Throughout the book, Sophie’s accounts of her past—who her real parents are, how she came to hear Bompie’s stories—contrast with the crew’s views of her. Sophie is already quite the dreamer by heart, but she also seems to make up a lot about her past—she always finds ways to avoid answering questions about who her “real” parents were, and what happened to them.
For instance, whenever Brian or Cody bring up or ask about Sophie’s past—such as who her “real” parents were—she either avoids answering altogether, or starts to tell a story about a “little kid” whose parents left her to go to heaven. It seems that Sophie has deliberately forgotten about her past—the death of her parents—in order to feel as if her foster parents were her real ones, to feel like an original member of her new family, and to shield herself from the pain of remembering her parents’ death. Whenever Sophie talks about the “little kid,” she’s talking about herself in the third-person—this shows how deeply ingrained Sophie’s way of forgetting her past is in her mind. The difference between dreaming and the real world is therefore a bit blurred for Sophie. She lives in a dream to a large extent, believing that she was born into her foster family, having wanted to forget the pain of her original parents’ tragic accident. Her dream protects her from feeling sadness and pain.
At the end of the book, we find out that Sophie adds something to Bompie’s stories (which he had written about in his letters to her) whenever she retells them: Bompie always encounters or falls into a body of water and struggles in it. Yet when Sophie finally meets Bompie and retells all his stories to him, after each story he says that he doesn’t recall the part about struggling in the water. Finally, Sophie tells him a story that he doesn’t remember at all: when he went on a sailing trip with his parents, who were swept away and drowned by a big wave. He says he doesn’t remember that story, and Bompie and Cody conclude that, in fact, the story is Sophie’s—the tragic accident of her parents’ death, a memory from her past which she’s blocked from her mind. Sophie was really the one who had suffered in the water. When she hears this, she bursts into tears.
Beyond the idea of dreaming as fantasy or repression, literal dreams also play a prominent role in The Wanderer. Sophie is haunted by a recurring dream in which a giant wave (“The Wave”) towers over her and threatens to crash upon her—but she always wakes up just before it does. Sharon Creech also blends the distinction between dream and reality in Sophie’s mind by having her call the nearly fatal wave that crashes upon The Wanderer in real life by the same, capitalized name (“The Wave”). In this way, it’s as if, for Sophie, the same wave in her dreams has happened in her real, waking life.
The Wanderer, therefore, mainly explores the division between dreaming and the real world through the way the division works in Sophie’s own mind. She has in many ways created her own dream world and lost touch with the real one, trying to forget about her painful past.
Dreaming vs. The Real World ThemeTracker
Dreaming vs. The Real World Quotes in The Wanderer
And what I wanted to do was go on and on, across the sea, alone with the water and the wind and the birds, but some said I was too young and the sea was a dangerous temptress, and at night I dreamed a terrible dream. A wall of water, towering, black, crept up behind me and hovered over me and then down, down it came, but always I awoke before the water covered me, and always I felt as if I were floating when I woke up.
Sophie talks about my aunt and uncle as if they are her real parents, even though they are only her adopted parents and she’s only been with them three years. Brian says Sophie lives in a dream world, but I think it’s kind of neat that she does that. At least she isn’t sitting around moping about being an orphan.
We are barely under way with our journey, and already everything seems more fluid and relaxed. . . . I’m ready to get out on the open ocean, though. I want to be moving, to be sailing, where it doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, where time is all connected.
Out here, there isn’t day and night and then a new day. Instead, there are degrees of light and dark, merging and changing. It’s like one long stream of time unfolding in front of you, all around you. There isn’t really a yesterday or a day before, which is weird, because then what is tomorrow? And what is last week or last year? And if there is no yesterday or last year—or ten years ago—then it must all be now, one huge big present thing.
Last night I dreamed about Sophie, and this morning I asked Uncle Dock if Sophie knew what had happened to her parents. He said, “At some level, Sophie must know. But consciously? That’s something only Sophie can answer.”
I was going overboard; I was sure of it. Underwater forever, twisting and turning, scrunched in a little ball. Was this the ocean? Was I over the side and in the sea? Was I four years old? In my head, a child’s voice was screaming, “Mommy! Daddy!”
I feel as if there were things inside me that were safely tucked away, sort of like the bilge down there, hidden under the floorboards of The Wanderer. But it feels as if the boards were blown off by The Wave and things are floating around and I don’t know where to put them.
I am thinking about Bompie. At last I will see Bompie. Why am I scared?
There's a little kid. And the little kid doesn't know what is going on. The little kid is just cold or hungry or scared and wants Mommy and Daddy. And when other people tell the little kid that Mommy and Daddy have gone to heaven . . . the little kid feels bad and wonders why they didn't take their little kid with them . . .
And everywhere the little kid goes, people ask what the little kid remembers about the grown-ups, who have gone away to the beautiful place, but the little kid doesn’t want to remember that painful thing. . . . The little kid wants to be right here, right now . . . not back at those times the little kid got left behind.
But no matter what the little kid might want, something inside pushes the little kid ahead while something or someone pulls the little kid back.
I could understand what he was saying, but I wondered if the same was true of children, that sometimes you can’t control things and sometimes you have to let go. Maybe you even have to let go of your parents. But then I was all muddled in my head and I couldn’t make sense of anything, not even where I was or why I was there.
And I keep thinking about the wave dream I used to have. What seems especially eerie is that the wave in all of those dreams was The Wave—exactly the same: the same height, the same shape. The only difference is that the wave in my dreams was black, and this one was white. . . .
I can’t get rid of the feeling that the waves of my dreams were all pointing to The Wave that got us on the ocean.
Everyone is talking about reaching Ireland, but I feel weird, as if we’re not really going to get there, or as if I’m not ready to be there. And what will happen with Sophie when we do reach Bompie? Maybe that’s part of the reason I don’t want to get there. I’m afraid for Sophie.
I reached across the bed and touched her hand. “Sophie,” I said. “Maybe that’s not Bompie’s story. Maybe that’s your story.”
Bompie whispered, “Sophie, he’s right. That’s your story, honey.”
Sophie stared at me and then at Bompie. She looked so scared and so little sitting there beside Bompie. And then she put her head down on Bompie’s chest and she cried and cried and cried.
It was strange reading the ones about the car in the river, and leaping off the train tracks, and Bompie’s baptism, and Bompie in the swimming hole, and Bompie at the ocean. Most of what Sophie had told us was pretty much the way he had told it to her in his letters, except for the parts about struggling in the water. He was in the water all those times, but he hadn’t written about struggling in it.
Those parts had come from Sophie.
I’ve been thinking about the little kid. I think that one day the little kid got lucky and she landed in a place where it was okay if she couldn’t remember all the time, and because it was okay if she couldn’t remember all the time, and because it was okay not to remember, she started to remember. And along with the painful things came the good things to remember and maybe she felt as if she’d found some things she’d lost.
I can tell that my now-parents are awfully relieved that I made it back in one piece. They keep coming into my room at night and sitting on the edge of my bed, and when I open my eyes, they say, “You okay? You need anything?” and I say, “I’m just fine.”
I’m not in dreamland or earthland or mule-land. I’m just right here, right now. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the sea, but I feel as if I’ve been dunked in the clear cool water and I’ve come out all clean and new.
Bye-bye, Bompie. Bye-bye, sea.