We all indulge in flights of fancy from time to time, but literature tells us that these fantasies can have tangible and often fatal repercussions. Through the stories of characters like Emma in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Frank and April Wheeler in Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, and Frankie in Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding, we see how fantasy can lead to tragedy when it fails to match reality. In Patricia Highsmith’s A Suspension of Mercy, Sydney Bartleby’s vivid fantasies of murdering his wife Alicia become so consuming that they threaten to become reality.
These stories remind us that our inner lives can be just as powerful and vital as our outer ones. We may dream of a different life, but when our desires don’t meet our lived experience, an inner death is experienced. Writers explore this topic to comfort us with the knowledge that we aren’t alone in wanting something different from what we have, but also to warn us that we may not get what we want.
It’s human nature to cling to our dreams, and literature will never stop exploring the dangerous consequences of doing so. We can only hope that our fantasies remain safely contained in our imaginations, and that our inner lives remain in harmony with our outer ones.