Dillard's Dreams

Hilda Leung '05, English 171, Sages, Satirists, and New Journalists, Brown University, 2005

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Dillard is not a sage simply because she has access to expensive microscopes, knowledge of hundreds of literary and scientific works, immense curiosity in exploring nature and a talent for seeing and picture painting — she has visions. Her dreams, or more appropriately, her nightmares, are visions that preoccupy her consciousness when awake. Her visions drive her to meditate on her metaphysical surroundings and question the meaning of life and death. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek begins with Dillard's nightmare of her bloody Tom Cat. That is what prompts her to make sense of her world.

I still think of that old tomcat, mornings, when I wake. Things are tamer now; I sleep with the window shut. The cat and our rites are gone and my life is changed, but the memory remains of something powerful playing over me. I wake expectant, hoping to see a new thing. If I'm lucky I might be jogged awake by a strange bird call. I dress in a hurry, imaging the yard flapping with auks, or flamingos. This morning it was a wood duck, down at the creek. It flew away. [p. 4]

Dillard ends the book recounting the same dream. After a year of meditation prompted by her vision, she at last reconciles her confusion with religious affirmation. "In and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise" (p. 277).


How effective is the dream as the opening sequence of her meditation journey?

What effect does it have to end with the same dream sequence?

Is the reality she depicts much different from her nightmares?

How does Dillard use dreams to structure her book? For example, In Fecundity, her contemplation of reproduction and death is prompted by her nightmare of fish swarming on her bed.


Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. New York: Harper, 1988.

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Last modified 3 December 2006