Throughout the story, Dexter is “dictated to by his winter dreams,” which are his fantasies of grandeur that motivate his choices and ambitions. Though these dreams drive him to great professional success, his single-minded focus on status leaves him emotionally hollow. Therefore, his winter dreams represent the brittle nature of the American dream, whose pursuit can bring status, but not fulfillment. Dexter’s winter dreams affect every aspect of his life, large and small—he dreams of petty victories, such as defeating T.A. Hedrick in a game of golf, and of ambitious long-term goals, such as belonging among old-money East Coast elites. Each time Dexter makes an important decision (quitting his job at the club, attending an East Coast university, selling his laundries and moving to New York, trying to marry Judy) Fitzgerald invokes winter dreams, but each time one of those dreams is fulfilled, Dexter remains dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction is unsurprising, since Dexter’s single-minded focus on achieving the traditional markers of wealth and success causes him to forget to ask himself what he truly wants or needs to be happy. When, at the end of the story, he realizes that Judy’s beauty has faded and her marriage is unhappy, he realizes that his winter dreams—like Judy herself—are hollow and dissipating. As he has never focused on anything else, his winter dreams maroon him—he is left with a feeling of being alone and having lost something that he can never recapture.
Winter Dreams Quotes in Winter Dreams
Some of the caddies were poor as sin and lived in one-room houses with a neurasthenic cow in the front yard, but Dexter Green’s father owned the second best grocery-store in Black Bear—the best one was “The Hub,” patronized by the wealthy people from Sherry Island—and Dexter caddied only for pocket-money.
He became a golf champion and defeated T.A. Hedrick in a marvelous match played a hundred times over the fairways of his imagination, a match each detail of which he changed about untiringly—sometimes he won with almost laughable ease, sometimes he came up magnificently from behind. Again, stepping from a Pierce-Arrow automobile, like Mr. Mortimer Jones, he strolled frigidly into the lounge of the Sherry Island Golf Club—or perhaps, surrounded by an admiring crowd, he gave an exhibition of fancy diving from the spring-board of the club raft….
“I think I’ll quit.” The enormity of his decision frightened him. He was a favorite caddy, and the thirty dollars a month he earned through the summer were not to be made elsewhere around the lake. But he had received a strong emotional shock, and his perturbation required a violent and immediate outlet. It is not so simple as that, either. As so frequently would be the case in the future, Dexter was unconsciously dictated to by his winter dreams.
Now, the quality and the seasonability of these winter dreams varied, but the stuff of them remained. They persuaded Dexter several years later to pass up a business course at the State university—his father, prospering now, would have paid his way—for the precarious advantage of attending an older and more famous university in the East, where he was bothered by his scanty funds…. He wanted not association with glittering things and glittering people—he wanted the glittering things themselves. Often he reached out for the best without knowing why he wanted it—and sometimes he ran up against the mysterious denials and prohibitions in which life indulges. It is with one of those denials and not with his career as a whole that this story deals.
He did not consider it necessary to remark that he had once carried Mr. Hart’s bag over the same links, and that he knew every trap and gully with his eyes shut—but he found himself glancing at the four caddies who trailed them, trying to catch a gleam or gesture that would remind him of himself, that would lessen the gap which lay between his present and his past.
One minute he had the sense of being a trespasser—in the next he was impressed by the tremendous superiority he felt toward Mr. T.A. Hedrick, who was a bore and not even a good golfer anymore.
Next evening while he waited for her to come down-stairs, Dexter peopled the soft deep summer room and the sun-porch that opened from it with the men who had already loved Judy Jones. He knew the sort of men they were—the men who when he first went to college had entered from the great prep schools with graceful clothes and the deep tan of healthy summers. He had seen that, in one sense, he was better than these men. He was newer and stronger. Yet in acknowledging to himself that he wished his children to be like them he was admitting that he was but the rough, strong stuff from which they eternally sprang.
He could have gone out socially as much as he liked.... His confessed devotion to Judy Jones had rather solidified his position…. Already he was playing with the idea of going East to New York. He wanted to take Judy Jones with him. No disillusion as to the world in which she had grown up could cure his illusion as to her desirability.
A sort of dullness settled down upon Dexter. For the first time in his life he felt like getting very drunk. He knew that he was laughing loudly at something Devlin had said, but he did not know what it was or why it was funny. When, in a few minutes, Devlin went he lay down on his lounge and looked out the window at the New York sky-line into which the sun was sinking in dull lovely shades of pink and gold.
The dream was gone. Something had been taken from him. In a sort of panic he pushed the palms of his hands into his eyes and tried to bring up a picture of 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. And her mouth damp to his kisses and her eyes plaintive with melancholy and her freshness like new fine linen in the morning. Why, these things were no longer in the world! They had existed and they existed no longer.
For the first time in years, there were tears streaming down his face. But they were for himself now…. The gates were closed, the sun was gone down, and there was no beauty but the gray beauty of steel that withstands all time. 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.