How with. When analyzing the stories questions

How Dreams
Affect Reality

In the works of Chester Himes there
is an underlying theme of dreaming. Throughout his various stories Himes uses
dreams to function as a retreat for his characters. In his short story “The
Meanest Cop in the World”, Himes is able to concoct an entire story that is descriptive
and lifelike, which the readers just assume is real. However, when the curtain
is pulled back at the end and Himes tells the readers that the entire thing is
just a dream the readers are shocked. Dreams have a very specific function in
Himes’ stories as fantasies to keep the prisoner’s minds occupied. The dreams
give the readers an insight into the minds of the characters that allows the
readers to connect with characters they would otherwise not usually connect
with. When analyzing the stories questions arise about the purpose of dreams in
them and the deeper meaning behind the dreams.  

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            Most of Himes’ stories focus on
people who are currently in prison a few examples of which being; “The Meanest
Cop in the World”, “Face in the Moonlight”, “Money Don’t Spend in the Stir”, and
“Our Dreams and Reality”. Dreams function as a way for the prisoners to check
out of their current situation and go to a fantasy world of their own making.
In their dreams, they can forget the hardships they have endured and the long
and tedious days they live out in prison. In his story “On Dreams and Reality”
Himes utilizes dreams as a way to allow the main character, James “Happy”
Trent, to escape his situation and to find some comfort in the dreams he has about
women and intimate physical contact. Himes even says in the story that in the
“isolation of prison, dreams grow as tall as redwood trees …. They root deeply
in the years of exile and leaf like jungle foliage” (Himes 214). The author is
trying to make readers who cannot relate to being in prison understand how long
the days seem and how prisoners will do anything to imagine their lives as
being happy. This story goes shows a deeper psychological aspect of dreams. Due
to the fact that the main character has been in prison for eight years, he has these
dreams that are a retreat from life in prison as well as a way to bring him
some happiness. Going deeper in the dreams shows that they have become too fantastic
and unrealistic to the point that when he finally is released it is a disappointment.
His dreams have a negative effect because his real life is not turning out the
way he dreamt it would. After prison, he realizes that he is in poverty with
none of the pleasures that were in his dreams. He wants to live the high life, so
he steals an expensive coat from a store and the police consequently chase him
and fatally shoot him. Himes is able to use dreams in this story to show that
they can be good sometimes and in some situations; however, they can also have negative
effects. Dreaming too big and not being able to be realistic can seriously hurt
people when they are out in the real world and their plans do not go the way
they dreamed of. This is especially true for some of the people in prison who
are having psychological problems. It also made him feel entitled to things
which is why he felt the need to steal the coat.

             Himes uses dreams in a slightly different way
in his story “The Meanest Cop in the World.” In this story Himes makes the
entire story a love story in fantasy world. Jack, the main character, is
flirting with a girl named Violet and they he is falling in love with her. Even
in this story the readers can start to tell it is a dream because Himes leaves
hints such as the odd sense of time in the story.  At the end of the story Himes reveals that the
entire story is just a dream by saying that the person who was dreaming awoke
to his number being called by a prison guard. The dream has similar purpose to the
other stories, to be a respite from prison life, but in this story, it is a
fantasy that does not have the harsh negative effects shown in some of the
other stories. These dreams are the fantasies that people in prison are
dreaming up, so when analyzing it on a psychological level there is some reason
why they are in prison in the first place. They obviously did something wrong
and so these fantasy lives are what they could have had if they had not screwed
up and gotten into prison. Even in the dreams themselves the people are lonely
as we can see in “The meanest Cop in the World” when Himes says, “and then she
looked into Jack’s eyes and knew … that Jack was only lonely” (Himes 209). The
guys loneliness is even prevalent in his fantasy dreams. Going back to the
first story “On Dreams and Reality” the main character is unhappy when he gets
out because of the fantasy he has in which he is a good person who was not in
jail.  When he returns to the world as a convict,
people will not hire him and people look down on him and the reality that he
will not have the same chance at a good life that everyone else has driven him
to be reckless and eventually get killed.

            Dreams are a common ground that
everyone is familiar with which is why it is a good tool for Himes to use in
order to assist the readers in connecting with prisoners and prison life.
Everyone has felt the crushing realization that the wonderful dream they were
having was just a dream. Although everyone has experienced this so it is common
ground most people have not experienced the same typed of dreams as in Himes’s stories.
These dreams serve as a different function than just regular dreams everyone
has these are deeper and when the people in the stories woke up from the dreams
it was much harder for them to accept their actual realities because their
reality was that they were in prison. Most other people when awoken from a
dream are in their homes safe and comfortable so it’s easy for them to accept
the dream as being just that a dream. Himes conveyed this clearly in “On Dreams
and Reality” when the guy couldn’t accept his reality after waking up from a
fantasy in which he had everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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