Analysis of Lamb’s Dream Children or Charles Lamb as a Romanticist
Charles Lamb was a famous English prose-writer and the best representative of the new form of English literature early in the nineteenth century.He did not adhere to the old rules and classic models but made the informal essay a pliable vehicle for expressing the writer’s own personality, thus bringing into English literature the personal or familiar essay.The style of Lamb is gentle, old-fashioned and irresistibly attractive, for which there is no better illustration than Dream Children: A Reverie.
From the analysis of this essay we can find Lamb’s characteristic way of expression.
Dream Children records the pathetic joys in the author’s unfortunate domestic life. We can see in this essay, primarily, a supreme expression of the increasing loneliness of his life. He constructed all that preliminary tableau of paternal pleasure in order to bring home to us in the most poignant way his feeling of the solitude of his existence, his sense of all that he had missed and lost in the world.
The key meaning of the story shows the beauty that resides in sadness. There are remarkable writing techniques to achieve such an effect. Through the stylistic approach to Dream Children, we can see that Charles Lamb is a romanticist, seeking a free expression of his own personality and weaving romance into daily life. Without a trace of vanity of self-assertion, Lamb begins with himself, with some purely personal mood or experience, and from this he leads the reader to see life and literature as he saw it.
It is this wonderful combination of personal and universal interests, together with Lamb’s rare old style, which make the essay remarkable.
1. Old-fashioned but elegant diction Lamb prefers to use archaic words in order to reach a certain distance between the author’s real life and his whimsies, such as:
- and how in her youth she was esteemed the best dancer (esteemed here means admired, respected)
- here Alice’s little right foot played an involuntary movement, till, upon my looking grave, it desisted (desisted here means topped doing)
- and how the nectarines and peaches hung upon the walls, without my ever offering to pluck them (pluck, also a poetic word, here means pick)
- he had meditated dividing with her, and both seemed willing to relinquish them for the present as irrelevant (meditated here means thought, and relinquish means give up)
2. Repetition of the word here
When regarding for beautiful things and fine actions, Lamb does not forget to show to the readers the pictures of the children–real children until the moment when they fade away.
He repeats the word here altogether eight times, to portray the children’s response. For example: (5) Here Alice put out one of her dear mother’s looks (6) Here John smiled, as much as to say, “that would be foolish indeed. ” With this repeating word, we can see these children almost as clearly and as tenderly as Lamb saw them.
If we take the essay’s main purpose into account, we will find the more real they seem, the more touching is the revelation of the fact that they do not exist, and never have existed.
Loose structure and post-modification Generally speaking, the tone of this essay is relaxed and comfortable, which can be attributed to Lamb’s use of loose structure and post-modification. Let’s study the sentence below: (7) Children love to listen to stories about their elders, when they were children; to stretch their imagination to the conception of a traditionary great-uncle, or grandame, whom they never saw. If applied to daily communication, the former part of this sentence seems tediously long.
However, here it gives us a sense of comfort and enjoyment, for in the essay it causes our sympathy with the author of the fondness of innocent children. Therefore, we do not feel weary.
2. 2 Cohesion Sentences in Dream Children are long, sometimes containing more than eighty words in one. The author makes them cohesive with the help of coordination, conjunctions, as well as some adverbs.
For instance: (8) Then I went on to say, how religious and how good their great-grandmother Field was, how beloved and respected by everybody (Adverb then and the coordination how…how…how… here function as cohesive devices. (9) but still she lived in it in a manner as if it had been her own, and kept up the dignity of the great house in a sort while she lived, which afterward came to decay, and was nearly pulled down, and all its old ornaments stripped and carried away to the owner’s other house, where they were set up, and looked as awkward as if some one were to carry away the old tombs they had seen lately at the Abbey, and stick them up in Lady C. ‘s tawdry gilt drawing-room. (Conjunction and here functions as a cohesive device.
3. 1 Narration enlivened by depiction of the children.
As is illustrated in sentence (5) and (6), the author’s narration of the great-grandmother and his brother is enlivened by a certain depiction concerning the children. Incidentally, while preparing his ultimate solemn effect, Lamb has inspired us with a new, intensified vision of the wistful beauty of children–their imitativeness, their facile and generous emotions, their anxiety to be correct, their ingenuous haste to escape from grief into joy.
This vision gives us an impression that they seem real, thus makes the revelation in the end touching and pathetic. 3. 2 Unexpected ending Dream Children begins quite simply, in a calm, narrative manner, representing Lamb as sitting by his fireside on a winter night telling stories to his own dear children, and delighting in their society, until he suddenly comes to his old, solitary, bachelor self, and finds that they were but dream-children.
In the end of the essay, we read: (10) that I became in doubt which of them stood there before me, or whose that bright hair was; and while I stood gazing, both the children gradually grew fainter to my view, receding, and still receding till nothing at last but two mournful features were seen in the uttermost distance, which, without speech, strangely impressed upon me the effects of speech; “We are not of Alice, nor of thee, nor are we children at all.The children of Alice called Bartrum father.
We are nothing, less than nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence, and a name. ” Reflecting upon the essay, we will surely be obsessed by the beauty of old houses and gardens and aged virtuous characters, the beauty of children, the beauty of companionships, the softening beauty of dreams in an arm-chair–all these are brought together and mingled with the grief and regret which were the origin of the mood. 4 Rhetorical devices
Lamb introduces some rhetorical devices to make his essay vivid and profound, such as: (11) and how the nectarines and peaches hung upon the walls, without my ever offering to pluck them, because they were forbidden fruit, unless now and then (metaphor) (12) till I could almost fancy myself ripening too along with the oranges and the limes in that grateful warmth (empathy) Lamb’s use of Humor and Pathos in Dream Children/ Pathetic beauty presented by Lamb From 1820 through 1825 he contributed a series of essays to the London Magazine which were immensely popular.
Though he wrote under the pseudonym Elia, these essays, like his letters, are intimate revelations of Lamb’s own thoughts, emotions, and experiences of literature and life. He touches on few disturbing subjects. He prefers instead to look to the past for a sense of calm, stability, and changelessness. Yet beneath the wit, humor, and humanity of such essays as “A Dissertation upon Roast Pig,” “Witches and Other Night-Fears,” and “Dream Children,” one finds a gentle nostalgia and melancholy. This bitter-sweet tone remains the hallmark of Lamb’s style.
Bunyan once said “Some things are of that nature as to make One’s fancy chuckle while his heart doth ache”. The nature of things mostly appeared to Lamb in that way. Lamb does not frolic out of lightness of heart, but to escape from gloom that might otherwise crush. He laughed to save himself from weeping. In fact, Lamb’s personal life was of disappointments and frustrations. But instead of complaining, he looked at the tragedies of life, its miseries and worries as a humorist. Thus his essays become an admixture of beauty and pain as well as humour and pathos.
Examples of his keen sense of humour and pathetic touches are scattered in all of his essays. Let’s focus our discussion on Dream Children: A Reverie. In Lamb’s writing wit, humour and fun are interwoven and it is humour which is most notable for its extreme sensitiveness to the true proportion of things. Lamb often brings out the two sides of a fact and causes laughter at our own previous misconceptions. Therefore it borders on the painful realization. Thus his humour is very nearly allied to pathos. They are different facets of the same gem. In his essay Dream Children: A Reverie Lamb talks of personal sorrows and joys.
He gives expressions to his unfulfilled longings and desires. He readily enters into the world of fantasy and pops up stories in front of his dream children. He relates his childhood days, of Mrs. Field, his grandmother and John Lamb, his brother. He describes how fun he had at the great house and orchard in Norfolk. Of his relations he gives us full and living pictures – his brother John is James Elia of My Relations, but here is John L-, so handsome and spirited youth, and a ‘king’. John was brave, handsome and won admiration from everybody Charles’ grandmother Mrs. Field is the other living picture.
She was a good natured and religions – minded lady of respectable personality. Narrator’s sweet heart Alice Winterton is the other shadowed reality. The dream children, Alice and John are mere bubbles of fancy. Thus Lamb’s nostalgic memory transports us back to those good old days of great grandmother Field. But even in those romantic nostalgia the hard realities of life does not miss our eyes. Death, separation and suffering inject us deep-rooted pathos in our heart. Whereas Mrs. Field died of cancer, John Lamb died in early age. Ann Simmons has been a tale of unrequited love story of Charles Lamb.
Notably the children are millions of ages distant of oblivion and Charles is not a married man but a bachelor having a reverie. In his actual life Lamb courted Ann Simmons but could not marry her, he wanted to have children but could not ha ve any. Thus he strikes a very pathetic note towards the end of his essay when he puts the following word into the mouths of his imaginary children, “we are not of Alice, nor of thee, nor are we children at all … We are nothing, less than nothing, dreams. We are only what might have been”. Alice is here no other that Ann Simmons the girl Lamb wanted to marry, but failed to marry her.
In fact, the subtitle of the essay – ‘A Reverie’ which literally means a daydream or a fantasy – prepares us for the pathos of the return to reality although the essay begins on a deceptively realistic note. Although Dream Children begins on a cheerful note, the dark side of life soon forces itself upon Lamb’s attention and the comic attitude gives way to melancholy at the end of the essay. Throughout the essay Lamb presents his children in such a way that we never guess that they are merely figments of his imagination – their movements, their reactions, their expressions are all realistic.
It is only at the end of the essay that we realize that the entire episode with his children is a daydream. We are awakening by a painful realization of the facts. Lamb’s humour was no surface play. In fact, Lamb’s humour and pathos take different shapes in different essays. Sometimes it is due to his own unfulfilled desires, sometimes it is due to the ill-fortunes of his relatives and friends and on some other occasions it is due to his frustration in love etc. If his ‘Poor Relations’ begins humorously of a male and female poor relation, he later gives us a few pathetic examples of poor relations who had to suffer on account of poverty.
Again in his ‘The Praise of Chimney Sweepers’ Lamb sways between humour and pathos while describing the chimney sweepers. Similarly the essay ‘Dream Children’ is a beautiful projection of Lamb’s feelings and desire to have a wife and children of his own. It is humorous that in his dream he is married and has two children of his own while he had a disheartening frustration in love. Thus Lamb has painted both the lights and shades of life in full circle. His is the criticism of life in pathos and humours
- Why is the essay entitled “Dream Children”?
Ans: Charles Lamb entitled the essay “Dream Children” because he never married and naturally never became the father of any children. The children he speaks of in the essay were actually the creations of his imagination or fancy.
- Who was Field? How does Lamb present her before his dream children?
Ans: Field, pseudonym for the actual person, was Lamb’s grandmother. Lamb presents her as an ideal grandmother in an imaginary and inflated way before his “dream children”—she was extremely pious, fearless and compassionate person besides being the best dancer of the area in her youth.
- Why is the essay entitled “A Reverie”?
Ans: The essay is subtitled as a ‘reverie’ because Lamb never married and so he never had children. In the essay he created an imaginary picture of a happy conjugal life—a picture which finally dissolves into nothing as he comes back to reality.
- How does Lamb present his brother John L—?
Ans: Lamb’s elder brother, John L—in his youth was a handsome, high-spirited, strong and fearless person. He loved Lamb very much. But subsequently in his old age he became lame-footed and spent the rest of his life in utter hopelessness, irritation and pain.
- Who does Lamb refer to as “faithful Bridget” by side?
Ans: Lamb had a sister, Mary Lamb, who did not marry since she had attacks of insanity. She has been referred to here as “faithful Bridget” because she never married and was Lamb’s only companion in his life. At the sudden breakdown of his reverie, he finds her seated by his side.
- What, according to you, is the most striking feature of the essay and why?
Ans: The chief characteristic feature of the essay is the author’s mingling of pathos and humour.Lamb begins the essay in somewhat deceptive fashion, describing the incidents, full of humour. But gradually he reduces the tone towards the end describing the tragedies of his personal life.
- How does Lamb present the autobiographical elements in the essay? Or, Why is the essay called a personal essay? Or, What type of essay is Dream Children?
Ans: Dream Children is a personal essay. Lamb presents the characters and incidents from his own life—the sketches of his grandmother, Field, his brother—John Lamb, his sister—Mary Lamb, his tragic love-affairs with Ann Simmons. But Lamb is always playing with facts and fictions and transforms the real into the literary.
- How does Lamb show his knowledge of child psychology?
Ans: It is surprising that without ever having children Lamb had acute sense of how children react to the happenings in the world of the adults. By deceptively referring to the meticulous reactions of his dream children, he succeeds in catching the reader immediately. The aesthetic impact of the essay becomes more effective for this reason.
- “… till the old marble heads would seem to be live again… o be turned into marble with them”—Where does the expression occur? Explain the context.
Ans: Lamb told his “dream children” that in his boyhood he would enjoy rambling in and around the great country house in Norfolk. He would gaze at the twelve marble busts of Caesars in such an intensely meditative way that it seemed to him after some time that those were coming back to life again, or that he would be himself transformed into marble with them.
- Where does the expression “busy-idle diversion” occur? What does the author mean by this?
Ans: Lamb told his “dream children” that in his boyhood he would enjoy rambling in and around the great country house in Norfolk more than the sweet fruits of the orchard. He would remain busy with this though he had no work to do.
- “When he died though he had not been… died great while ago”. Who is referred to as ‘he’? Why is he spoken of?
Ans: Lamb loved his brother John L— very much. But very shortly after his death it seemed to him that death had created such an immeasurable vacuum in his life that it made impossible for him to comprehend the significance of the difference between life and death.
- “… such a distance there is betwixt life and death”—Explain the significance of the line in light of the context.
Ans: the immediate absence of his brother John Lamb created by his death forced Lamb to feel the gulf the difference between life and death. He understood that death created a permanent absence as the dead cannot be restored to life. Again, death is unknowable and Lamb was forced to reflect on his brother’s absence in this way.
- “… the soul of first Alice looked out at her eyes with such reality of re-presentment that I came in doubt”—Who was Alice? What does the word ‘re-presentment’ mean here?
Ans: In the course of his day-dreaming when Lamb looked at his dream-daughter, her physical resemblance reminded him of his dream-girl Alice W—n, a fictitious name for Ann Simmons who did reciprocate his love.
- “But John L—(or James Elia) was gone forever”—Who was James Elia? Why does the author say this?
Ans: At the end of his day-dreaming Lamb coming back to reality finds his sister (Bridget) Mary Lamb by his side; but he realises and remembers that his brother James Elia or John Lamb had died and would no more be with them. So he laments his loss thus.
- “Here Alice put out one of her dear mother’s looks, too tender to be called upbraiding”—What does the word ‘braiding’ mean here? What makes Alice react thus?
Ans: While describing the great country house in Norfolk, lamb tells his “dream children” that the chimney piece of the great hall was decorated by the curving of the story of Robin Redbreasts. At the information that a foolish person pulled it down, Alice’s countenance changed, which suggested that it should not have been done. The word ‘braiding’ here means castigation or censure.
- How does Lamb record Alice’s reactions to his story-telling?
Ans: While listening to Lamb’s personal tale, Alice reacts firs by spreading her hands when Lamb says how good, religious and graceful person Field had been. Alice reacts to it either in great astonishment or putting up some pious gesture. She also cries out When Lamb talks about his elder brother’s pain and death.
- How does Lamb record John’s reactions to his story-telling?
Ans: At the information of the great house being stripped off its ornaments John smiled, which suggested the foolishness of the work. He was trying to look brave and impress upon his father that he would not have been afraid of the ghosts like his father. At the end of the story, when Lamb was talking of his elder brother’s pain and death, John, like Alice, began to cry.
- Give a pen-picture of Field.
- How would you comment on the style of the essay?
- “… We are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence and a name. ”—Explain the context. Or, What is the significance of the river Lethe here? Or, Why are the shores of Lethe called ‘tedious’ Or, Why should the ‘dream’ children wait for million years for their existence and name?