Study Guide

Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock Repression

By Wallace Stevens

Repression

The houses are haunted (1)

This is a possible critique of the boredom of suburban, middle-class life. It's spooky, and it's meant to be. We're scared for these folks, who might be harmed by their own boring conformity.

By white night-gowns. (2)

The white nightgown may be the least sexy bed wear, second to flannel pajamas. Nobody really sees what we wear to bed except our families, so why are we afraid to wear some wacky stuff to bed? Hopefully, unlike the people in the houses, we can be our creative and unique selves when we are at home without fear of being judged as strange.

None are green
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange, (3-7)

After pointing out all the things that aren't there, the speaker has left the reader hanging on every word to fill that absent space in the reader's imagination. The space is like a vacuum that wants to suck in the next creative image that it can find. We're starving for a good metaphor by this point, because all these awesome colors are being repressed.

With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures. (8-9)

It's no coincidence that Stevens has chosen two French items (lace is said to have been invented on the border between France and Belgium). The French always seem exotic and exciting when it comes to fashion and accessories, don't they? Why not add a beret to this get-up?

To dream of baboons and periwinkles. (11)

These are not the dreams of a repressed person. No siree. If you're dreaming of baboons, Freud would say you're good to go.

Drunk and asleep in his boots, (13)

The old sailor is so not repressed. Not one bit. Though it's not the best alternative to repression, he's cool with getting drunk and passing out in his clothes and shoes. Classy? No. But it leads to good dreams.

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