F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Winter Dreams” examines a boy named Dexter Green whose ambitions become identified with a selfish rich girl. He is from a modest background and he strives to be a part of the exclusive world inhabited by the woman he loves. He needs glittering things such as money, wealth, and privilege to fulfill his vision of a perfect life which indulges gaining the love of Judy Jones. Judy was the center of his dream and she pushed and motivated him to become successful. But having her does more than motivate him to become successful, because she will show him a passionate vitality and liveliness in this life. When he learns that Judy’s beauty and vitality has faded and is lost, he breaks and he is disappointed. This story is about having the American Dream, and there are certain themes such as emptiness, power and money, freedom and control, and illusions that play an important role in attaining that dream. The themes that play throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story also play throughout contemporary society, with immigrants who want to enter into the United States to achieve the same American Dream.
One of the themes that play throughout the story is emptiness. In “Winter Dreams,” Dexter Green is caught up in the lifestyle of the rich and Judy is the center of his dreams. Once she loses her beauty and allure, he loses his dreams and is full of emptiness. He says, “Now that thing is gone . . . I cannot cry. I cannot care. That thing will come back no more”. The winter dreams were just an illusion. Dexter feels empty because his dreams and ambitions, which were to have money, wealth, power, and privilege, are now gone and have disappointed. But those dreams are more complex and more elusive than they initially appear to be. Dexter seeks more than material wealth. He is not a fortune hunter. He wants to experience to the fullest extent possible the richness of life—an elevated, even transcendent, sense of what is fine and rare and valuable. He wanted Judy Jones because she was full of energy and vivacity and this would show excitement and promise in this life of the idol rich.
At the end of the story, his dreams and everything that he did is now considered meaningless. Life has lost its glow, and despite his relative youthfulness, it will never regain its earlier sense of promise. There is no purpose, value or meaning in his life anymore. Now he sees himself as he is, a 32-year old bachelor with no intimate relationships, locked into a pattern of mechanically accumulating money. There is nothing else to back up his wealth, power, and privilege. The dream has fell apart and can never return again. Even if it did return it would never be the same because he didn’t want another image of her to exist. He wanted only one image to exist and last forever. Sometimes we lose ourselves when we try too hard to grab hold of a material dream.
Judy Jones is probably full of emptiness as well since she cannot live the life that she led before, which included juggling wealthy men and having complete control over them. Near the end of the story she married Lud Simms who drinks and does not treat her very well. Her life, which was full of excitement before, is totally changed, leaving nothing but emptiness in her life. Judy was an unhappy, rich girl who used her good looks and personality to put herself at the center of everyone’s attention. In the short story, Fitzgerald provides the readers a description to how sad she really is before we actually hear it from her. He says, “This color and the mobility of her mouth gave a continual impression of flux, of intense life, of passionate vitality—balanced only partially by the sad luxury of her eyes”.
So throughout her life, even though she has seen many different men and was rich herself, she must have had a certain emptiness in her life. And that void that she has could stem back to her childhood. Her parents’ luxurious lifestyle left them little time to raise Judy. The lack of parental involvement kept Judy from being taught to respect people. Judy was raised by a nurse. There is a possibility that she feels lonesome. Even though she is wealthy and manages to go out with many different men, she still has these feelings. She says to Dexter Green, “I’m more beautiful than anybody else. Why can’t I be happy”? Her physically beauty gives her confidence and this is like a mask that she puts on to the world that would not expose her unhappiness. The rich young woman he idealizes is restless, bored, spoiled, fickle, and extremely unhappy. Wealth has not given her the best that life has to offer.
Another major theme that plays throughout the story is illusion. The core of Dexter’s dream was an illusion. The whole dream is based on Judy’s beauty, and her energy and vivacity shows through her looks. As a part of her falls, then his dreams do as well. The same beauty that Judy had couldn’t last forever. No matter how long her beauty lasted, it wouldn’t last for that long because looks do not last forever, no matter how much passionate vitality the person has. Dexter’s business associate named Delvin says, “Lots of women fade just like that. You must have seen it happen. Perhaps I’ve forgotten how pretty she was the wedding”. He lived in his own world and not in reality.
What made it worse is that Dexter thought Judy was a beautiful girl and not just pretty. To him there was a difference between the two. He says, “Judy Jones wasn’t pretty at all. She was a great beauty”. In the beginning of the story, readers will not only find that Dexter recognized her beauty but also her sadness. Fitzgerald says, “She was arrestingly beautiful. The color in her cheeks was centered like the color in a picture—it was not a high color, but a sort of fluctuating and feverish warmth, so shaded that it seemed at any moment it would recede and disappear”. This is ironic and it also shows just how fast Dexter’s dream can be taken away.
He could achieve the power, status, and privileges, and those aren’t an illusion, but having someone who can keep it up with excitement and promise through passionate vitality and exquisite looks is. After he obtains his dream he is so close to completing it by having Judy Jones, but then the dream is taken away in an instant. “The dream was gone. Something had been taken from him… he pushed the palms of his hands into his eyes and tried to bring 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”. He tries to go back and remember the times that he had with her and the looks that she once had. He tries to regain the vision but later on thinks, “Why these things were no longer in the world! They had existed and they existed no longer”. The dreams had shut out the reality of the terrifying “everyday world”—and that is beauty does fade:
As long as he could maintain a vision of Judy as the embodiment of genteel youth and good looks, he could continue to believe in an attainable idea of power, freedom, and beauty. The world now becomes cold and gray with no point to the
accumulation of material object.
Aside from her beauty being an illusion, her personality was an illusion as well. Derek observes, “She called everyone darling, endowing the endearment with careless, individual camaraderie”. She called everyone darling, trying to make her voice sound friendly. She gave them the illusion that she actually cared for them. There is a possibility that by the void and unhappiness that she has in her life, going out with those men was an attempt at filling in that emptiness.
Another theme that plays a role in “Winter Dreams” is money and power. This plays a big role in the story because Dexter’s dream was to obtain these two things. In the beginning of the story, fourteen year old Dexter dreams of having money, power, status, and privilege in the “glittering world”. The narrator makes it clear, however, that Dexter is not a snob; he does not want association with expensive things and rich people, he wanted the glittering things themselves. Yet Dexter does not appear to cover these things for their monetary value. Dexter aims high for his dreams. Money buys him an education and a successful start into the world. By having money, he has power. Dexter makes a lot of money but never achieves his winter dreams. In this respect, he is the prototypical American success story—one who seeks but fails to find spiritual fulfillment in material wealthy. Judy asks Dexter who he is and he says, “My career is largely a matter of futures”. This is kind of ironic because his main goal is to have her in the future as well. Once his dream of her is gone, his money and power does not fade away because it still exists.
Judy Jones is born wealthy and she is attracted to men with power and money. Aside from her physical beauty, her status gives her many social options. She is vain and likes to be seen with a procession of men, and Dexter was one of them. The seductive mannerisms in her voices have a magical effect one men and it drew their attention. Her voice was not lady-like but her tone was deep. Later on Dexter remembers that unique voice. Fitzgerald says in the short story, “He imagined her husky voice over the telephone…”. The smile which turns down the corner of her mouth in a half pout also made men wild. These are an example of power and control. Judy had complete control over the men she went with and it made her feel not only powerful but alive. She controlled them like puppets on a string. She even had control of Dexter. When they lost interest, she knew how to win back her affection for them. Her seductive voice and mannerisms contributed to her having this control:
Her tenacity emerges as she goes after whatever she wanted with the full pressure of her charm and her beauty. As she turns backs on Dexter and the other men who pursues her, she is confident that she will be able to win them back if she so
desires. Her confidence comes from the power and control that she has.
The last theme that is important in “Winter Dreams” is freedom. This plays a major role in relation to Judy Jones because I think that she really likes having the freedom and doesn’t like to be tied down to marriage. Her beauty, money, status, and privilege all gives her the freedom that she has. She did say, “I’d like to marry you if you’ll have me Dexter. I suppose you think I’m not worth having, but I’ll be so beautiful for you, Dexter”. Even though she tells Dexter she would like to marry him, it will never happen. Aside from her love of men, she wouldn’t marry him because her freedom would be taken away. Fitzgerald says, “He loved her, and he would love her until the day he was too old for loving—but he could not save her. So he tasted the deep pain that is reserved only for the strong just as he had tasted for a little while the deep happiness”. Near the end as she marries Lud Simms, readers discover that “Judy has become a passive wife to an abusive husband” (Perkins). I also think that Dexter was not only attracted to her vivacity and her great amount of energy but also the independence she had in this lifestyle. Judy was also attracted to men with independence, status, and money. When Dexter quit his job as being a caddy at the golf club and went to college and took part in a laundry business, he was freedom from her inferior. His dreams and aspirations were his key to liberty. Judy’s liberty has been taken away but Dexter still has his. But is freedom worth having when there is no one to share it with by intense excitement and liveliness?
All of the themes that play a role in “Winter Dreams” all relate to the American Dream. In contemporary society, we all want to achieve the dream, which is to live comfortably by having money, status, and privilege. The American Dream is the faith held through hard work, courage, and determination one can achieve a better life for oneself which is usually through financial prosperity. “Winter Dreams” relates to this faith. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “It is the history of all aspiration not just the American Dream but the human dream and if I came at the end of it that too is a place in the line of the pioneers”.
It’s not impossible to be faced with at least one of these elements. For example, in contemporary society, there are immigrants who illegally enter into the United States because they want to achieve this American Dream. They see the United States as the country of milk and honey and full opportunity. Just during the last few weeks there has been rallies and controversy over these illegal immigrants entering this country. Esmeralda Santiago, an immigrant who grew up moving back and forth between the countryside and the city in Puerto Rico, came into the United States in 1961. By immigrating to the United States there were struggles. Not only did Esmeralda face crisis identity as a child but as she grew up she wanted to become successful. She attended a junior high school in Brooklyn and a Performing Arts High School in New York City. Later, she received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College. Today, she lives in Westchester County, New York City with her husband and children and works as a writer. She continues writing and now she runs a film and media production company.
Emptiness plays a major role in relation to these illegal immigrants. They do not have stable jobs or careers and that means that they do not have as much money as they would like. This feeling motivates them to achieve their dream. Power and control is another element that these immigrants want. They want to have authority and dominance over their own money and their own lives. In the countries in which they live, they are not in control because power has taken over them. Esmeralda Santiago wasn’t an illegal immigrant but she did face emptiness by the cultural identity that she endured. She wanted authority and dominance over her own life in order to become successful.
Immigrants also want to have freedom. Immigrants came to the United States in hopes of living in a “free world.” They want a place where they are not told what to do or how to do it. They want a place where they could be free. They do not just want to have freedom and respect by a government, but they want freedom in their lives such as working, having money, and supporting their families. Even though Esmeralda was thirteen years old when she immigrated to America, she still thought about being free and having her own independence. Sometimes the dreams that immigrants have are an illusion. The appearances of America are a deception to some immigrants. All of the elements that give the impression of America as a country of opportunity from the money, freedom, power and control, are all media hype. These illusions deceive the mind, making it appear that all Americans have the American Dream, and in reality we all don’t. In conclusion, all of these things play a role into the American Dream. The most important thing is not to let it disappoint you. And don’t be so overwhelmed in the dream to the point of letting it deceive you by the power of illusion.
A person might oppose this idea and say that a dream is not an illusion. The person might say that Dexter Green achieved his dream, which was making money and having status. In the short story it says, “He made money. It was rather amazing”. Then it says, “… Dexter borrowed a thousand dollars on his college degree and his confident mouth, and bought a partnership in a laundry. It was a small laundry when he went into it
How can a dream be an illusion when many people in contemporary society actually achieve it? We never hear stories of fellow immigrants who did not achieve their dream, so it appears as if many immigrants are achieving it. Dexter Green only achieved half of his dream. Judy Garland once said, “We cast away priceless times in dreams, born of imagination, fed upon illusion, and put to death by reality.” Dexter’s dreams was ruined by reality and many immigrants and their dreams are also ruined because they are so caught into the illusion, under the impression that everyone in America has the American Dream, only to be disappointed when they do not fully achieve it.
“Winter Dreams” explores these themes very thoroughly. Each theme relates to one another but they all reach towards the American Dream and that is something a person must capture without letting it take over. It’s a goal that progresses through time and not by impatience. If you chase the dream too much, you are bound to be disappointed at the outcome. The dream can deceive the mind to make it look wonderful and astonishing. But look deep and not at the surface, because the surface always shows the unreal. If you look into the depths, you will see the reality. We put so much into our dreams that we forget about reality.