The Dream by O. Henry
In The Dream by O. Henry we have the theme of indifference, fear, escape, acceptance and jealousy. Taken from his Selected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Henry may be exploring the theme of indifference. For the position Murray finds himself in. He is remarkably calm and indifferent to his fate. Though Henry suggests it is a dream and as such this may be the reason as to why Murray is so calm. However the reality is Murray is indeed on death row and is to be executed at eight o’clock. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Murray when he has his second dream or avenue of escape he realises that he is in fact not dreaming at all (when it comes to his first dream). His reality is very precise. He is a condemned man who is waiting to be executed for killing his lover in a fit of jealousy. The sudden shift from calm to panic is interesting as it highlights to the reader just how afraid Murray is when it comes to dying.
The setting of the story is also significant as there is a sense that Murray is trapped. Even though he does dream of being with his ‘wife and child’. Which is the only element of freedom that Henry allows Murray. That and the escape through drinking some of the whiskey to give Murray Dutch courage. Otherwise things are exceptionally bleak for Murray and the other men in ‘Limbo Lane.’ There is also a sense that Murray is judging the other three men who were executed before him. Yet he has no real right to judge them as he himself is as fearful as the three men who had previously been executed. Which may be the point that Henry is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that in life one does not really have the right to judge others when one has not walked in their shoes. If anything Murray acts brave but the reality is he is as scared as the other men who have been executed.
There is also a sense that Murray along with Bonifacio is trying to give others the impression that he is not afraid. Though again the ending of the story suggests something very much different. It is however noticeable that Murray’s execution is performed as humanely as possible. Which is contrary to how he treated his lover. Though Henry does not go into detail about the young woman’s murder there is no doubting that Murray is guilty. Something that is clearer to the reader by the very fact that at no stage in the story does Murray plead his innocence. He accepts what he has done. However he does not necessarily accept his own death. Again possibly because Murray is afraid of dying even though he is guilty of taking another person’s life. He still clings onto life as can be seen by the second dream. Which is the complete opposite of the first dream. The first dream or reality is one in whereby Murray is to die. While the second dream conjures up images of a happy life and future.
In reality there will be no future for Murray or any of the other men in ‘Limbo Lane.’ Society has cast its eye over each individual in Limbo Lane and judged that they must all die for the crimes they have committed. At no stage in the story (from Murray or others) does the reader get a sense that any of the prisoners in Limbo Lane are innocent. However Henry may be asking the reader to look at society’s role when it comes to the death penalty. Does it really serve to kill a man because they have killed someone else. Each individual reader will have an opinion on this with no real right or wrong answer. Murray is to live the last remaining moments of his life escaping into a dream that he wishes was his reality and may have very well been his reality. If he had not taken the course of action that he did. Some might suggest that Murray for one mistake has paid a high price for allowing himself to be controlled by an emotion. When the reality is that Murray never argues about his guilt because he accepts it and knows that life might have been different should he have taken a different course of action. If he had not have been overwhelmed by jealousy the second dream would be his reality.