Ellen Gilchrist's short story "In The Land Of Dreamy Dreams" assignment on short story, discussing whether or not the main character is on a quest and if they are explain why.

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Questing for AcceptanceIn Ellen Gilchrist’s “In The Land Of Dreamy Dreams,” Leland Arnold is a confused adolescent trying to learn the ways of the world but, more especially, trying to find her own niche in it. Unsure of who she is, she leads a mundane existence in Franklin, Indiana in a semi-broken home and is trying to figure out how to be a woman from the very start of the story. No example is more evident of this than the very first paragraph of the story describing Leland, or Lele for short, reading the directions on a box of tampons. The first two sentences set up the entire story by showing that Lele is already in transition and trying to ascertain who she is in an already confused state of mind, which makes for quite an interesting story. Lele is on a quest with no tangible roads or paths; no beginning and no end, but rather it is a journey in her mind where good looks and popularity become synonymous with Leland Arnold.

The quest is quite an interesting one in that it is not a rocky road traveled or a steep mountain to climb, or a trek through a dangerous forest but merely an experiment in self-improvement; real or imagined.

Lele is on a journey to become the person she’s always wanted to be simply because she is afforded the opportunity to do exactly that. Her Father tells her that she is going to move down to Clarksville, Mississippi on the delta to stay with her cousin, “Baby Gwen” Barksdale whose mother had recently, “…died of a weak liver” (Gilchrist, 138). This is the fresh start that Lele is looking for. Disillusioned and somewhat detached from reality, she criticizes the students at Franklin Junior High because they, “…had made the mistake of failing to elect me cheerleader” (Gilchrist, 138). Her rationalization continues with the next sentence stating, “I wasn’t unpopular or anything, just a little on the plump side” (Gilchrist, 138). In Clarksville, she needs no rationalizations because she could be whoever she wants to be, and she is. Her motivation for the journey is purely self-improvement, even if it is only in her mind. In fact, one could argue that her lies are more of a setback than an advancement forward; a regression back to MORE child-like ways, but only she knows that. Her lies about who she is begin as soon as she gets off the train and meets Baby Gwen, who isn’t so much of a baby anymore, at the station. Lele tells Baby Gwen that, “No one in Franklin believed I’d [come her] either,” and, “I just got elected cheerleader and practically the whole Football team came to the station to tell her goodbye” (Gilchrist, 139). The imaginary Football team, however, knew about Lele’s college boyfriend Bob Arnold who had thyroid cancer and also whom she was not allowed to date because he was Jewish. So, from the beginning of the journey, Lele has already set herself up as a popular cheerleader who is constantly being chased by boys even though she is more mature and has a college boyfriend so she is also a rebel. In fact, her constantly referring to her cousin as “Baby Gwen” is indicative of her subconscious attempts to be better than Gwen because she still refers to her as a baby. She also talks very fondly of her own Mother, a bridge-playing champion, probably to rub it in Gwen’s face that Lele has a better life when, in all actuality, her parents are unofficially separated. In Clarksville, Lele is not Lele anymore. She is a young and immature girl who becomes the “wonderful” Leland Arnold, a popular young lady who smokes cigarettes, sunbathes all day and has boys like Fielding Reid interested in her and had girls looking up to her like Sarah from Drew who, “…was delighted with the attention I gave her and was always telling someone how ‘wonderful’ I was and how much it meant to her to have me in Clarksville” (Gilchrist, 145). The desired outcome of her journey is realized when she actually for a second becomes the person she said she was back home in Franklin. Fielding talks about swimming the local lake and Lele invites herself to join him on what Fielding said was an impossible swim for her because it was five miles. That matters not to Lele since she is a Junior Red Cross Life Saver back home and “…practically taught swimming at camp” (Gilchrist, 149). She finishes the swim with this boy because her reasoning is this:“Swimming was of no importance to me one way or the other. What matteredto me was that a boy of my own choosing, a first-rate boy, was coming to takeme somewhere. Not coming for Baby Gwen and taking me along to be nice, butcoming for me” (Gilchrist, 149).

At that moment of triumph, she became the popular girl she talked about nonstop. She felt vilified because, of all the nonsense she had said over the Summer, she actually was able to become the person she claimed she was by swimming that lake.

At that moment of triumph, her new and seemingly successful life is snatched away as quickly as it was obtained. Her Father is there and informs her that her reconciled parents want her to move back to Indiana and she doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Lele did go through a significant change over the course of the Summer because she apparently had everyone fooled and did live the life of a very popular girl even though her life was merely a façade. She was the person she wanted to be only in her own mind. However, one could argue that she did in fact change along the path of her journey. When she gets back to Franklin, she tells wild tales of her engagement to Fielding Reid and how her “…mother and father come and drag me home practically the same day we fell in love” (Gilchrist, 153). She could now liven up her previously boring existence in Indiana with stories of boys and swimming and carefree days as the “wonderful” Leland Arnold down in Clarksville, Mississippi.

Bibliography:Ellen Gilchrist’s “In The Land Of Dreamy Dreams