In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories



The Pequod Review:

Delmore Schwartz's (1913-1966) literary legacy rests primarily on one short story — "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," which headlines this posthumously assembled collection of short stories. It involves a boy who dreams he visits a movie theater where the film turns out to be scenes from his parents' courtship. The boy is at first riveted, as he sees his father nervously approach his mother's doorstep on their first date. But later, as his parents walk along the Coney Island boardwalk, a sense of dread sets in as he realizes their troubled fates: 

Overhead the sun’s lightning strikes and strikes, but neither of them are at all aware of it. The boardwalk is full of people dressed in their Sunday clothes and idly strolling. The tide does not reach as far as the boardwalk, and the strollers would feel no danger if it did. My mother and father lean on the rail of the boardwalk and absently stare at the ocean. The ocean is becoming rough; the waves come in slowly, tugging strength from far back. The moment before they somersault, the moment when they arch their backs so beautifully, showing green and white veins amid the black, that moment is intolerable. They finally crack, dashing fiercely upon the sand, actually driving, full force downward, against the sand, bouncing upward and forward, and at last petering out into a small stream which races up the beach and then is recalled. My parents gaze absentmindedly at the ocean, scarcely interested in its harshness. The sun overhead does not disturb them. But I stare at the terrible sun which breaks up sight, and the fatal, merciless, passionate ocean, I forget my parents. I stare fascinated and finally, shocked by the indifference of my father and mother, I burst out weeping once more. The old lady next to me pats me on the shoulder and says, “There, there, all of this is only a movie, young man, only a movie,” but I look up once more at the terrifying sun and the terrifying ocean, and being unable to control my tears, I get up and go to the men’s room, stumbling over the feet of the other people seated in my row.


As the dinner is eaten, my father tells of his plans for the future, and my mother shows with expressive face how interested she is, and how impressed. My father becomes exultant. He is lifted up by the waltz that is being played, and his own future begins to intoxicate him. My father tells my mother that he is going to expand his business, for there is a great deal of money to be made. He wants to settle down. After all, he is twenty-nine, he has lived by himself since he was thirteen, he is making more and more money, and he is envious of his married friends when he visits them in the cozy security of their homes, surrounded, it seems, by the calm domestic pleasures, and by delightful children, and then, as the waltz reaches the moment when all the dancers swing madly, then, then with awful daring, then he asks my mother to marry him, although awkwardly enough and puzzled, even in his excitement, at how he had arrived at the proposal, and she, to make the whole business worse, begins to cry, and my father looks nervously about, not knowing at all what to do now, and my mother says: “It’s all I’ve wanted from the moment I saw you,” sobbing, and he finds all of this very difficult, scarcely to his taste, scarcely as he had thought it would be, on his long walks over Brooklyn Bridge in the revery of a fine cigar, and it was then that I stood up in the theatre and shouted: "Don't do it. It's not too late to change your minds, both of you. Nothing good will come of it, only remorse, hatred, scandal, and two children whose characters are monstrous."

Unfortunately, none of the book's remaining pieces are near as strong.