Printer Friendly

Rewriting Southern male introspection in Josephine Humphreys' 'Dreams of Sleep.'

The introspective male has become a character type in Southern fiction. Quintessentially, he is Quentin Compson of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! but his heirs include, among others, Robert Penn Warren's Jack Burden and Jeremiah Beaumont, Walker Percy's Binx Bolling and Will Barrett, Lee Smith's Richard Burlage, Peter Taylor's Phillip Carver, and Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe. Although this cerebral character is typically the tool of male authors, Josephine Humphreys uses the type as well. Will Reese, of Humphreys' first novel, Dreams of Sleep, clearly shares many traits with the Southern male character type. Like these men, he feels alienated from the communities of his family and profession; he is dissatisfied, restless, and propelled by an undefined longing; he crusades to save the women in his life, despite his limited understanding of them. Yet unlike his introspective predecessors, Will finally has little to redeem himself in the readers' eyes. He is a poor judge of character, and he remains, even at the novel's conclusion, reluctant to assume responsibility for his own actions. It is Alice Reese, not her husband, whose introspection yields all increased understanding of self and other; Alice and her self-awareness are the novel's sustaining forces. Humphreys' portrayal of Will, finally, is a subtle undermining of his type in Southern fiction. She recasts the type by creating Alice, an introspective female who ultimately functions as it positive force in the novel and who is one of the first of her sex to appropriate the characteristics formerly, associated with the thinking Southern man.

These "well-bred, overly cerebral southern males are usually philosophers by disposition, although many of their decisions about career, family, and self are in reality unsuccessful evasions of more far-reaching issues that continue to puzzle and haunt them - time, history, mutability, and their personal relationship to these uncontrollable forces. Despite feeling misunderstood by and alienated from any larger community, these characters frequently allow external events to subsume their conscious minds, and so are spared from confronting failure in their personal lives. But for these men the events of the world ultimately serve as a distraction, and the reader can seldom trust the cerebral male's perception of them because they are filtered through and tinged by the nameless restlessness that these characters share. In actuality, the introspective Southern male is self-absorbed, seeking an antidote to his internal sadness in the external world which he alternately retreats from and embraces. His recurrent dissatisfaction frustrates us as readers because its origin often eludes us, yet we acknowledge a sense of incompleteness as the central force propelling the introspective Southern male.

These men often seek personal wholeness in associations with the women whom they profess to love, but eventually females become little more than icons to these crusaders in their name. In most cases, the cerebral Southern man feels himself compelled to save a female character: Quentin is obsessed with Caddy and her virginitv; Jack wants to protect Anne Stanton from Willie Stark; Jeremiah murders in the name of Rachel's honor; Binx believes that he saves Kate from herself, Frank protectively watches the home of his ex-wife from across the street. The lives of these men, at least initially, accommodate females as ideas, rather than as viable life partners, and consequentin, women are often relegated to secondary roles in the plots themselves. The men believe they behave as they do for the sake of these women. In reality they defend their idea of the woman, rather than the woman herself, and ultimately minister to their own needs, rather than to hers. Quentin does not fight Dalton Ames for his sister; he fights Ames for the sake of his own masculinity.

Yet if the indefinable longings of these thinking Southern men puzzle the reader, the men themselves often harbor appealing qualities that prevent us from judging them too harshly. Perhaps, finally, we cannot completely condemn their self-absorption and detachment because we admire an earnest struggle to understand one's self. Each man grapples with the past, whether collective or personal, in an effort to understand how it has shaped his present. Each man, whether consciously or subconsciously, seeks to assuage the restless sadness that lurks within him. In most cases, the introspective male Southerner must eventually admit error or even fault; he revises his philosophy, often several times over, in a genuine attempt to believe something, to hold to some truth about himself and his world. His outlook changes in some appreciable way by the novel's conclusion, although not always positively; Quentin's final intensity becomes destructive, and his withdrawal from reality is complete. But the lens through which characters like Jack and Binx see the world widens its range from solitary self to self and other.

Without question, the character of Will Reese pays homage to the type of the cerebral Southern male. Will grapples repeatedly with the issues of time and mutability as do so many of his literary predecessors, beginning with Quentin Compson. Standing in the kitchen of his mistress, Claire, he senses "a shiver of recognition [dance] across his shoulders, the rich dark thickness of time moving toward an end,"(2) and while on vacation at Sea Island, Will goes to visit historic locales such as Bloody Marsh and Fort Frederica because he finds the swimming pool and its patrons "fake" (p. 76). Will seeks in these confrontations with time something that will endure, something that will withstand the creeping decay that consumes in turn each of his interests - poetry, friendship, women, profession. As a young man, Will understood disaster to mean some cataclysmic event, but the mature and disillusioned Will wonders if "maybe disaster no longer comes as . . . any single stroke of ruin, but is instead a creeping, insidious thing - a decay. Things go bad, but slowly; things degenerate, rot" (p. 100). This rot is what Will fears, and as he becomes preoccupied with it, he sees ruin, as he sees sadness, everywhere he looks. Observing Claire's neighborhood, Will thinks, "is this how things fall apart, then? Not in sudden collapse, but by slow fragmentation. Houses turn into apartments, estates into subdivisions" (p. 112). More immediately for Will, love becomes tolerance and tolerance becomes indifference. Quoting lines of poetry to Claire, Will writes: "All other things to their destruction draw,/Only our love hath no decay" (p. 32). Only a few lines later Will concedes what he feels is the great lesson of his life - "love rots" (p. 32). He searches restlessly for something or someone who will not abandon him, as he feels his mother, Marcella, has done, nor fade from his emotions, as have Alice and Claire. He seeks something that will not rot.

For Will believes that there are mysteries of life to be unlocked and that other people know how to attain these truths. He resents his father because "Edmund Reese lived out his life without ever explaining himself. He never told his son where his treasure was" (p. 32). What Edmund does seem to have "willed" to his son is, appropriately enough, a riddle he told him about a man at a crossroads. Will once knew the answer, but he has now forgotten it, and the puzzle haunts him. What he does recall clearly is his father's response when, as a child, Will approached him with a solution. Edmund replied, "yes, that will work," Will recalls; "he never said it was the right answer" (p. 55). This desire for single-minded truth also characterizes the adult Will, who maintains that his restlessness and sadness can be cured by something or someone, if only he can locate the proper medium.

But Will's chosen passions continually disappoint him by failing to meet his expectations of them, and thus contribute with their shortcomings to the growing sense of alienation from community that characterizes Will's life. As an English major in college, he believed in the "staying power" of poetry (p. 32), but as all adult, "he can't remember the poem but remembers keenly having forgotten [it]" (p. 33). He would never have read the poems at all, Will reflects, "if he'd known they'd shadow him the rest of his life" (p. 160). When his mother at last demands of Will, "what is it you want?" he replies with broken lines of verse (p. 182). Will wants what his real life does not offer; he wants poetry. Yet for Will poetry builds no fortress against the advances of time because it can be forgotten.

Not ever one forgets, however. Danny, his best friend from childhood and his adult companion, can recall the poetic lines that escape Will, but his ability to do so widens rather than narrows the gap between the two friends. Will has long suspected that Danny knows where the treasure lies, the secret that will validate the human existence, and the secret that his father knew but neglected to pass on to him. Even as a child, Will longed for Danny's Jewish soul because "it gave Danny a strength that stayed" (p. 104). As an adult Danny is "complete" from Will's perspective - "self destructive to some extent, but whole enough to take it" (p. 104). His friend's apparent core of self-possession only heightens Will's own faltering sense of self" and further alienates him from Danny. In actuality his friend's life is a shambles - Danny is recently divorced and experiencing financial difficulty, and he lives in a virtually unfurnished apartment littered with beer cans. Will does not acknowledge Danny's difficulties because he is concerned with an image of his friend, rather than with the man himself.

After poetry, Will's subsequent passions involve women - Alice, his patients, and finally Claire - but despite his physical association with them, Will ultimately feels as alienated from them as he does from Danny. "Making love to [Alice], he always had the feeling there was something just beyond his reach . . . That's what the thing was, the thing out of his reach: the marriage itself" (p. 41). Eventually Will surmises "that the loneliness of marriage . . . starts out of the love itself, which can never deliver on its promises" (p. 44). Similarly, Will tells Danny that he has lost his earlier passion for obstetrics because his patients "haven't lived up to [his] expectations" (p. 102). As a young doctor, Will felt an unseverable bond to the women under his care, for with each delivery, he would "hand over the baby. And she'd know it came from me." (p. 102). Now, as both Will and his patients age, he sees his function reduced to being merely the watchdog "for signs of disaster" (p. 102). Time and its ruin encroach even here; his profession lacks the staying power that he seeks. Performing a caesarean section, Will looks at the female patient whom he cannot recognize, while echoes of poetry ricochet through his mind. He feels no more connected to the woman than he does to the poetry; he has forgotten the names of both. Likewise, Will's infatuation with Claire dissipates, but not before Will tries to hold it in his memory as he tried to freeze the poetry. Painting Claire's toenails, "he knew . . . that he would not in his lifetime see this happiness again; it was the still zenith of his time on earth" (p. 108).

Will's relationships with Marcella, Claire, and Alice link him again to the literary tradition of the cerebral Southern male. He believes he understands these women, especially their weaknesses, and in the case of Claire and Alice, he feels obligated to save them from the pitfalls that would otherwise certainly claim them. Will has little use for Marcella and less affection; simply stated, he dislikes her. Yet his adult associations with women can be understood only in light of his childhood relationship with his mother. As a young boy, Will finds his mother not at home following his first day of school, and hears her reply to his father's questioning: "but I forgot. I forgot he would be out early on the first day" (p. 99). This is the first of Will's disillusionments about love, as it is his first exposure to the crippling power of forgetting that undermines his later passions. He ultimately must contend that his mother does not love him because, until his affair with Claire and his declaration that "love rots," he believes love is the bastion that ruin cannot assault. If Marcella can forget him she cannot love him because love, in Will's eyes, is resistant to the ruin that claims all else. As a result of his overhearing the conversation between his parents, he forms "a resolution for life: to do without [his mother]," and consequently the adult Will holds firmly to the notion that she cares little for him (p. 99). He finds clear signs of motherly affection (her collection of his baby teeth, for example) puzzling because they do not conform to his image of her.

Maintaining that he fills an insignificant role in his mother's life, Will seeks women who he believes desperately need him. As an obstetrician, Will positions himself so that women require his presence for their very survival. Similarly, Will fancies that he rescues Claire from the stress of a pediatric ward by giving her a job, and he objects loudly to Danny's announcement that Claire plans to return to active nursing. Such a move would indicate that Claire no longer needs saving and thus no longer needs him for a savior. He freezes her in a role of dependency, refusing to acknowledge the self-sufficiency that she has regained through her association with Danny, or, more likely, her dissociation from him.

Will's relationship with his wife assumes a form inverse to his relationship with Claire. Alice expresses little need for Will during their courtship. In fact, Will is dependent on Alice. By his own retrospective admission, he was seeking a liaison that would supersede the one between himself and his mother that his father's death forced upon them. But as Alice's suitor he thought: "this girl isn't going to make it unless someone helps her get through life" (p. 229). Again Will casts himself in the role of savior. Unlike Claire, Alice becomes increasingly dependent on Will, and she is more in need of a savior after years of marriage than she has ever been previously. Ironically, during this period when she truly needs rescuing, Will fails to spare his wife from the passivity that overtakes her. More importantly, he fails to connect her despondency to his own actions.

Instead, Will puzzles about the sadness he perceives in all women as though it were extraneous to him. "He dreads Claire's sadness, stalking him in the corridor" (p. 31), while he observes that the "sadness of all other women pales in comparison with Alice's . . . she could be the source of it, infecting the others" (p. 55). He notices it in the faces of women he does not even know. Only Marcella is not sad. Significantly, Will feels less connection to Marcella than he does to Claire or Alice; from his perspective she has failed him more than he has failed her. The same is not true of either Claire or Alice. In these relationships, Will senses his failure, and he periodically glimpses the flaws in his own actions. As he looks around Claire's home, Will suddenly recognizes that their relationship has made her life "a desert island" (p. 113). In bed later with Alice, he knows that "what remains [of his marriage] is . . . an old sad ghost of the thing that used to be" (p. 174). His marriage and its comment on the ability of love to fade is the resounding failure of his life. Thus the sadness he detects in Alice is the most intense; it is the source of the sadness he perceives in other women because the failure of this love is ultimately the source of his own projected sorrow.

Yet Will expends a great deal of energy blaming forces outside of himself for his inward dissatisfaction. Repeatedly, he assigns blame for "all his own shortcomings, for his own unsureness and his perverseness," as well as blame for the "feeling of inconclusiveness" that pervades his life, to "his father's untimely death" (p. 55). "If he had not been an only child . . . it would not have mattered so much when he refused to go into his father's business," he speculates earlier, concluding that "he wanted to have the children his father had not had" (p. 52). Implicit blame for the burden of being an only child, then, belongs to Marcella, since the children denied his father are the ones who interest Will. Again, Will experiences brief moments of self-recognition. Watching Claire at her desk, Will knows "his heart is a shambles of its own making" (p. 109). Yet like Alice, Will seems paralyzed, powerless to overthrow the sadness that has crept into his own life and that taunts him from the faces of the women he has failed.

Despite a periodic awareness of his own shortcomings, an awareness that is in keeping with the literary tradition of Southern introspection, Will is not wholly the product of that literary type. Will undermines the type, rather than merely playing successor to it. Humphreys is not the only one to manipulate the tradition; indeed, Lee Smith does much the same thing with the intellectual Richard Burlage of Oral History. Yet Smith's characterization is at times heavy-handed, and ultimately Burlage becomes a caricature of the thinking Southern man. Humphreys' approach is more subtle and so carefully interwoven that the reader might well accept Will's sudden revelations about the true natures of Marcella, his stepfather Duncan, and Alice at face value - "This time [I'll] thank [Alice], for more than opening the gates," Will thinks as he speeds home after seeing Claire and Danny together in bed (p. 193). But Humphreys laces the conclusion of Dreams of Sleep with hints that Will's transformation is not complete. Finally Will stands before the reader with less to redeem him for his self-absorption than do literary antecedents like Jack Burden and Binx Bolling who have been similarly thoughtless, alienated, and distracted by a series of passions.

For Will remains, even at the conclusion, somewhat deluded about Alice and about himself. After resolving to tell his wife "all about Claire," he immediately determines that he will tell her about Claire's abortion only "depending on how she takes the rest" (p. 193). His newfound appreciation for his wife smacks hollowly of a man whose options are narrowing rapidly. After all, his mistress has just married his best friend, and his wife has admitted to knowing the details of his affair. The reconciliation scene in Will and Alice's bedroom is a further indication that Will has gained no clearer understanding of himself. "Why have I been angry at you?" he asks Alice (p. 229). The answer must come from her; Will himself does not know. Again he turns to an external force for the explanation of his internal dissatisfaction. He shifts the responsibility for answering that all-important question away from himself and onto Alice. When Alice asks him "what about Claire?" Will responds, "that's over" (p. 231). Alice explains that her concern was for Claire personally. Will's focus remains as it always has been - his personal association with Claire, rather than with Claire as an individual.

Most disturbing and most telling is Will's assessment of the paralyzing passivity that has been Alice's response to his infidelity. "You lead a charmed existence," Will tells his wife (p. 230). "Nothing destroys you . . . you regenerate," he continues by way of interpreting her lassitude (p. 230). Alice has long seen it more realistically; "she always thought of it as torpor and failure" (p. 230). While such terms may be too harsh to describe accurately Alice's passivity, she certainly cannot be credited with selecting her response as a means of regeneration. She simply feels powerless to react to the disintegration of her marriage, and so the aim-lessness that characterizes her daily activities consumes her. But she knows that the passivity and numbness are dangerous because they widen the gap that yawns between her and her husband, her and her children, her and the life she wants to claim as her own. Will, conversely, has no sense of the debilitating nature of her stasis. He absolves himself from any guilt he might feel about having hurt his wife by subscribing to his mistaken theory about her leading a "charmed existence." Alice contemplates Will's assessment of her briefly before her husband makes what is perhaps his most accurate statement of the book - " love has to modify our natural state, which is solitude" (p. 231). If he does not recognize the underlying ramifications of her apparent calm, he does, to his credit, recognize in Alice's introspective nature a kindred spirit.

Alice is one of the first Southern females to appropriate the characteristics formerly associated with the cerebral Southern male. Alice is a mathematician, an intellectual who subscribes to the abstraction of pure math, as Will once devoted himself to poetry. She recognizes her distance from the arena in which most people live: "at one time she thought math would clarify the world for her. She knew her link to real things was weak" (p. 8). Alice does periodically employ the tools of geometry as shapers of reality. The light on her bedroom floor becomes "squares stretching to rhomboids of clear fall sun"; "she loves the quiet of light and its mutable geometry" (p. 1). Her search for signs and omens is not as antithetical to the laws of mathematics as it might seem. Math also relies on symbols (i.e., +, -. =) to which we assign the power of indicating what is to follow. Alice, similarly, cannot move from her bed "till that first stamp of light touches the wide crack in the floorboards" (p. 1). Yet at some point math fails to bind Alice to the world, and she moves to a human relationship in search of that interconnection, just as Will drifted away from his infatuation with poetry and into his relationship with her. Contemplating the remaining shards of her marriage, Alice reflects that she "had made a deal for the real world! That's what the marriage was for. To get to the man and the children" (p. 150). But Alice's life fails to live up to her expectations, just as Will's disappoints him.

Alice, like Will, also experiences a sort of nameless longing and restlessness. It is she who dreams of sleep. For Alice "the favorite dream was a dream about sleep, a dream of moving closer and closer to sleep's ease . . . as she grew older . . . the dream itself got hard to find. It would not come to her" (p. 72). As the riddle that Will can no longer solve plagues him, so Alice's dream haunts her waking hours. Both have lost something they once thought they had locked firmly in their possession.

A sense of alienation characterizes Alice as it does Will and the introspective Southern males he follows. Alice acknowledges that "this marriage is like a place where the language is not her native tongue (p. 8). She refers not merely to the current marital strain, but to the very intimacy that such a union invokes. Before agreeing to marry Will, Alice explains to him that she is "always lonely. When I'm by myself I don't notice it so much" (p. 40). Not surprisingly, the addition of a husband and two children intensifies this sense of distance from community, so that after ten years of marriage, standing in the kitchen, "she does not feel at home, here at home's center" (p. 8). Alice is painfully aware of the gulf between herself and her children. In the picture taken of Alice and her daughters while on vacation, she stands behind the children "crooked, as if she were about to topple into those red flowers" and consequently out of the frame (p. 24). The photographer organizing the picture assigns to Alice the label of "the Mommy" as he directs her where to stand, but Alice has long felt that role to be one she is incapable of filling successfully (p. 78). Although she speaks occasionally of "wonder, surprise, the delight of the lone explorer" (p. 79) in conjunction with motherhood, she is, as Dawn Drzal points out, rather unconvincing when she adopts this attitude,(3) and seems seldom able to fool even herself. And rather than share a maternal connection with her gender, she remains a "lone explorer" of any feelings created by motherhood. Watching Marcella effortlessly touch Iris's scar, Alice observes that "everywhere people are coming together in love notes and touches and kisses" (pp. 147-148). She knows that she is not among them.

Yet Alice does not follow Will's lead in foisting responsibility for internal dissatisfaction onto the external world. Alice imagines herself crumbling from within, "an implosion . . . . The world collapsing into me; nothing on the outside, everything inside" (p. 5). She is self-critical, rather than self-absorbed. She halfheartedly purchases a new outfit and visits Will at the office in an effort to make herself more attractive to him and, strangely, to meet with Claire's approval. She suspects that Will's dissatisfaction and consequently her own originates in some shortcoming within herself.

Will and Alice share a final trait in their introspection; they both fear impermanence. Humphreys skillfully winds telling words like "ruin" and "rot" throughout the reflections of each. In the grocery, Alice notes "how effortlessly and smoothly things go from ripe to rotten . . . . This sweet milk is already turning, these eggs in their perfect shells already going slowly bad" (p. 137). Like Will, Alice knows the encroachment of ruin to be steady but imperceptible, and she too is powerless in its path. Watching Claire and Danny kiss, Alice wonders if the end of Will's relationship with Claire will drive him away from them both. She has no protection against the further ruin that this change of events promises in her marriage. Alice has only the "Shrieker," a can of noise that offers her no protection when she accidentally releases it in the grocery store.

Again like Will, Alice knows ruin to be linked with expectation. Friday afternoon, Alice concludes, is the "happiest time in the American week. Even the weekend is not as good as the prospect of the weekend" (p. 132). Alice says "love rots" just as surely as Will does, but she has a clearer understanding of why she believes that to be true: "the love gives way to something else - to the fear of losing love? - and ruin begins. With Will she started out with love" (p. 128). Ruin overtakes her.

Yet Humphreys is careful to incorporate nuances in her characterization that suggest Alice as a positive force in the novel. Alice's association with the intriguing Iris Moon is one clear indication that we are to view her differently from the way we perceive Will. Iris is enigmatic; she is clearly central to the narrative itself, for Humphreys devotes a great deal of physical space to recounting Iris's history and chronicling her pursuit of becoming the Reeses' baby-sitter. Yet once Iris secures that position, we catch only brief snatches of her at her job, making it possible for the reader to conclude that Iris's story is little more than a poorly interwoven plot strand that ultimately fails to justify its prominent position in the text. But Humphreys is too much of a literary craftsperson to err so seriously. Iris is interconnected with the people around her in concrete and obvious ways that are beyond the reach of either Will or Alice. She is naturally at ease in a community; she formulates one wherever she goes - in the housing project, in the boarding house, in the Reeses' home. She is admittedly different from most teenagers and clearly the responsibility she bears prematurely for her homelife creates unusual pressures and consequences (i.e., the scene in the laundromat). But the ease with which she offers both physical contact and genuine affection sets her dramatically apart from both Will and Alice, for whom, Will has observed, love is not a "natural state." Significantly, Alice, not Will, visits Iris in her home and Alice, not Will, escapes into the night with Iris in the passenger seat. Iris flits within Will's sphere of concern only randomly; he forges to take her home on the very night that Alice drives away with her. It is Alice whom Iris teaches about love. Will scarcely knows her.

Iris understands more about love than any other character in the novel. She has been witness to its ravaging power in terms of her parents' relationship and the impact of that association on her mother, but she also recognizes its subtle manifestations in, for example, her own affection for Emory. Once Iris "had pictured real love as fast and violent. . . . But maybe it can come as something slow, quiet . . . hardly felt until suddenly you turn on it and see an old face new" ( p. 208). This description of love echoes meaningfully Will's earlier observations about disaster; initially he envisioned catastrophe as physically rending and instantaneous. What both he and Alice have come to see, however, is that the advance of ruin is insidious and virtually imperceptible. The internal dissatisfaction that characterizes the introspective Southern male tints his individual world view with projected sadness. Iris's vision is completely different. Where Will and Alice might see ruin, Iris sees the possibility of love. Alice justifies to Iris her midnight journey by explaining that she cannot go on without being able to make the simple assumption that her husband will return home at night. Iris replies, "who ever knows if the other person is going to show up? . . . In the long run the chances are one hundred percent that somebody's not going to come home. Eventually. You live with the possibilities" (p. 201). Love's potential is the issue at the novel's core.

Dawn Drzal dismisses Humphreys'" kiss-and-make-up" conclusion because it has "none of the compromises of realism in it" (p. 455). Yet key to understanding the exchange between Alice and Will in their bedroom is the riddle of the man at the crossroads, first told to Will by his father. Will discovers that Alice has known the answer to the riddle the whole time that he has struggled fruitlessly to remember one and been haunted by his inability to do so. A correct response to the riddle requires the conditional tense, Alice tells him; the word "if' must be included in the answer because it "turns lies to truth" and keeps true true" (p. 212). If the truth, then, is that "love rots," it rots under certain conditions. Likewise if the truth is that love can survive when "an old face" is seen "new," then love survives under certain conditions. Will and Alice are in a position to decide what their truth will be. Thus the conclusion suggests, not an unrealistic reunion of the estranged couple, but the possibility that their relationship might be rebuilt.

Alice, so long passive, emerges from her introspection with the potential energy to reconstruct her marriage. Admittedly, Will seems to recognize a way to ease the sadness in himself and in Alice - he appears to acknowledge his own responsibility in creating the sadness and ruin he has raged against. "Alice, I have lost some things," Will confesses" (p. 231). "I lost them by pretending they didn't exist. By willful neglect. I don't want to do it to you," he continues (p. 231). But Will still dwells in the abstract world of "some things." Alice's mind, conversely, leaps immediately to the concrete; she at first suspects that his mention of "lost" items refers to misplaced socks or collar stays. Making breakfast shortly after this conversation, Alice, who has for months lacked the energy to so much as make her bed, composes a mental list of things to do. She moves now in the realm of the real world, the world that neither mathematics now her marriage made available to her.

Alice gains that world for herself, and her journey into the night with Iris is a testimony to her newfound power. That trip is the first decisive action Alice has taken in months. While Iris, not Alice, redirects their path for home, that home has been made more real for Alice because she has proven herself capable of leaving it, as well as capable of independent action that is a reaction against, rather than an enduring of, Will's behavior. Her introspection yields an understanding of self that Will's never does. She recognizes the weaknesses inherent in her passivity, and she acts to become the women she wants to be. Will's change of heart overcomes him after his options have narrowed considerably; Alice creates for herself the option to leave when she has no reason to believe that Will will even notice her absence. In bed with him later, Alice feels like a gambler who recovers her initial wager - "no richer, but aware of ruin averted" (p. 231). Alice and Will have been trying to avert ruin for ears. They can succeed by turning ruin into love, Alice realizes (although the reader might well applaud a permanent move on the part of the new Alice to leave the old Will behind). Humphreys condemns neither Will nor men in general. She simply denies Will the tools to save himself. She gives them instead to Alice, and Alice ultimately is the novel's energizing force. The change in her character is more convincing than the self-transformation that Will announces he has undergone.

Introspective, alienated, and restless, Alice is the new heir to the legacy of Southern male introspection. But she revises the tradition in more ways than gender. Her introspection yields self-analysis, rather than self-absorption. Consequently she sets about to change things about herself rather than about the world as a character like Jeremiah Beaumont might have lone. Unlike Quentin Compson, who annihilates his future, or Jack Burden, Binx Bolling, Phillip Carver, and Frank Bascombe, who meet the future on its own terms and with a certain degree of resignation to its uncertain power, Alice moves actively into the future with an adaptability unknown to her male counterparts. Her flexibility is a reflection of the novel's larger theme of possibility. in his drunken ramblings following the explosive dinner at Marcella's, Will suggests that he and Alice move to a different house. Alice knows that they will never do so, although the idea appeals to her; "it is men," she reflects, "to whom home means a certain place, a territory marked and held. [Will] could not leave now" (p. 185). For Will needs the home he has built to define himself and consequently the roles he assumes within its walls. Alice has defined herself away from home. If Will and Alice's marriage recovers, it will be due more to the transformation in Alice than to any change in her husband. Alice, not Will, energizes Dreams of Sleep with possibility.

(1) Fred Hobson, The Southern Writer in the Postmodern World (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991), p. 62. (2) Josephine Humphreys, Dreams of Sleep (New York: Penguin Books, 1984), p. 114. (3) Dawn Ann Drzal, "Casualties of the Feminine Mystique," Antioch Review, 46 (Fall 1988), 460.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Mississippi State University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:McKee, Kathryn B.
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Previous Article:Racial oppression and alienation in Richard Wright's "Down by the Riverside" and "Long Black Song."
Next Article:Tennessee Williams sends his autobiography to Mexico.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters