Winter Dreams Theme of Gender
Dexter is a man of action, a self-made man who can change his life by going to an elite college and investing cleverly in business. But he can only do those things because he is, specifically, a man. Judy Jones has the same kind of restless, melancholy spirit that Dexter does. But because she is a pretty lady, she becomes an object to be admired (by men like Dexter). Her great talent is her physical beauty, and it is through her body that she tries to find emotional fulfillment. What is this, the 1920s? Oh. Yeah, it is.
The other main female character in "Winter Dreams," Irene Scheerer, represents another possible, socially acceptable role for upper class women in the 1920s: wife and mother. Irene is welcoming, friendly, and clearly destined to be great with her kids. While in many ways, Judy and Irene seem like absolute opposites, they share the same essential trait. Their characters are defined in relation to the story's central male figure, Dexter. We have no sense of how Judy and Irene think as rounded characters. The fact that they are women limits their ability to move through multiple social spaces the way that Dexter can.
Questions About Gender
- Judy's beauty is what draws Dexter to her so strongly. Why is it impossible for Dexter to attach the same romantic ideals to less-attractive Irene Scheerer? Why might it be important that the female characters are represented in terms of physical beauty while the male characters are represented in terms of financial ability and ambition?
- How do Judy and Irene Scheerer contrast with one another? What do these contrasts suggest about the social roles available to women in the early twentieth century United States?
- How does Judy describe her own overall unhappiness? What kinds of assumptions does Judy make about what should make her happy?
Chew on This
Judy is a total diva. But her assumption that beauty means (or should mean) happiness is just the 1920s female equivalent to Dexter's belief that money means happiness.
Judy is looking for the same kind of emotional fulfillment from her many partners that Dexter seeks in his business investments. Their two separate responses to the same feeling of loneliness and isolation is the result of gender difference.