Dreams Goad the Under Toad
Rachel Hawthorne, a celebrated American novelist started a novel with the interesting theory that “dreams reflect our hidden fears and secret desires, all clamoring for attention” (Hawthorne 5). Although the study of dreams is both extensive and thorough, dreams are still unfamiliar and uncertain to most of us, just as the feeling of the Under Toad is. John Irving utilizes the Under Toad as a metaphor for someone’s underlying fears and anxieties. Just as a dream is vague and hard-to-place when one wakes up, the Under Toad is also vague and hard to place. Irving symbolizes people’s worries using the inextricable connection and similarities between dreams and the Under Toad, both very personal and uncontrollable thoughts that people tend to quell. When people suppress the Under Toad because they are too afraid to face the reality of their trepidations, the Under Toad prevails because they do nothing to prevent the disasters it warns against. John Irving employs the motif of dreams to act as subconscious manifestations of the Under Toad; when people suppress these dreams rather than face their anxieties, they are unable prevent their fears from coming true, so the Under Toad prevails and their dreams turn into real-life nightmares. T.S. Garp includes a dream man in his story, “The Pension Grillparzer” who reveals the grandmothers dream of “soldiers on horseback” surrounding a “flowing” fountain, then coming back “look[ing] gaunt, […] their breathing  congested” (Irving 147). Irving uses the imagery of a flowing fountain to illustrate the soldiers’ inception in life and health before exercising solemn and degenerative diction to reveal the soldiers’ retreat from this life and health. This dream reveals the grandmother’s growing realization of her husband’s and her own mortality. Rather than seeking help and facing the dread of her own and her husbands deaths, the grandmother “d[oes] not tell” of her dream and buries the Under Toad (148). “Her husband” later “die[s] of a respiratory infection,” proving that because the grandmother attempts to quench the presence of the Under Toad, she prohibits herself from defending against very real, approaching danger. The grandmother proves the common notion that dreams are very personal and people do not want to share them with others, revealing the natural, human desire to hide fears and bury the Under Toad. When the dream man exposes her, she calls him “evil” for “know[ing] things” he has “no right to know” (171). Irving describes the grandmother’s accusation “as if she [is] reporting a theft from her room,” making plain the severity of the infringement on her private thoughts and confirming the grandmother’s desire to erase the Under Toad, because hearing the dream out loud so severely rattles her. Garp clearly draws qualities of his characters from his own life, because he also suffers the pull of the Under Toad and shares the instinct of the grandmother to conceal his angst rather than attempt to conquer it. Garp confirms that he frequently feels the presence of the Under Toad when he admits that “there [i]s so much to worry about when worrying about children” (225). Garp dreams that as “something terrible” comes upon his children and “they regard him with vague sadness and scorn, as if he had let them all down and was powerless to help them now” (339). Garp feels “so guilty” and counters Walt’s cries that he is having a bad dream by saying and doing “nothing” because “Walt [can] not be helped” (339). This dream brings to light Garp’s realization that he is helpless in some situations and cannot protect his children from dangers that are out of his control. Rather than facing the Under Toad and trying to make the world safer for his children by placing more situations under his control, Garp ignores its strong pull and accepts defeat, becoming less cautious with his children and failing to make the world safe for them. When driving up the his...
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