Monday, February 20, 2017

The letdown in "The Dream" by Winston Churchill

When I chose “The Dream” for Deal Me In 2017, I assumed from the title that Winston Churchill would be discussing some vision of the future. Instead, he describes an incident in November 1947, where he was painting in a cottage and imagined a visit from his dead father.

They have a conversation. Much of it is Winston filling his father in on some of the developments in politics and world affairs since the late 1800s. And war - with more said of the Boer War than either World War I or II, until Churchill offers a brief, blunt assessment of the costs of both wars towards the end of “The Dream.”

What does this piece say of Churchill? In some ways, it comes across as impersonal. The conversation might as well not take place between a father and son; the father is a prop. At various points Churchill seems to elbow his readers in the ribs or shooting them a meaningful glance, intending that they note his opinions on various political figures and subjects.

But there are also moments where the father-son connection (or the absence of one) comes into focus. The distance between them, the fact that his father may not have thought much of him. And at the end, Churchill’s disappointment in himself and what he’s perhaps failed to achieve or live up to. Turbulent personal feelings emerge now and then, sometimes shadowing the casual, more amiable parts of the conversation. Mostly, they’re held in restraint.

6 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

I had no idea that Churchill wrote anything like this. I knew about his non - fiction.

Imagine Churchill feeing that he had failure to achieve. I know that people of all sorts have such feelings. With that, the fact that Churchill had such feelings after World War II, is startling.

Nan said...

Think of Churchill feeling disappointed in himself. The rest of us might as well give up!

HKatz said...

It's not something he says explicitly - but it's a note the piece ends on. And this feeling of disappointment is tied to his father's perceptions of him. It's not that he considered himself an utter failure. There's just a sense of "not enough" (and also not getting a chance to prove himself to his father).

@ Nan - he writes in the essay: "But, having gone through so much, we do not despair." Never give up :)

@ Brian - Towards the end of the piece he's musing on the devastations of war and the likelihood of future wars.

Barbara Fisher said...

Thank you for this really interesting summing up of The Dream, I’ve never read it but have often wondered if I should. I’m still unsure but at least I have a better idea of what it is about.

HKatz said...

You'd find it interesting. The ending is poignant, because Churchill's father in this piece never finds out that he was prime minister. After learning about the devastations of World War I and II, and the existing tensions in the world, his father muses that maybe Churchill should have gone into politics and could have helped the situation... and then he lights a cigarette and vanishes. There's a strong sense that Churchill (through writing his father's side of the conversation) wonders about his own efforts - whether he did enough, could have prevented more. Plus he's confronting the fact that his father never got a chance to know what he did do and the name he made for himself (would his father have been proud or would he have found mostly fault in it?). There's also a sense in the piece of a younger generation not always living up to an older one. It ends on a note of disappointment and missed chances.

Jay Carr said...

I'd never heard of this before, but now am glad I have. :-). I have some of his history volumes on the bookshelf but have never started any of them, that's probably a project awaiting my retirement. I rememeber some of his "we will fight them on the seas and oceans... we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be" speech was sampled in an old song bythe band, Supertramp, in the 70s. That may have been the first contact I had with his words(!)