The Boy Comes Home: Conflict real or dream by A. A Milne
To see whether the conflict in the play is real or unreal, we have to regard that the play "The Boy Comes Home" is a comedy, not an action play. And a comedy always has conflicts but it ends happily, satisfying the feelings and emotions of the audience. The play, obviously, has a conflict in it. The conflict is quite a vital one.
A typical Victorian style uncle wants his nephew to obey his commands. The uncle is very severe as regards discipline and the boy is a characteristic example of carelessness. Yet the boy, Philip, is energetic and young retired from the army. Then, there it is the question of the young man's future! Mr. James, his uncle, is a highly experienced person with jam business. Obviously, he wants his nephew to join that business. But, as a matter of fact, it is less likely to happen. The uncle is strict and the fellow is a hard nut to crack. There is enough space for a conflict between the two.
Mr. James invites Philip to sort out what profession should be adopted by Philip. He starts waiting for his nephew. In the meantime, he falls asleep. In his dream, his nephew comes to him. He wants to start some business of his own. His uncle refuses and Philip insists upon that. His uncle refuses to pay him the amount desired and asks him to join the jam business with him Philip does his best to persuade him but in vain. His uncle does not move. Philip takes out a pistol and forces Mr. James to surrender before his wish. Mr. James becomes fully frightened and gives in.
As we have mentioned before the play is a comedy and a comedy has to do the justice to all the characters. It must satisfy the taste and feelings of the audience as well should not excel the code of ethics by any means. Had that action been real, it would mean humiliation and insult for the uncle, an elderly person. For one reason or the other, the correction was necessary for Mr. James but not a punishment. A real action would have shocked us because Mr. James passes for Philip's father. The writer chose a dream for the correction of the severe and overcommitted disciplined person, Mr. James. Hence, the use of dream as an alternative of the real action is well justified on account that the play is not an action play rather a comedy, and it must have an ending on a happy note.
Symbolic Significance of dream in the Boy comes Home
Uncle James' dream is taken as a light hearted episode only because the play ends happily while the uncle is never certain of whether it was reality or a mere dream. He keeps guessing in the amazement of his life. But looking at the horrible end of it all forces us to call a spade a spade and admit that the dream is in fact a "nightmare" and nightmares just betray and dread us of possible fears and shadows of unwanted tortures that haunt us. The dream of Uncle James is the dread of the effects of war on the youth of Philip, his nephew that just returned after taking part in a war. The dream is a clear symbol of how much war could degrade human mental and moral faculties had there been no legal and moral constraints of society. Therefore, the playwright has visualized the impact of war damages no matter be it with the victorious or the loosing nation; in strict terminology of the sane world, nobody wins except the ugliness and sorrows at the end of a war.