Dreams and Dreaming and the Father in W.P. Kinsella's
by Don Morrow, University of Western Ontario
There is a relatively well known conundrum:
An individual leaves home, makes three, left-hand
turns and arrives back home only to come face-
to-face with a masked person. What event occurred ?
The event, of course, is a home run in baseball. It is a timeless and universal image if one's mind is focussed on baseball. However, when first posed, especially outside a baseball context or group, imaginations run wild with possibilities of flight, the comfort of home and the intrigue of the mask. Imagination is limitless, boundless, timeless. The fiction of W.P. Kinsella over the last ten years is hailed repeatedly for its quality of celebrating the power of creative imagination, or, "fabulation". As Robert Hamblin notes, in Kinsella's fictional world, nothing is impossible.1 Yet Kinsella's fantasy is unlike that of such works as Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, or, Lord of the Rings in that Kinsella might be perceived as a contributor to the growing literary movement called metafiction - a kind of documentary fantasy that incorporates a significant number of real people and events.2 Metafiction, it would seem, is literature's contribution to the escalating, scholarly emphasis on post modernism.
The intent in this paper is to examine one aspect of Kinsella's fiction/fantasy/fabulation and that aspect is the element of dreams and dreaming. In particular, the paper explores the critical incident that hovers around meeting the catcher (the masked person in the conundrum cited above), in this case, the protagonis’s father in the novel, Shoeless Joe. The fantasy of being able to meet one’s father in his prime is speculative, but universal in its ‘what-ifness’. The dream motif and Kinsella’s fabulation somehow make this meeting believable. Dreams captivate and I have been enthralled with the radical implications of what a friend related to me a few years ago. Interested in post-doctoral work in psychology, she pursued a study program at the Jung Institute in New York wherein her entire course of study, her curriculum would be guided in its structure and content by her own dreams. The whole notion of such a dream-curriculum fascinates me; for this paper, this aside raises the concept or quality of dreams themselves. The word, dream has various connotations, but two major ones. The first is the perception that dreams are often equated with imagination or fantasy, that is, conscious, voluntary fantasies, day-dreams, if you will. The immediate implication for Kinsella's fantasy is obvious and has been well examined in a variety of articles related to some aspect of "magic realism"3 in his fiction. It is the other broad concept of dreams upon which I wish to focus. Dreams in this framework would be characterized as trains of thought or images or unconscious visions passing through the mind while asleep.4 Thus, the movie title for the novel Shoeless Joe, "Field of Dreams" is appropriate for both senses of the concept of dreams. In one interview, Kinsella stated:
But Shoeless Joe is, I feel, story about the power
of love and the power of dreams; it's about the
ability to chase a dream and make it come true.5 The possibility looms, for me, that Shoeless Joe is a dream, or a dream-experience recounted by Ray Kinsella, the protagonist of the novel. W.P. Kinsella, the author, is clear about his role as a creator of fiction: "But first and foremost," he states in the introduction to his 1984 collection of short stories entitled The Thrill of the Grass, "I am a storyteller".6 Could it be that the story he tells is one man's dream and that the dream chased him? Being chased in a dream is a common dream-scape. What if instead of running from the dream-pursuer, the dreamer turned to face this pursuer only to discover it was the dreamer’s father as he was in his young adult prime? Consider the very first story in The Thrill of the Grass, "The Last Pennant Before Armageddon". The whole story is based upon the sleeping-dream of Al Tiller (whose nickname from his college days is none other than Al Tiller the Hun). Al is the recipient of a cycle/"treadmill" of "apocalyptic" dreams, prophetic ones that forecast Armageddon should the Chicago Cubs win the National League pennant:
Tense as piano wire he waited for sleep, trying to
make his mind clear and blank. But when sleep came,
the dreams came with it, silvery as moonlight, like
a tiny tornado of stardust floating in through the
glass of the window and burrowing into Al Tiller's
So, Kinsella-as-author is aware of possibilities of the dream motif for his stories. What I want to explore is the extent to which a dream paradigm can be detected in his absurd or surrealistic work of Shoeless Joe together with the real focus upon Ray Kinsella’s chance to meet, not with his idol, Shoeless Joe Jackson but with his father as he never knew him. Only the fabulation and the dream context makes the latter meeting possible and believable.
The prevailing perspective is that what accommodates Kinsella's magic realism is his ability to make his readers willingly suspend disbelief (the Coleridgean concept). The argument is compelling for its application of literary technique to sport since sport, in turn, requires a willing acceptance of or suspension to unnecessary obstacles.8 However, as Neil Randall points out, once disbelief arises, the magic of the story is broken. The enchantment must be built with the highest degree of belief. Therefore, Kinsella's task is to enchant us in his role as a sub-Creator.9 My contention is that the primary method Kinsella uses is the establishment and the resultant enchantment of a dream re-told.
Jungian dream analyst, James A. Hall relates that dreaming is a universal human experience in which events seem to go beyond the confines of real (awake) life with sudden changes in time and space, age, presence of deceased persons, or, fantastic persons and animals.10 The most radical shift, Hall notes, from the real to the dream-world is that in the latter, the dream-ego seems to observe events as if from an omniscient, floating perspective.11 In purely literary terms, Ray Kinsella is the first-person narrator; in my framework, he is also the dream-ego in that we only know his omniscient, floating perspective. The universal appeal of Shoeless Joemay be our empathy, conscious or unconscious, with the universal dream experience and meeting with someone from our past, in this case Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ray’s father. Ray Kinsella's "unified narrative voice"12 believes and never questions the events of the novel thereby inviting and leading the reader to do the same. We know that W.P. Kinsella learned the art of storytelling from Baba Drobney, his Yugoslavian grandmother. She told him endless stories as a young boy, always so careful to set the full scene for the story and then to spring the key ingredient, some version of, "Knocks at the door a stranger...."13 Once again, not only is this vintage technique in fiction, it is also very Jungian in its dream sequencing of the establishment of the problem at the beginning of dreams. I'm not suggesting that Kinsella is a confirmed Jungian writer of the ilk of renowned Canadian novelist(and founder of the Jung Institute in Toronto), Robertson Davies.14 In fact, Kinsella hearkens more after the writing style of Canadian novelist, W.O. Mitchell with Rockwellian overtones. Yet Kinsella is very aware of such difficult Jungian concepts as the "hero complex", an awareness he reveals in the short story, "The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record":
I recall Sidney Carton's words from A Tale of Two Cities,
something to the effect that, "'Tis a far, far better
thing I do than I have ever done before". It is only the
hero complex again, rising out of the crowd in front of
me like the Loch Ness monster.15 Therefore, I believe there is support for a quasi-Jungian analysis of Shoeless Joe as a novel that reveals or tells the story of Ray Kinsella's dream or series of dreams preceded by the poignant epigraph quoting Bobby Kennedy: "Some men see things as they are, and say why, I dream of things that never were, and say why not."16 are taken from this paperback edition of the novel.
Marie-Louise von Franz, Jung's protegé, identified six guidelines for the interpretation of dreams. She envisions dreams as archetypal stories and the guidelines are remarkably similar to the elements one might use in any story analysis:
1) time and place: the timelessness of the dream and
the contextual location of its events;
2) the people in the dream: what do they represent
to/for the dreamer;
3) the beginning of the problem: some trouble or problem
always comes at the beginning of dreams("Knocks at the
door a stranger...") and the need to identify the
4) the patterns(ups and downs) and flow of the dream story;
5) the climax or decisive point or height of tension;
where either the whole thing develops into a tragedy
or it comes out right;
6) the "lysis" or end result: positive or negative,
often catastrophic.17 I do not want to follow these step by step; rather, I want to show the underlying structures of the novel as a dream-event or sequence.
Chapter One, "Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa", presents the dream context. It opens with the Lord's prayer-like incantation of "My father said he saw him playing years later...." (emphasis mine). We are funnelled immediately to three elements, “father”, “him” and some kind of time sequence. The setting is football-mad Iowa for a baseball dream, almost as if W.P. Kinsella was intent in loading the dice against belief. Onamata, Iowa, is the setting for a variety of Kinsella's short stories and for the novel, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Iowa, and Ray's farm in particular are rural and the whole tone - pastoral, soft, green, dark, and luscious - creates the dream-scape mood. Joe and the other "phantom" ballplayers are ethereal and wispy, like dream characters. The grass is "soft as child's breath" and "moonlight butters the Iowa night"; in fact, throughout the whole book similes, all soft and pregnant, abound. Cars "zipper past"; there is a veritable "ballet of fielders"; corn is presented as "dream currency" ubiquitous in Iowa and is the mysterious dwelling place of the phantom ballplayers; Joe's glove is "the place where triples go to die" and a cloud reveals the moon "like a magician peeling his silk handkerchief off an orange"(p. 122). "As ifs" run rampamt and for me, the as if quality is deliberate in establishing belief in the dream world. Indeed, early in the novel, Ray reflects on his work in creating the ballfield after chiselling "away a piece of livelihood" (that is, a piece of his cornfield):
The progress is all so slow, as dreams are slow, as
dreams suspend time like a balloon hung in midair.(p. 23)
Both Ray and W.P. Kinsella are sub-Creating the dream effect, child-like, soft and expectant of “him”.
The beginning of the problem("Knocks at the door a stranger...") appears on page one with the ominous first voice, "If you build it, he will come". Somehow, Ray knows that "it" is the ballpark and the "he", apparently, is Shoeless Joe Jackson. At this juncture, voices become central to the narrative and the dream sequence. The next two voices are eerily prescriptive:
Ease his pain.
Go the distance.
and a fourth voice heard only by J.D. Salinger in Fenway Park:
Fulfill the dream.(p. 89)
The issue or the real problem in the story/dream is very Jungian by implication; Ray-the-dreamer's unfinished business with his father is at issue. Therefore, I perceive all voices to be related to this problem. Ray is troubled psychologically about never really dealing with unresolved issues/conflicts with his father. Jungians would interpret both the literal father, catcher Johnny Kinsella, and the
archetypal father, that is, what the concept of father holds for Ray and what has been passed down to Ray through both senses of father. Herein lies the essence of the dream. Ray was convinced by the gospel of Shoeless Joe Jackson, at least, according to his father. Ray states:
Instead of nursery rhymes, I was raised on the
story of the Black Sox scandal. (p. 7)
Further, he says his birthstone, the diamond, was baseball prophetic. For his genetic father and for Ray, "Joe became a symbol of the tyranny of the powerful over the powerless"(p. 7). The devil archetype in the dream-story is none other than Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis and the tyrant is embodied in White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey.
More compelling to me of the dream motif is the Jungian interpretation that every character in a dream represents some quality and/or unconscious trait of personality of the dreamer. Because Ray is the dreamer, we can only infer character qualities through his eyes (the dream quality of omniscient perspective). Concerning his daughter, for example, Ray comments:
Karin is five going on sixty: the dreamer in me
combined with the practicality and good humour of
Annie[Ray's wife](p. 22)
In the last stages of the novel-dream, it is Karin who voices the carnival barker's words, "Fathers bring your sons" (emphasis mine), thereby tying into the father-dream-theme. In turn, Annie is perfect to Ray, the exquisite dream combination of ideal, cute, pert, loving, supportive wife-mother and compelling sexual partner (the mother/whore/virgin complex, in Jungian terminology). She seems to live only to fulfill Ray's needs and wants. Her "dark side" (shadow side) or antithesis is Annie, the gypsy, a somewhat more realistic and self-reflective spirit who is paired/partnered to Ray's twin brother, Richard, "my brother who might be me or I him" (p. 166). It is intriguing to me that the two annies of Shoeless Joe reflect the real world concept of baseball groupies, baseball annies. More central to the theme of this paper is the phonetic parallel of the first syllable, "an" in Annie to the "an" in anima, the Jungian term for the notion of the "feminine" qualities in a man's psychic make-up. In this case, Ray's concept of femininity is represented in/by the two Annies, one replete with sweetness and light, the other his darker, feminine side, perhaps even his negative anima. With respect to Ray's brother, Richard, it is ironic that it was Ray who was fascinated by the wildness and freedom of the carnival lifestyle and characters as a child (recall the strange "left-handed glass stretcher scene in the novel-dream). It was Richard, apparently, who defied convention and left the father's home (an individual leaves home, makes three left-hand turns...) for a carnival life. Ray, on the other hand, locked himself into the same occupational straightjacket as did his father, a plasterer tormented by his profession even in his sleep. Ray entered into a soul-less and life-less profession too, that of a life insurance salesman. Ray's dream-quest then, is to bring these loose elements of himself together.
Part of that quest is surrounded by the literal quest where Ray must journey to collect three other ingredients or sides to himself in the dream, J.D. Salinger, Moonlight "Doc" Graham, and Eddie "Kid" Scissons. Salinger's connection seems to be divided between Ray's dream and W.P. Kinsella's concoction of the dream. In the latter regard, J.D. Salinger laments to Ray:
It's a sad time when the world won't listen to
stories about good men. It is one of the reasons
I don't publish anymore. (p.113)
I hear in that comment W.P. Kinsella's own voice and the raison d'être behind the novel Shoeless Joe as a powerful story about father-child love, good things and good men. In the dream-story, J.D. Salinger, used both names, Ray and Richard Kinsella in his fiction, a fact Ray perceives to be much more than coincidence. Salinger's famous Catcher in the Rye is blatantly connected to bringing back Ray's father, Johnny Kinsella, a catcher-in-the-cornfield. Corn, in passing, is one of the most powerful dream symbols for fertility18, and there are threads of the fertility myth running throughout the story-dream (Salinger, for example, might be perceived as the wounded Fisher King)19. Salinger, Ray comments, has been "dialled to the same frequency"(p. 89) as Ray; that is, he is another side or part of Ray in the dream sense. At the end of the novel, it is Salinger who will go through the mysterious door in the cornfield with the privilege, as Salinger realizes, of "a man being able to touch the perfect dream"(p. 222). Ray cannot possibly do so, in spite of his child-like rage against the fact, because one cannot disappear into one's own dream. Clearly, the vision in the dream is to share the magic of the ballpark, that is, share the dream-story with the real world public, a task Ray must perform to "fulfill the dream".
Moonlight "Doc" Graham serves several functions in the dream. First, he envisions himself as a "magnet"(p. 118) to Ray, that is, another side of Ray's dream character. It is quite deliberate that both Doc(on page 125) and Ray(on page 163) utter exactly the same sentiments about being so "touched by the land" that the "wind never blows so cold again". Therein, the Ray:Doc mirror of the dream is reinforced. Doc Graham is also a foil to Joe Jackson in that there is nothing particularly remarkable about Doc's career20. Instead, he is a benevolent, good physician and a "baseball player who was patted on the head by a dream"(p. 90). Where Ray and W.P. Kinsella brought Joe and the other baseball phantoms forward in time to 1978, the novel's time setting, Graham is the vehicle by which Ray's dream takes us backward in time to 1955 Chisholm, Minnesota, into Doc's 75th year. Ray, in turn, brings the young ballplayer, Archie Graham back to 1978 to his Iowa ballpark. All of this timeless, time-leaping seems totally connected and totally believable to me because of the dream-like qualities of the story. And it is Archie/Doc Graham who makes the greatest sacrifice (= to make sacred, literally), far greater than any mere baseball sacrifice, to leave the magic of the ballgame to save Karin, Ray's daughter from choking on a hot dog at the climax or height of tension of the dream-novel. As an archetype, Doc Graham is subtly portrayed as a magician, not only for his feat of seemingly simple medical wizardry, but also in Ray's characterization of him in 1955 in almost Mandrake-the-Magician-like terms (pp. 111-115).
After Ray picks up the young Archie Graham, Ray asks himself a very dream-reminiscent question:
Or could this all be in my imagination?(p. 133)
It reminds me of that fleeting moment in a dream when one is acutely aware that this might be just a dream. Archie, Ray and J.D. end their journey/quest by picking up the "Oldest Living Chicago Cub", Eddie Scissons. Throughout the novel-dream sequence, Ray is aware that Eddie keeps sliding "into my dreams as gently as if he were stealing second base in slow motion"(p. 97). It's interesting that every mini-dream Ray has in the novel-story is so close to the main dream-story events as if to suggest their status as dreams within a dream. Eddie once owned and retains the mortgage on Ray's farm and Ray remembers encountering "little ghosts"(p. 97) of Eddie around the farm over the past five years of working the land. Ray also envisions Eddie as resembling "some wise old doctor, or senator, or scholar, plucked from a yellow photograph"(p. 98). Moreover, Eddie's patriarchal quality or archetype is reinforced with his fervent sermonizing on, "The word is baseball"(pp. 191-193), and the constant reference to his Moses-like, serpent headed cane. Thus, he is not just some veritable relic whose history as one of the Chicago Cubs is his own fiction/dream. Instead he is archetypal father who voices the power of the "word", the revitalizing myth in any age21, the universal message in Ray's dream-story. Ray fulfills the dream that is somehow embedded in the earth on Eddie's farm, a task Eddie was unable to perform. Thus, Eddie is also a parody or side of Ray-the-dreamer. There is even some of the ancient mariner archetype rumbling in the character of Eddie Scissons.
Ray, or W.P. Kinsella, seems to provide steady clues about the dream-quality of the story. For example, Ray asks himself, after meeting Doc Graham in 1955:
Can it be that I am the one who has crossed some
magic line between fantasy and reality?(p. 118)
In other words, is he dreaming? Later, in reflection, Ray states:
I wonder if there are soft-spoken voices who
deliver assignments to all of us at various
times, and if my problem is hearing too
In short, Ray's problem and gift is having dream-sensitive antennae. The “lysis” or end result of the dream is the "rapture" of J.D. Salinger. Ray's sense of betrayal at Salinger's selection to go through the cornfield door is deeply felt:
I built this damn field.... I carved it out
of my cornfield. It's been like creating a
giant work of art, like birthing a child.
It's mine.(pp. 220-221)
Indeed, Ray's dream creation and W.P. Kinsella's home-run-of-a-novel took him three left turns - one for each of Salinger, Graham, and Scissons - from home and brought him back face-to-face with a masked man, his father and himself. Jungians would have a ‘field day’ with the dream symbols, the father archetype and the ultimate learning for the self that is Ray Kinsella in the novel. What I believe the novel does is provide tremendous voice for archetypes like the father and the compassionate side of love in baseball and dream disguise.**
** I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to my friend, Mary Hamilton for her gifts and insights about the importance and interpretation of dreams.
1. Robert Hamblin, "Magic Realism, Or The Split-Fingered Fastball of W.P. Kinsella", Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature
IX:2(Spring, 1992): 1.
2. This too is Hamblin's point in ibid., 3-9.
3. Hamblin's article above is one example. Consider also, Geoff
Hancock, "Magic Realism: The Marvelous in Canadian Fiction," Canadian Forum 65:757(March, 1986): 23-35; Neil Randall,
"Shoeless Joe: Fantasy and the Humour of Fellow-Feeling,"
Modern Fiction Studies 33:1(Spring, 1987): 173-182.
4. Oxford English Dictionary, "dreams", p. 801.
5. Don Murray, The Fiction of W.P. Kinsella: Tall Tales in
Various Voices (Fredericton, New Brunswick: York Press,
1987), p. 50.
6. W.P. Kinsella, The Thrill of the Grass (New York: Penguin
Books, 1984): x.
7. W.P. Kinsella, "The Last Pennant Before Armageddon" in ibid.,
8. Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978): 22-41.
9. Randall, "Shoeless Joe and the Fantasy of Fellow-Feeling":
010.10.James A. Hall, Jungian Dream Interpretation: A Handbook of Theory and Practice(Toronto: Inner City Books, 1983): 22, emphasis mine
212. Hancock, "Magic Realism", 32.
313. W.P. Kinsella, Red Wolf, Red Wolf (Don Mills: Totem Press,
414. See, for example, Davies' Deptford trilogy,Fifth Business,
The Manticore, and World of Wonders.
515. Kinsella, "The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record" in The Thrill