Study Guide

Angle of Repose Lyman's Dream

By Wallace Stegner

Lyman's Dream

Lyman has one weird dream, you guys. Frankly, we haven't been so freaked out since we binge-watched the first season of Twin Peaks.

So, how are we supposed to make sense of this crazy thing? In our eyes, the best plan of attack is to break the scene down into easily digestible chunks:

  • The Intro: the dream begins with Lyman watching a baseball game with his crew (Ed, Ada, Shelly, and, oddly, Al Sutton) as his ex-wife, Ellen, approaches. This makes us think that Lyman cares about his neighbors and friends more than he lets on: for example, Dream Shelly chooses to go back to "school [...] in ten days" instead of joining the commune, which shows that it's an issue that Lyman cares about (9.1.141).
  • The Tour: after everyone else leaves, Ellen forces Lyman to give her a tour of his home. This little interaction tells us a lot about how Lyman really feels about Ellen: the fact that he's so easily convinced to show her his home shows that, on some level, he wishes that he could do it in real life.
  • The Bathroom Disaster: and now for the weirdest part of all, Shelly and Ellen's duel over who should give Lyman his bath. We actually see this as a reflection of the Oliver-Susan-Frank love triangle. Interestingly, however, Lyman fits both of his grandparents' positions: he could be either Oliver (because he has been betrayed by his wife) or Susan (because he is attracted to a younger woman, Shelly), depending on your perspective. In the end, Ellen earns the right to give Lyman a bath, saying that "it wasn't right to let [Shelly]" come in because "it's [Ellen's] job" (9.1.231).

So, yeah, this thing is pretty ambiguous. In fact, there's a good chance that you walked away from the scene with a completely different understanding of its symbolism. And that's totally cool. In fact, we think it's pretty awesome that a single scene can be interpreted in so many different ways.

The one thing that everyone can agree on, however, is the effect that this dream has on Lyman. Not only does it give him a better, more nuanced understanding of his grandparents' relationship, but it also helps him make peace with his own tumultuous marriage. This leads him to wonder if he is "man enough to be a bigger man than [his] grandfather" by forgiving Ellen and taking the first step toward reconciliation (9.1.240). Given everything we know about Lyman, this change of heart is practically a miracle.

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