The Dream by W. Somerset Maugham
In The Dream by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of appearance, fear, uncertainty, trust, insecurity and infidelity. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Maugham may be exploring the theme of appearance. The narrator does not believe that that Russian has the appearance of a murderer but cannot be sure. This may be important as Maugham may be suggesting that not everything a person sees, particularly when it comes to another individual, can be certain. The Russian who speaks fondly of his wife at times still finds time to wish that his wife had left him for another man. Something which confuses the reader somewhat. It is difficult to understand how somebody could love someone though at the same time wish that they might leave them as the Russian wishes. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that the narrator is totally engrossed in what the Russian is telling him. Whether this is because the narrator is relieved that the Russian is not asking the narrator questions about himself is difficult to say.
One thing however is certain and that is the fact that the narrator does not know for sure as to whether the Russian killed his wife. According to the Russian’s story the reader is lead to believe that he has cheated on his wife on several occasions which may have been a trigger for the wife’s dream. She may have no longer trusted the Russian who by all facts was open about the fact that he had cheated on his wife. This alone is enough to cause reckless damage to an individual’s psyche and the effects are clear on the Russian’s wife. She lived the last period of her life in fear and some critics might suggest that her fear was justifiable when one considers the Russian’s story. It may also be significant that the narrator though confused and uncertain about whether the Russian killed his wife. Still nonetheless shows no fear when it comes to the Russian. Again this may be based on appearance and the narrator’s inability to believe that the Russian looks like someone who could kill their wife. Though this does leave the bigger question unanswered as to what the narrator thinks a murderer looks like.
Though the reader may believe that the Russian had a motive to kill his wife. He does have an alibi. Even if it may be paper thin and unchallenged by the narrator. It is as though the narrator is in shock when he discovers how the Russian’s wife died and he thinks about her dreams. If anything some readers might suggest that the Russian’s wife has predicated her own death and the Russian himself has gotten away with murder. However it is important to remember that though paper thin the Russian does have an alibi. In many ways there are two victims in the story. One obviously being the Russian’s wife and the narrator themselves. The narrator despite the passing of time allows for what the Russian has told him to play on their mind. Possibly taking the narrator out of their comfort zone and left feeling very uncomfortable about the whole situation. In reality the narrator does not know if they have had a conversation with a murderer or whether the Russian’s wife’s death and her dream are coincidental. A situation that the reader also finds themselves in.
It is difficult to be certain as to whether the Russian killed his wife or if the wife may have committed suicide. Possibly driven by the many infidelities of the Russian. However the encounter with the Russian is enough to disturb the narrator. The narrator’s initial impression of the Russian is not what the narrator thinks later on. Maugham again possibly suggesting that looks or appearances can be deceiving. That what a person thinks about another individual may not necessarily be correct. It is also noticeable that at the time of meeting the Russian, the narrator remained calm throughout his encounter. It is only with the passing of time that he has become somewhat disturbed by what the Russian has told him. This could be important as Maugham may be suggesting that the narrator only realises the severity of what he has been told by the Russian after he has had time to fully absorb the information. Something that is only possible with the passing of time. Any individual might find the Russian’s story disturbing. Particularly as it is told in such a calm manner and all fingers might point to the Russian. Though again it is difficult to be sure as to whether the Russian actually followed through on his wife’s dream.