- Oedipus against Narcissus: Father, Mother, and the Dialectic of Desire in Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams"
- Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 58, Number 4, Winter 2002
- pp. 51-79
- View Citation
- Additional Information
JAMES M. MELLARD Oedipus against Narcissus: Father, Mother, and the Dialectic of Desire in Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" INTRODUCTION scott Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" illustrates how we may . ftead the dialectic of desire not only in the context of oedipal authority —the Lacanian Law of the Symbolic Father—but also in that of the abjected mother residing in the semiotic chora Julia Kristeva posits as prior to the patriarchal order ultimately repressing it. But even as a reading of desire in the story facilitates understanding of much postFreudian psychoanalytic theory of the sort illustrated by Lacan and Kristeva, it also explains something about the stoty critics have often sought and generally missed. Exhibiting features of Freud's Family Romance and regarded by scholars as a forerunner of The Great Gatsby, the story involves a young man of modest origins who aspires to a better , wealthier, more powerful life—and, with it, a grander ego or self or identity. Wtitten in 1922 and published first in Decembet of that year, "Wintet Dreams" appeared in Fitzgerald's collection AU the Sad Young Men (1926).1 With "Absolution" (written in June 1923 and published in 1924), "The Rich Boy" (written in 1925, as a sort of spin-off of Gatsby and published in 1926), and "The Sensible Thing" (written in 1923 and published in 1924), "Winter Dreams" is often regarded as part of a "Gatsby cluster" adumbrating plots, themes, or characters of the 1925 novel. "Indeed," Matthew J. Bruccoli tells us, "Fitzgerald removed Arizona Quarterly Volume 58, Number 4, Winter 2002 Copyright © 2002 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 16 10 52James M. Meiíard Dexter Green's response to Judy Jones's home from the magazine text and wrote it into the novel as Jay Gatsby's response to Daisy Fay's home" (217). These days, critics often take "Winter Dreams" seriously largely because its main characters (the youth and the girl who grows up to be a femme fatale) prefigure Gatsby and Daisy Fay Buchanan and because the story is an early enunciation of Fitzgerald's dominant theme, the loss of illusions. "The dream-and-disillusion motif in the story," says Clinton S. Burhans, "appears in varying forms and degrees from its intermittent emergence in This Side of Paradise to its central exploration in The Last Tycoon; it is Fitzgerald's major theme" (412). Despite a paramount interest in the novel, however, many still regard "Winter Dreams" as among Fitzgerald's best. John F. Kuehl places it in Fitzgerald's top eight (64). Bruccoli says it is the best of the Gatsby cluster (217). Anthologized in James H. Pickering's popular college text Fiction 100 for the last twenty-five years, it was in the 1960s the most assiduously discussed of all the stories. Virtually all focused on the story's ending. Robert Sklar, Henry Dan Piper, James E. Miller Jr., Burhans, and Arthur Mizener, for example, all offered one interpretation or another of what precisely it is Dextet feels he has lost and cries for at the story's end. The answers range from Sklar's claim that it is immortality to Piper's argument that it is the past, Miller's that it is beauty, Mizener's that it is the ability to feel deeply, and Burhans' that it is the dream itself. Germane to my interests , one critic does attribute "psychological" dimensions to Dexter's loss. Saying "Dextet had been manipulated to a startling degree by psychological factors of which he had been unaware," Alice Hall Petry suggests that what he cties for is himself (137). All these readings of the story are valuable, but by hiding the story's light under the bushel of Tfie Great Gatsby or by making the "loss" canonical in Fitzgerald's fiction or even by attempting to make the theme unique to "Winter Dreams," many—Petry notwithstanding—fail to see the fundamentally psychoanalytic reason the story appeals deeply to virtually every reader, male and female alike. Plainly, whatever Dexter cries for, the story itself cries for a new psychoanalytic reading. That reading must focus on its sometimes intrusive but typically misconstrued oedipal elements. Because of its tole in detetmining human subjectivity...