I first read this story in a class I took my junior year of college. My professor described it as a “Boy meets Girl” story. It’s probably unlike any such story you are familiar with. And yet its elemental concern with men and women and the relations between them make it the most thorough account of Boy’s meeting Girl I’ve ever read.
It is, at base, a story of recognition. A man, the narrator, and a woman have been meeting in their dreams every night for years. Both want to find each other in reality, but only the woman is able to remember anything about their meetings come morning. The conflict between the narrator and the woman is whether he will finally manage to remember her outside the dream and find her in reality; that is, whether he will come to understand that she is just as real as he is.
García Márquez uses strategies to align the reader’s experience with that of the narrator. Because the story is set in a dream, and because it is told in the first person, we can only truly be sure of the narrator’s existence: perhaps the woman is simply a figment of his imagination. We are further drawn into the narrator (and away from the woman) by his phenomenological narration: we do not see the woman walk over to the dressing table; rather, we see the narrator see her do so. As we read, we are forced to make the same choices the narrator makes. So the story’s conclusion forces us to deny the woman’s subjectivity. It leaves us guilty. It leaves us begging to remember the woman. It leaves us more conscientious people.