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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Amy's Dream World

It was from this position that all she saw appeared unreal; the more surprising the scenes, the more they resembled the unreality of her own inner life as she went through its vacant places all day long. The gorges of the Simplon, its enormous depths and thundering waterfalls, the wonderful road, the points of danger where a loose wheel or a faltering horse would have been destruction, the descent into Italy, the opening of that beautiful land as the rugged mountain-chasm widened and let them out from a gloomy and dark imprisonment—all a dream—only the old mean Marshalsea a reality (Book II, Ch. 3).

Upon William Dorrit's release, the family instantly leaves England and begins travels on the Continent, beginning in Switzerland before landing in Italy.  Despite the picturesque views of the Italian countryside, Amy (Little Dorrit) feels out of place and her vision is distorted by the unfamiliarity of her surrounding.  While everyone in her family embraces their new-found wealth, Amy is reluctant to give up her old, tattered clothing in exchange for a new extravagant life style. A lifestyle of pomp and circumstance is not to Amy's liking.  She, like Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin, is drawn to the ugly things in life.

Among the day's unrealities would be roads where the bright red vines were looped and garlanded together on trees for many miles; woods of olives; white villages and towns on hill-sides, lovely without, but frightful in their dirt and poverty within; crosses by the way; deep blue lakes with fairy islands, and clustering boats with awnings of bright colours and sails of beautiful forms; vast piles of building mouldering to dust; hanging-gardens where the weeds had grown so strong that their stems, like wedges driven home, had split the arch and rent the wall; stone-terraced lanes, with the lizards running into and out of every chink; beggars of all sorts everywhere: pitiful, picturesque, hungry, merry; children beggars and aged beggars. Often at posting-houses and other halting places, these miserable creatures would appear to her the only realities of the day; and many a time, when the money she had brought to give them was all given away, she would sit with her folded hands, thoughtfully looking after some diminutive girl leading her grey father, as if the sight reminded her of something in the days that were gone (Book II, Ch. 3).

Amy avoids the beautiful and gravitates to the ugly.  Born in prison, Amy has always lived in an ugly situation.  In such an environment, she feels comfortable because she has learned how to be a light in the midst of darkness, a balm in the midst of pain. 

"To have no work to do was strange, but not half so strange as having glided into a corner where she had no one to think for, nothing to plan and contrive, no cares of others to load herself with (Book II, Ch. 3).

In an atmosphere free from suffering and work to do for others, Amy has an identity crisis.

Such people were not realities to the little figure of the English girl; such people were all unknown to her. She would watch the sunset, in its long low lines of purple and red, and its burning flush high up into the sky: so glowing on the buildings, and so lightening their structure, that it made them look as if their strong walls were transparent, and they shone from within. She would watch those glories expire; and then, after looking at the black gondolas underneath, taking guests to music and dancing, would raise her eyes to the shining stars. Was there no party of her own, in other times, on which the stars had shone? To think of that old gate now! She would think of that old gate, and of herself sitting at it in the dead of the night, pillowing Maggy's head; and of other places and of other scenes associated with those different times. And then she would lean upon her balcony, and look over at the water, as though they all lay underneath it (Book II, Ch. 3).

Amy knows how to comfort others but finds no comfort abroad while surrounded by serenity.  In this new environment, Amy has no function to perform.  A peaceful world is a dream world that Amy has never experienced.  She was born into a depressing state and functions best in grotesque circumstances.  The magnificence of Rome is foreign territory to her in more than one sense, territory to which she struggles to adapt.

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