Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Comparison: Winter Dreams and Great Expectations

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Dreams and Expectations

The story “Winter Dreams” and the movie Great Expectations (based on the book by Charles Dickens) both tell rite-of-passage tales about men in search of beauty and wealth. The stories both begin when the men are boys and fall in love at first sight with girls who are as stunning as they are pretentious. These girls become the symbols of the great quest for beauty, the great journey in search of a top-notch spot within America’s social hierarchy. These girls also become women… women who torture the men, yet please them just as easily. Only one story has a happy ending, but both reveal tragedy in a new light. These memorable men find the beauty and the wealth in the least expected, most thought provoking ways.

Dexter Green is the man with winter dreams, and the great expectations are for Finnegan Bell. Their common quest for beauty stems from the nature that constantly surrounds, fascinates and inspires them.

Dexter finds his gorgeousness early on vicariously through skiing, caddying and golfing. Although F. Scott Fitzgerald does not continue after initially describing these activities, he does (in third person) display Dexter’s love of mother nature and the seasons and all the little things in about every other paragraph.

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Finn has a gift. He is an artist. He makes his life, his experiences in the world, tangible through paintings that are as beautiful as the way Dexter sees his world. The movie itself is a work of art. Everything is framed the way Finn would see it. Every shot is a possible painting, and there is green everywhere. The green signifies the great growth that waits in the wings for both Finn and the objects of his love.

Fitzgerald and Dickens created memorable male characters that longed to be part of the upper class, which most likely signifies their own personal desires for fame and fortune. “He wanted not association with glittering things and glittering people�he wanted the glittering things themselves” (18).

The main themes in these stories are the aspirations of love, money, and art. All of these things are personified in the ever-heavenly-and-haunting female character. She is the epitome of the main

characters’ dreams and expectations, and the inspiration for their achievements. The fact that she is cruel exposes a feeling of misogyny that is very realistic when thinking about the time period when these stories were written.

Dexter and Finn meet Judy and Estella at a pre-teen age… basically a childhood crush that virtually never dissolves. Even though their ages are the same, the girls try to act older and more sophisticated. It’s like they have this secret that Dexter and Finn spend their lifetimes trying to figure out. A seemingly eternal fascination spins their spurs into such a frenzy that almost nothing else will bring them happiness. Both girls are admirably rich and beautiful�everything the boys want and want to be.

During these first encounters Judy calls Dexter ‘kiddo,’ and Estella refers to Finn as ‘boy.’ The fact that only Judy continues with her little pet name throughout the story serves as a foreshadowing for Dexter’s ultimate disappointment. Estella grows to belittle Finn in more elusive ways, which shows that she really does care for him. She’s just too afraid to admit it, because she was raised by her broken-hearted guardian to break men and never let them in.

Both girls are offensive, enormously confident (17) and desirable, demanding, snobby, and full of vitality and pretention. Both equally grow to lose these qualities by the end. Dexter, his pedestal knocked down and his bubble burst, is devastated. Finn is relieved and ecstatic that Estella finally sees the light in herself that he always knew was there.

Light as art. This is another common theme. The blinding blurry brightness of the sun parallels Estella’s beauty in every frame of Great Expectations. In “Winter Dreams,” Dexter “squints up against the hard dimension-less glare” (15) of the sun, symbolizing the eventual loss with his internal struggle to hold onto his idea of what and who Judy is. “…the sun went down with a riotous swirl of gold and varying blues and scarlets, and left the dry rustling night…” (1).

Wealth. This is the obvious theme. Finn grows up very poor, and receives his opportunity for wealth from a mysterious outside source. Dexter didn’t have it as bad. His father paved the way for him, and after much hard work he earned the rest himself. They both worked extremely hard for their ‘American Dreams’, went to New York, got their hands dirty, and honestly earned every ounce of their successes.

The thing that makes these narratives so lovable and memorable is their extreme focus on all the beauty in the world. It’s a refreshing reminder that while the little things in life can be the most stressful,

they can also be the most relaxing.

The seasons are clearly defined in both stories. The blinding sweaty stick of summer, autumn’s seemingly-never-ending supply of floating leaves, and (of course) the winter dreams of a refreshingly pre-mature spring. In Great Expectations, the mere settings and Finn’s amazing paintings speak the influence of these things themselves. In “Winter Dreams,” Dexter’s imaginative thoughts describe them with words instead of visuals;

“In April the winter ceased abruptly… Without elation, without an interval of moist glory the cold

was gone… (and) Fall made him clench his hands and tremble and repeat idiotic sentences to

himself and make brisk abrupt gestures of command to imaginary audiences and armies. October

filled him with hope which November raised to a sort of ecstatic triumph, and in this wood the

fleeting brilliant impressions of the summer at Lake Erminie were ready grist to his will” (15).

The differences between Finn and Dexter come into play with regards to their relationships to their women. Judy and Estella will always be their number one(s), and they incessantly seek to be their equals.

But Dexter at least tries to move on. Finn doesn’t even entertain the idea. He never gets involved with any other women, while she ultimately becomes divorced with a daughter. Finn has a few sexual encounters with Estella, goes home to draw it, and in the end their life-long bond becomes the most important to the both of them. Dexter, however, has an actual relationship with Judy, but its at her convenience. She sees other men while he patiently waits for whenever its time for his turn. When she goes away, he settles for second best with miss Irene Scheerer. In the end, he doesn’t even know if he has a number one anymore or if he’ll ever have one again. It’s so devastating because he clings to his own personal idea of truth. He ultimately discovers that truth is relative, and even subjective!

Wealth, however, does become a reality, for both men. Dexter has a knack for giving one hundred and fifty percent and being the best at whatever he sets his mind to. He caddies to be close to the golfers he admires. He does it first for money. Before Finn learns of his great expectations with Estella and the art world, he finds pleasure in fishing and ends up chartering his boat. He does it for money second. But Finn’s passion and pure, raw, unwavering talent for drawing is always evident. Once given the chance, he succeeds wildly in the strange business of galleries and art shows. They both find all of these things in New York after spontaneously uprooting and moving there. They both do this on impulse. These are their beautiful American Dreams… success in New York.

No matter what the setting, the love and beauty of the surroundings in these stories is constantly obvious. Dexter dreams and imagines and speaks of these things. Finn sees and draws these things. They

both seek to describe the likes of their women in the same artistic ways, but never seem to pin-point it. The hooks are in deep, and ideal way they view their women is also found in the ideal way they see nature and the world they live in. The secret is forever sought after like it is the fountain of youth. It keeps them going.

Finn keeps on like a rolling stone when he finds that his other-worldly woman, Estella, truly is human. He loves her even more for finally admitting her shortcomings… and then they roll together. Dexter, however, is extremely disillusioned when he finds out Judy’s human flaws. Earlier in his life “no disillusion as to the world in which she had grown up could cure his illusion as to her desirability” (14), but what Devlin told him in the end was apparently the miracle cure and a devastating one at that. “Something had been taken from him. The dream was gone” (140) and it is very doubtful that it will ever return.

Perhaps he’ll find a new dream, a summer dream in Irene, but people always remember their very first dream. Always. And that is what these stories are about; Innocence. The purity and curiosity and passionate commitment to your first love, whether it be a person or place or both. The rites-of-passage that supposedly ended Dexter and Finn’s innocence…or maybe it just obstructed their view.

These characters create a tragedy of their own device. They experience that brush with a world so large that you seldom or never see it again.

The main focus of these stories, of Dexter and Finn, of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Dickens, is clearly love and all the beauty in it and the world. Their passions are seemingly set in stone, and their love has nothing to do with deserving. It just is. These stories give faces and places and names and life that old clich��love is blind.

In Dexter’s story, his perfect little dream world in his head clashes with the harsh reality of the real world in the end. He finds that even fantasies have flaws and that is his rite-of-passage.

In Finn’s story, his dream world becomes a reality and the end reinforces it. He stays true to himself and that is his rite-of-passage.

Dreams and expectations are not brother and sister, but they are definitely cousins. The difference is that dreams are a lot less realistic. Expectations are tangible.


Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Winter Dreams.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York W.W. Norton & Company, 1.

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