frustration, believing that most men can be divided into two groups, ‘‘palterers and bullies.’’ This Scylla-and-Charybdis dilemma also exists for Daisy Buchanan, whose ‘‘choices,’’ as Fetterley writes, ‘‘amount in reality to no more than the choice of which form she wishes her oppression to take.’’ Just as Daisy is trapped between the tamer (Buchanan) and the idealizer (Gatsby), so Judy is caught between the cavalry captain (Hedrick) and the idealizers (the man at her house and others). Therefore, she fights back with the only weapon she has—her beauty. Since ‘‘she was not a girl who could be ‘won’’’ like some trophy, she fights off these men by ‘‘immediately resolv[ing] the affair to a physical basis.’’ She forces them to play ‘‘her game and not their own’’ (emphasis added), and as a result they become frustrated, confused, bitter, and angry. To call her behavior selfish, spoiled, dishonest, irresponsible, or flirtatious is to confuse a counterpunch for a punch. She reacts to the ‘‘youthful lovers’’ and ‘‘youthful’’ love affairs. As the narrator surmises: ‘‘Perhaps from so much youthful love, so many youthful lovers, she had come, in self-defense, to nourish herself wholly from within’’ (emphasis added).

All Judy wants is to find one man who is not ‘‘youthful’’ or immature—she calls men ‘‘children’’ later—and who does not have the urge to tame or idealize her. This explains why ‘‘when a new man came to town every one dropped out’’ and why she has in her young life stepped into so many cars, sat in so many leather seats, rested her elbow on so many doors—‘‘waiting’’ for a man who will not view her and treat her as all previous men have. In addition, it's made clear that she is not just waiting for a rich man. A story she tells Dexter seems to indicate that she is a gold digger (it's the type of label that might be turned against her). She says that her relations with ‘‘a man I cared about’’ ended when ‘‘he told me out of a clear sky that he was poor as a church-mouse. He'd never even hinted it before.’’ But she did not end the relationship because of his poverty—‘‘I've been mad about loads of poor men,’’ she says—but because he tried to conceal it, tried to be something he was not. In short, he was not able to provide what Judy is looking for: a fair, honest, forthright, and mature man who will not try to tame or idealize her, someone with whom she can develop ‘‘individual camaraderie [sic].’’ By lying, this man without money ‘‘didn't start right.’’

It's Dexter's apparent lack of artificiality, especially about his money, that first attracts Judy to him. When Dexter finishes telling her how rich he is, ‘‘There was a pause. Then she smiled.’’ She smiles not for the money but for the frankness. And soon after that the ‘‘unpredictable compound’’ of her lips—not the presumably predictable compound of a tamed or idealized woman's lips—initiates the affair.

The manner in which Judy then seems to ‘‘toy with Dexter,’’ as Cross says, convinces Dexter and most readers that Judy is a heartless flirt (another label that might be used to categorize her). The narrator's comments about Judy seem to support that reading: she has ‘‘the most direct and unprincipled personality with which [Dexter] had ever come in contact’’; ‘‘there was a very little mental side to any of her affairs’’; ‘‘she was entertained only by the gratification of her desires’’; ‘‘she had beckoned … and yawned at [Dexter].’’ Within a week she is running off with another man, and Dexter soon discovers that a dozen men ‘‘circulated about her.’’ Dexter's ‘‘first exhilaration’’ turns into ‘‘restlessness and dissatisfaction.’’ It seems that the sole cause of this dissatisfaction is Judy's inconstant behavior, but again Judy's behavior is being misread; again a counterpunch is seen as a punch, self-defense as attack. For Dexter has, subtly, played the same game that other men have played with Judy. His apparent lack of artificiality is just that—apparent. His frank start had given Judy hope that he would be different, and when he turned out not to be different, her treatment of him is ‘‘revenge for having ever cared for him at all.’’

How is Dexter like all the other men? First, he has the same urge to tame Judy. On that first night of those kisses, the night after the motorboat ride, he feels ‘‘that for the moment he controlled and owned’’ that ‘‘exquisite excitability’’ of Judy. With this feeling, this attempt to own and control a woman who could not be ‘‘won,’’ he too does not start right. He also commits the other sin, namely that of idealizing her. On this first date, he sees that Judy is wearing a casual dress, which makes him ‘‘disappointed at first that she had not put on something more elaborate. This feeling was accentuated when, after a brief greeting, she went to the door of a butler's pantry and pushing it open called: ‘You can serve dinner, Martha.’ He had rather expected that a butler would announce dinner, that there would be a cocktail.’’ Already, in what she wears and how she acts, Dexter senses a gap between what she is and what—as a pretty rich girl from an important family—she should be. And this gap, this failure to be the girl he wants her to be, makes him ‘‘disappointed.’’ While they eat, he grows more disappointed because she does not act like a predictable and tamed beauty. She slips into ‘‘a moody depression,’’ smiles at unconnected things—‘‘at him, at a chicken liver, at nothing’’—and speaks petulantly. And Dexter's reaction is not an increased interest or attraction; rather, he feels an ‘‘uneasiness’’ and becomes ‘‘worried’’ and ‘‘disturbed.’’ She is untamed and does not match Dexter's idealized picture of her; hence he is ‘‘disturbed.’’

Dexter cannot deal with Judy's individuality, unpredictability, and unconventional behavior. Such behavior makes him disappointed, uneasy, worried—all on their first date. And though it is not explicitly stated that Judy senses and reacts to Dexter's ideas and feelings, it is certainly not implausible that she feels Dexter's unease, his idealization and attempt to tame (if not own) her, since she has seen such behavior in every other man she's met. In this light, her subsequent treatment of him is at least partially understandable.

Dexter's unnaturalness, his attempt to be what he is not, is brought up throughout the story and is a trait that Judy might also have perceived. Dexter, like Gatsby, is embarrassed about his past: his mother's name and her origins as ‘‘a Bohemian of the peasant class’’ bother him; he insists on calling his hometown Keble and not Black Bear Village because Keble is not a ‘‘footstool’’ for a fashionable lake. As a successful businessman, he becomes interested in music and books because ‘‘he had a rather priggish notion that he—the young and already fabulously successful Dexter Green—should know more about such things.’’ Since he idealizes himself, tries to fit the complications of his past into a neat contemporary portrait, and even refers to himself in the third person, it is no surprise that he similarly idealizes and compartmentalizes—and hence misunderstands—Judy.

That Judy reacts against Dexter's behavior is revealed at a later meeting when, ‘‘for almost the first time since they had met,’’ he acts naturally with her, does not parrot the things all the men usually say to her: ‘‘he did not ask her to sit out with him or tell her that she was lovely.’’ And she, significantly, ‘‘did not miss these things.’’ She is tired of conventional behavior and words. At a later meeting, furthermore, he will ‘‘find no casual word with which to profane the hour,’’ and this, in part, leads to a resumption of their affair.

The male characters, to repeat, are bewildered and made miserable by Judy because she cannot be tamed and because she resists idealization; yet, almost unconsciously, they are enormously attracted to her. Her passion and vitality, her ‘‘unpredictable compound,’’ set her off from other women. Her smile is so radiant that ‘‘at least a dozen men were to carry [the memory of it] into middle age’’; her inexpressible loveliness brings ‘‘no end of misery to a great number of men.’’ Men are enraptured by her because the women of their creation—tamed, protected, idealized—are pallid in comparison. Indeed, ‘‘light-haired’’ Irene, the woman Dexter becomes engaged to, is literally pallid.

But though men help to create women like Irene, they don't like them because they're boring, as Dexter's feelings about Irene show. Just four months into his engagement to Irene, he marvels "that so soon, with so little done, so much of ecstasy had gone from him.’’ Imagining his future with her, he ‘‘knew that Irene would be no more than a curtain spread behind him, a hand moving among gleaming teacups, a voice calling to children.’’ Here is the angel in the house, yet what is the result: ‘‘fire and loveliness were gone, the magic of nights and the wonder of the varying hours and seasons.’’ The engagement is to be announced soon, one that ‘‘no one would be surprised at.’’ Dexter is doing the expected thing, following the standard pattern, marrying the ‘‘right’’ girl; there will be no more surprises in his life, no more distracting ‘‘fire’’ and ‘‘magic.’’ In a late scene in the story, while looking at some people dance (he is no longer dancing himself) and thinking of this future, ‘‘he leaned against the door-post, nodded at a man or two—yawned.’’ Then he hears, ‘‘Hello, darling.’’

At the moment that Dexter is yawning into a solid, predictable life of no surprises, Judy appears, slender and golden, and ‘‘he could have wept at the wonder of her return’’ when all weeping and wonder seemed lost from his life. For when Judy left, ‘‘all mysterious happenings, all fresh and quickening hopes, had gone away with her.’’ It is Judy and women like her who provide the compound that make life a mysterious happening, and make Dexter ‘‘magnificently attune to life.’’ Yet the men in the story do all they can to deny and eliminate that mystery, that unpredictable compound, by taming it or making it unreal by idealizing it.

The second act between Dexter and Judy lasts only a month, and once more Fitzgerald implies that Dexter's urge to control and own Judy—and not Judy's mere toying and mindless flirtation—is what dooms the affair. Dexter again starts off wrong by thinking ‘‘this was his girl who was speaking, his own, his beautiful, his pride’’; significantly, the word ‘‘his’’ is used four times in this one sentence. Moreover, during this affair or after (the story does not make this clear), Dexter realizes that ‘‘he did not possess in himself the power to move fundamentally or to hold Judy Jones,’’ implying again that Dexter has tried to control and own a person who refuses to be owned. Other taming and idealizing behavior may also have resurfaced during this month-long second affair, behavior that Judy reacted to. And when this affair ends and he does not ‘‘bear any malice toward her,’’ it's left unsaid whether Judy might have borne any malice toward him for trying again to control and own her, for falling into a predictable pattern of male behavior, for hinting at but not fulfilling the possibility of creating ‘‘a deep and spontaneous mutual attraction,’’ for disappointing her.

Eventually, however, Judy gives up her search. Though it's not told, since this is ostensibly the story of Dexter's lost dreams and not Judy's, it can be deduced that Judy kept looking, kept trying any new man in town (and in her trips to Florida and Hot Springs), and finally discarded her dreams. ‘‘I'm awfully tired of everything,’’ she says late in the story. She's tired of those youthful love affairs and youthful lovers and of those ‘‘idiotic dance[s]’’ filled ‘‘with those children.’’ She's worn out from fighting men who try to tame and idealize her. Dexter at this late point sees her cry for the first time; something, too, has perhaps broken in her. She asks, ‘‘why can't I be happy?’’ So she marries Lud Simms—his name alone indicates a lack of grace, if not a cavalry captain—who ‘‘drinks and runs around,’’ who can be ‘‘particularly outrageous,’’ and who ‘‘treats [Judy] like the devil.’’ Yet, apparently resigned to not realizing her own dreams, she forgives and perhaps even loves him, and stays home with her children. She never finds a life that is not dominated by children.

Thus, at the end of the story, one can say, as the narrator says about Dexter, that Judy Jones—like many other women in Fitzgerald's fiction and in American society at the time (her name has an Every woman aspect to it)—also had something in her long ago, a desire for mature camaraderie, for a man who would not try to tame or idealize her, for a life where her passion and vitality would not be resented and curbed, but that thing is gone, and it will come back no more.

Fitzgerald, as McCay has argued, was a ‘‘chronicler and critic of the world in which he lived,’’ a world ‘‘not entirely of Fitzgerald's fictional making.’’ He was committed, almost to the point of obsession, to transcribing the reality of his times. ‘‘More than any other writer,’’ Malcolm Cowley argues, ‘‘Fitzgerald had the sense of living in history. He tried hard to catch the color of every passing year: its distinctive slang, its dance steps, its songs (he kept making lists of them in his notebooks), its favorite quarterbacks, and the sort of clothes and emotions its people wore. He felt in the beginning that his own life was not merely typical but representative of a new generation.’’

The characterization of Judy Jones, then, is a part of Fitzgerald's attempt to bring a representative figure of his generation into literature, a woman, like many women, caught between contradictory forces. To accuse him of being sexist or misogynist because he portrays male characters as bewildered by and at times antagonistic toward unconventional women, and because he portrays female characters as oftentimes confused and crippled by this society is the logical equivalent of shooting the messenger. Yet this is the thought process of many critics of Fitzgerald (and of other writers of the time) and one that blinds them to the complexity of Fitzgerald's views of women and his sympathy for their plight.

The failure to understand Fitzgerald's view of Judy Jones is linked to the mistaken impression that Fitzgerald is somehow a part of the reactionary forces that were intent on putting down the New Woman, as the Norton editors argue. Fitzgerald has become as misunderstood as Judy Jones herself, and this intellectual sloppiness has resulted in a grievous cheapening and trivialization of one of this country's greatest writers.

Source: Quentin E. Martin, ‘‘Tamed or Idealized: Judy Jones's Dilemma in ‘Winter Dreams,’’’ in F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Perspectives, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, Alan Margolies, and Ruth Prigozy, University of Georgia Press, 2000, pp. 159-72.

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Critical Overview