The thematic focus on dreams in the story is announced by the title of the collection, Dream Stuff , an allusion to Shakespeare’s The Tempest (4.1.156–58). Prospero, the central character in the play, notes the temporal nature of human life in his claim, “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded by a sleep.” (The passage from Shakespeare appears in Peter Pierce’s article, “What Dreams May Come: David Malouf’s Dream Stuff .) In “Great Day,” this allusion suggests reflection, as Audley celebrates his seventysecond birthday, and hope as the characters are able to find comforting connections. Fran’s dream becomes a sign of the unification that the family feels at the end of the story after Clem has declared, “Anything is possible. . . . Nothing ever gets .” She sees herself lying down with the others on the beach and recognizes the connection that she has with the Tyler family as she emerges “in out of the dark” and “into the circle of light.”
Several characters in the story experience an ironic sense of loss. Paul Sharrad notes that this loss “can be both debilitating and the catalyst for creation.” Clem and Fran, for example, lose a partner when they get a divorce, but the experience allows them to establish a new, supportive relationship with each other. Clem is also able to strengthen his relationship with his family while Fran finds a satisfying balance between her life inside and outside of it. Ned loses his sure sense of right and wrong when his father and grandfather refuse to support his contention that no one should be setting bonfires on the beach. Paradoxically, he is also disappointed that his family is not celebrating the national holiday by waving flags or building their own bonfires. He disagrees with his father’s conclusion that “If these fellers want an excuse for a good do, I’m not the one to deny them, but it’s just another day like any other really.” Ned becomes angry at the members of his family who “like things left up in the air” and who “never want anything settled.” This inconclusiveness, however, also suggests an openness and flexibility that Ned eventually adopts. After he watches the group on the beach, he admits “that what he really regretted was that the bonfire was not theirs,” and, as a result, he is able to make a connection with the boy whom he had previously rebuffed.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, David Malouf, Published by Gale Group, 2006