Multi-Genre Essay


I Dreamed of Sex and Death

The innocence that people have as children is lost as people progressively grow into mature young adults. Authors such as Spalding Gray and Victor Hugo write about the loss of innocence in their books, “Sex and Death at the Age of 14” and Les Miserables, respectively. In Spalding Gray’s “Sex and Death at the Age of 14” is a narrative of the author of events that transpire that related to the sex and death, and the eventual lost of his innocence through these events. Using a humorous childlike approach, he shifts through events not by chronological order but through the way the events affected him and his loss of innocence. In Victor Hugo’s book, Les Miserables, he uses a more dramatic approach to talk about the loss of innocence, talking about the events that transpired through a various amount of people who are juxtaposed with each other. Fantine, one of his main characters, goes through a series of events that lead to her destruction of her innocence and the cruelty of the French society during the nineteenth century. Claude-Michel Schonberg employ Hugo’s book to make the Broadway inspired play based on the characters in his book and the tale. “I Dreamed a Dream” is Fantine’s solo that narrates about her loss of innocence and the loss of a love. Spalding Gray’s monologue is similar to Claude-Michel Schonberg’s “I Dreamed a Dream” in that both talk about sex, death, consequences and the loss of the innocence.

One theme that repetitively appears in both articles of writing is the sex. In Gray’s humorous monologue, although not chronological, he gradually shows his growth in the understanding of what sex is through events and people who influenced him. One example Gray uses is when he talks about Judy Griggs and how she influenced his understanding of sex.

Judy was the queen of her backyard, but she wanted more. She wanted to be a member of our gang, which had only four of us in it, all boys…We forced her to go into the fields with us and pull down her pants to show us that she really was a boy. Instead of a tinkler we saw her, well, I don’t think we had a name for it actually, but I remember it as this very small, fleshy slit where her tinkler might have been if she had one. Then we took her into our chicken coop and tortured her mildly by tying her to a post and stirring up all the dust from the dirt floor with a broom. We’d leave her there until the dust settled, and she seemed to like it. At least she gave every sign of liking it. (6)


This shows Judy’s influence in his growth of understanding of what sex is by letting him understand the difference between a girl and a boy, unintentionally. Events, like that, begin to mature as the he continues to talk about a series of tales about masturbation and other girls, such as Julie, which influenced his growth and understanding of sex. Another event, which was a watershed event of his understanding of sex, is when he met Julie Brooks and the events that transpired with her that lead to his eventual grasp of what sex was.

Julie and I used to kiss for about 20 minutes, just holding our lips pressed tight with no movement at all. I was very uncomfortable because it was hard to breathe. The other thing we’d do is have make-out session in Julie’s house when her mother wasn’t there, playing ‘sha-boom, sha-boom’ on her little automatic 45-record player. Then we got into dry humping in the field behind Julie’s house in September in the sun… Julie was always wearing that madras Bermuda shorts that were so popular in the late fifties, and I would get my hand up on her right thigh, and that was enough. I’d never go any further; in my mind the rest was a jungle. (21)


Unlike Gray’s memories and the eventual understanding of sex, the song, “I Dreamed a Dream”, takes a dramatic perspective on a women’s understanding of love and sex. The song, “I Dreamed a Dream” takes a dramatic approach to intercourse, while Gray’s monologue takes a more humorous approach to it all. Fantine was a working-class girl who leaves her hometown in high hopes to find fortune in Paris. In Paris, Fantine has an innocent affair with a dapper student, who eventually leaves her alone and pregnant. In “I Dreamed a Dream”, Fantine talks about how she once was hopeful and innocent and how her world has changed concomitantly while her innocence was lost. The theme of sex constantly reoccurs in this song because her lose of innocence was brought by sex and love. She sings, “He slept a summer by my side. He filled my days with endless wonder. He took my childhood in his stride, but he was gone when autumn came.” This verse of the song shows how Tholomyes, the student she had an affair with, wooed her into believing that he loved her, made love to her and left her with nothing. Schonberg uses a metaphor in this verse to show that she had sexual intercourse with him by stating, “he took my childhood in his stride.”

Although it is not used as much in the song “I Dreamed a Dream”, another theme that is used in alliteration is death and consequences. In “Sex and Death at the Age of 14”, he explains again through events in his life, his growing understanding of what death is. He used repetition and alliteration to show various times where death has occurred in his life and the way he responded towards it. For example, as a child, the narrator had to go through many deaths of his cats, dogs and other wild animals that surrounded him. The narrator also had to deal with the death of his friend, Tim, who had died of lung cancer.

I can remember once being up on some scaffolding and seeing some boards lying against a house, and I decided to push them down on my friend Tim Morton. I didn’t think about it. I just pushed and they fell and crushed him. I thought I had killed him, not only because of the way he was lying down there, but also because of the way his father ran, jumping over the hedge, to pick up Tim’s limp body in his arms. I was terrified… Not long after that, Tim died of lung cancer. He was very young and no one seemed able to diagnose it… Tim’s death was a strange kind of relief because we’d always heard that one in four would have to die of something-cancer, tuberculosis, polio, whatever- so I always wondered who would be the one of the four of us who hung out together. That was often in my mind. (14)


This exemplifies the way the narrator reacted towards a serious death as a child and his gradual loss of innocence. Because during the time of Tim’s death the narrator was still a child, he didn’t know how to react like people normally would. In the beginning of the passage when the dropped the scaffolding on Tim, the narrator could not have known about how severe the consequences were, mainly because he did not understand what death was. However, as the story progresses, the narrator begins to show a better understanding of the consequences and what death is.

At last I began building bombs. I’d take a birthday candle and stick it in a wad of clay, lay a big cherry bomb firecracker at the bottom of the candle, and put it behind a toilet in the boys’ room. It’s not as though I never though someone might sit on that toilet- I did think about it, I did think that would be bad. Then I’d light the candle and head for the English class from where, exactly 15 minutes later, I’d hear this enormous explosion… (14)


This passage illustrates how the narrator knew that laying this bomb in the bathroom could really hurt someone in the process to the severity of death, but he still did it anyway. This passage shows a bigger understanding of what death was and the consequences of his actions compared to the narrator dropping the scaffolding on Tim. This is somewhat similar to Fantine’s story in Les Miserables because she did not know the consequences of her actions until she had the face the consequences, which would lead to untimely demise. Because of her innocence, she did not realized how cruel people, such as Tholomyes, could be and that having sexual intercourse with a person like him, could be so consequential. After Tholomyes gets her pregnant and leaves her, Fantine brings her daughter, Cosette, to the care of the Thenardiers, who then extort money from her and is also fired by her coworkers for indecency. Desperate for money to feed her daughter, Fantine goes into a life of prostitution and soon after led to her death. Unlike Gray’s monologue, Fantine must face the consequences of her actions and the reality and cruelty of society in those times.

The main theme of the monologue and the song is the loss of innocence. In “Sex and Death at the Age of 14”, Gray gradually goes through the transformation of a child to a understanding teenager, losing all innocence with his childhood. The narrator went through want a child normally go through, which is the gradual grasp of reality dimming the light of innocence. For example, people can see the release of innocence when his father and the narrator are talking about Fitchon Academy and the narrator’s fear of going to the navy. This event shows people the release of innocence because it shows fear in the narrator, as well as, understanding of what might happen to him. In the song, “I Dreamed a Dream”; there is a clear and definite sign of the loss of innocence. In the song, Fantine’s dream is her innocence because she was naïve about the world around her and how people could be vicious. Fantine sings, “I dreamed that love would never die, I dreamed that God would be forgiving. Then I was young and unafraid, and dreams were made and used and wasted…But the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder. As they tear your hope apart and they turn your dream to shame.” This verse shows the dissolution of her dream and the lost of her innocence. Schonberg uses vocabulary such as, “killed,” “hell,” “die” and other words relating to death to symbolize the lost of her innocence and the way she had perceived things when she was naïve. Towards the end, she comes to the realization of what the world truly is and how and how her hopes, aspirations and innocence dead because of everything that has happened in her life.

“I Dreamed a Dream” and “Sex and Death to the Age of 14” have many similarities, such as the main themes of their book. However, they created two completely different stories because of the way the author/composer approached the writing. In conclusion, Spalding Gray’s monologue is similar to Claude-Michel Schonberg’s “I Dreamed a Dream” in that both talk about sex, death, consequences and the loss of the innocence.