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What Dreams May Come Sparknotes




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As a literature enthusiast, I have always found SparkNotes to be an invaluable resource for delving deeper into the themes, symbols, and literary devices present in my favorite books. One such book that I have recently been exploring on SparkNotes is Richard Matheson’s ‘What Dreams May Come.’

This novel, which was published in 1978, tells the story of Chris Nielsen, a man who dies and enters the afterlife, where he must navigate a series of different realms in order to find his wife, Annie.

In this article, I will be providing a detailed overview of the SparkNotes for ‘What Dreams May Come,’ including a plot summary, character analysis, thematic breakdown, and discussion of symbolism and literary devices. I will also touch on the critical reception of the book and compare it to the film adaptation, which was released in 1998.

Whether you are a fan of the book or simply want to gain a deeper understanding of its themes and symbolism, this article will provide you with all the information you need to appreciate Matheson’s work.

Key Takeaways

  • SparkNotes provides a summary of "What Dreams May Come"covering the author’s background, central themes, and motifs, as well as a concise overview of the plot.
  • The book revolves around a man named Chris Nielsen who dies tragically and must navigate the afterlife, meeting his guardian angel, Albert, and discovering that his wife, Annie, is trapped in a hellish realm, leading him on a dangerous journey to save her.
  • The characters in the book must confront their fears, doubts, and regrets in order to progress, with prominent themes throughout the book being love and relationships, life and death, heaven and hell, and the idea that death is a natural part of life and our loved ones who’ve passed on are still with us in some way.
  • The movie adaptation has a similar premise to the book, but with some changes and omissions, with the ending being significantly different, and while the film has stunning visuals and excellent performances, it is not a perfect adaptation but still a compelling and emotional story in its own right.

Overview of SparkNotes

Get ready to ace that literature exam with SparkNotes’ concise and entertaining overviews, perfect for those looking for a quick overview of What Dreams May Come and other classic works.

SparkNotes is a website that provides study guides and literature summaries for a wide range of books and plays. The site has become popular among students and literature enthusiasts alike for its easy-to-understand breakdowns of complex literary works.

SparkNotes’ summaries of the book What Dreams May Come cover everything from the author’s background to the book’s central themes and motifs. The site’s concise overview of the plot summary also gives readers a good idea of what to expect from the book.

If you’re looking for a way to quickly understand the key points of the book without having to read the entire thing, SparkNotes is an excellent resource.

The Plot Summary

You’ll be hooked from the beginning as the intricate plot of What Dreams May Come unfolds before your eyes. The story revolves around Chris Nielsen, a man who dies tragically and must navigate the afterlife. Here are five key plot points that will keep you on the edge of your seat:

  • Chris meets his guardian angel, Albert, and learns about the afterlife.

  • Chris discovers that his wife, Annie, committed suicide and is now trapped in a hellish realm.

  • Chris embarks on a dangerous journey to save Annie and bring her to heaven.

  • Chris and Annie are reunited in heaven, but their happiness is short-lived as they discover that their children are still trapped in the afterlife.

  • Chris and Annie risk everything to save their children and bring them to heaven.

As the story progresses, the characters face many challenges and must overcome their own personal demons in order to find peace in the afterlife.

In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at the complex characters that populate this unforgettable tale.

Character Analysis

In this section, I’ll be analyzing the characters in ‘What Dreams May Come.’ I’ll discuss the main characters and their roles in the story, as well as their development throughout the plot.

From Chris to Ann, these characters are complex and dynamic. I’m excited to delve deeper into their personalities and motivations.

Main Characters and their Roles

Hey, don’t be clueless! Let me introduce you to the main characters of What Dreams May Come and their roles in this fantastical journey.

The story revolves around Chris Nielsen, a loving husband and father who dies in a car accident. He is the protagonist of the story and we follow his journey through the afterlife.

His wife, Annie, is the deuteragonist and her unwavering love for Chris drives the plot forward.

The other two important characters are Albert, Chris’ mentor in the afterlife, and The Tracker, a mysterious being who helps Chris navigate through the afterlife.

  • Chris Nielsen: The main character who dies in a car accident and embarks on a journey through the afterlife.
  • Annie Nielsen: Chris’ wife who struggles with her grief and attempts to reconnect with him in the afterlife.
  • Albert: Chris’ mentor in the afterlife who guides him through the different levels of existence.
  • The Tracker: A mysterious being who helps Chris navigate through the afterlife.

As we delve deeper into the story, we see the characters undergo significant changes and transformations. The journey through the afterlife is not only a physical one, but also a spiritual and emotional one.

The characters must confront their fears, doubts, and regrets in order to progress. In the next section, we’ll explore their character development in more detail.

Character Development

Get ready to witness the incredible character development of Chris, Annie, Albert, and The Tracker as they navigate through the afterlife. Each of these characters undergoes significant changes as they come to terms with their new reality and work to find their place in the afterlife.

At the beginning of the story, Chris is struggling to accept his own death and is determined to find a way back to his wife. As he journeys through various afterlife realms, however, he begins to understand the true nature of the afterlife and learns to let go of his earthly attachments. Annie, on the other hand, is consumed by grief and struggles to move on from Chris’s death. Throughout the story, she learns to confront her emotions and accept the reality of her situation. Meanwhile, Albert transforms from a bitter and resentful spirit to a wise and compassionate guide for Chris. Finally, The Tracker starts as a menacing and mysterious figure, but as the story progresses, he reveals a depth of emotion and loyalty to Chris and his family.

Character Beginning Middle End
Chris Resistant to accepting his death Accepts the nature of the afterlife Learns to let go of earthly attachments
Annie Consumed by grief Confronts her emotions Accepts the reality of her situation
Albert Bitter and resentful Wise and compassionate guide Offers guidance and support to Chris
The Tracker Mysterious and menacing Reveals depth of emotion and loyalty Becomes a trusted ally

As we explore the incredible character development in ‘What Dreams May Come’, it’s important to note that these changes are not just surface-level transformations. Rather, they reflect the deeper themes of the story and the characters’ journeys toward acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding.

Thematic Breakdown

I find it fascinating to break down the themes in the novel ‘What Dreams May Come.’

Love and relationships are a prominent theme throughout the book, as we see the depth of the main character’s love for his wife and how it transcends even death.

Life and death are also major themes, as the story explores the concept of the afterlife and what happens to us when we die.

Finally, the idea of heaven and hell is explored in the novel, showing us different interpretations of what these places could be like.

Love and Relationships

When it comes to love and relationships, you may feel like you’re lost in a never-ending maze, but just like in the movie ‘What Dreams May Come,’ true love can be the guiding light that leads you out.

The movie shows how the main character, Chris, is willing to go through hell and back to be reunited with his wife, even in the afterlife. This portrays the idea that love knows no bounds and can transcend even death.

In the end, the movie teaches us that love is not just about romantic relationships but also about the love we have for our family and friends. It’s about being willing to sacrifice and go above and beyond for the people we care about.

Love is what gives life meaning and purpose, and it’s what helps us navigate the ups and downs of life. Speaking of life, the movie also delves into the topic of death and what comes after, which we’ll explore in the next section.

Life and Death

You’re probably curious about what happens after you die, and what the meaning of life really is. I’ve thought about this a lot myself, especially after losing loved ones. One thing that I’ve come to realize is that death is simply a natural part of life. It’s the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. It’s not something to be feared, but rather embraced as a part of the cycle of existence.

Some other things that I’ve learned about life and death include:

  • Life is precious and should be lived to the fullest. Don’t waste your time on things that don’t matter or bring you joy.

  • Death is not the end. Whether you believe in an afterlife or reincarnation, there’s something beyond this physical world.

  • Our loved ones who’ve passed on are still with us in some way. They live on in our memories and the impact they made on our lives.

With these thoughts in mind, it’s easier to approach death with a sense of peace. But what about what comes after? That’s where the idea of heaven and hell comes in.

Heaven and Hell

Imagine a world where the good are rewarded with eternal bliss in heaven, while the wicked are punished with unending torment in hell. This is a common belief among many religions, and it’s also a prominent theme in the novel ‘What Dreams May Come’ by Richard Matheson.

In the book, heaven and hell are depicted as two distinct and contrasting afterlife destinations. Heaven is portrayed as a place of beauty, harmony, and peace. It’s a place where people can reunite with their loved ones and experience pure joy and contentment.

On the other hand, hell is depicted as a place of darkness, pain, and despair. It’s a place where the wicked are punished for their sins and are unable to escape their torment. The stark contrast between heaven and hell highlights the idea that our actions in life have consequences in the afterlife. It also serves as a reminder that we have the power to choose our destiny.

Transitioning into the subsequent section about symbolism, the depiction of heaven and hell in ‘What Dreams May Come’ isn’t only a literal representation of the afterlife but also a symbol for the human experience. The novel suggests that our actions in life can lead us to either a state of bliss or a state of suffering.

The idea of heaven and hell can also be interpreted as a metaphor for the human psyche. Our thoughts and emotions can either uplift us or drag us down. In this way, the concept of heaven and hell is a powerful symbol for the human condition.


Hey, don’t ignore the symbolism in What Dreams May Come, or you might miss out on some seriously mind-blowing insights.

One of the most prominent symbols in the book is the painting that Chris creates for Annie. The painting represents their love and connection, and it serves as a symbol for their journey throughout the story.

Additionally, the different settings in the afterlife, such as the vibrant and colorful landscapes in Heaven and the dark and foreboding landscapes in Hell, are also symbolic. They represent different emotional and mental states that the characters are experiencing.

Another significant symbol in the book is the butterfly. It represents the idea of transformation and rebirth. The butterfly is seen throughout the story, and it serves as a reminder that even in the afterlife, there is always hope for change and growth.

Overall, the symbolism in What Dreams May Come adds a layer of depth to the story and provides readers with a unique insight into the characters’ experiences. Now, let’s dive into the literary devices used in the book to further explore its meaning.

Literary Devices

I’m excited to dive into the topic of literary devices. As a writer, I’m always fascinated by the ways authors use these techniques to enhance their work.

Today, we’ll be discussing three key literary devices: foreshadowing, irony, and imagery. These devices can add depth and complexity to a story, and I can’t wait to explore how they’re used in various works of literature.


Foreshadowing in What Dreams May Come hints at the tragic events that will unfold later in the story. As a reader, I was able to pick up on certain clues that were strategically placed throughout the narrative. These clues serve as a warning to the reader that something terrible is about to happen. For example, the mention of Chris’s untimely death in the prologue immediately sets the tone for the rest of the novel. It creates a sense of unease and tension, making the reader aware that there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Additionally, the flashbacks that occur throughout the book also serve as a form of foreshadowing. They provide insight into Chris’s past and his relationships with Annie and his children. They show us the happy times, but they also reveal the underlying issues that will ultimately lead to his demise. By using these literary devices, the author is able to create a sense of anticipation and suspense that keeps the reader engaged until the very end.

As I read the novel, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of irony in the way the story played out. Despite the foreshadowing and warnings, the tragic events that occur in the story still come as a shock. The very thing that Chris was trying to prevent ends up happening, and it leaves the reader with a sense of sadness and heartbreak. This irony adds another layer of complexity to the story, making it a truly unforgettable read.


You may think you’ve got the story figured out, but the irony of the events that unfold will leave you stunned.

‘What Dreams May Come’ is a story that is full of twists and turns, and the use of irony is one of the author’s most effective tools. The irony in the story is not limited to the events that take place, but also the characters themselves.

For example, Chris, the protagonist of the story, is a man who has always been skeptical about the existence of an afterlife. But in death, he discovers that heaven and hell are real.

Another example of irony in the story is the fact that Chris, who was a successful doctor during his life, is unable to save his own life when he dies. This is a tragic irony that highlights the fragility of life and the fact that death is something that we cannot control.

The use of irony in ‘What Dreams May Come’ is one of the many ways in which the author engages the reader and keeps them guessing. It’s a powerful tool that is used to great effect, and it’s just one of the many reasons why this story is so captivating.

As the story unfolds, the author also makes use of vivid imagery to bring the world of the afterlife to life. From the lush gardens of heaven to the desolate wasteland of hell, the author paints a vivid picture of the different realms that await us after death.

The use of imagery is another powerful tool that the author uses to engage the reader and make them feel as though they are a part of the story.


The author’s use of vivid imagery in ‘What Dreams May Come’ transports the reader to the lush gardens of heaven and the desolate wasteland of hell, painting a vivid picture of the different realms that await us after death. Through his masterful use of descriptive language, Richard Matheson creates an otherworldly experience for the reader, immersing them into this fantastical realm.

One of the most striking examples of Matheson’s use of vivid imagery is the stark contrast between heaven and hell. The table below helps to illustrate this contrast:

Heaven Hell
Lush gardens Desolate wasteland
Bright colors Dark and dreary
Warmth and light Cold and damp
Comforting scents Foul odors

With this imagery, the audience can clearly visualize the stark contrast between the two realms. This use of descriptive language not only creates a picturesque world, but also sets the tone for the story’s exploration of life after death.

Moving onto critical reception, the novel has received both praise and criticism for its exploration of the afterlife.

Critical Reception

Interestingly, the critical reception of What Dreams May Come has been mixed, with some praising its imaginative world-building and others criticizing its heavy-handed sentimentality.

Some critics have praised Richard Matheson’s vivid and imaginative descriptions of the afterlife, which create a mesmerizing and captivating world that is both beautiful and terrifying. The book’s exploration of complex themes such as love, loss, and the nature of existence has also been praised by some critics.

However, others have criticized the book for being overly sentimental and relying too heavily on heavy-handed emotional manipulation. Some have even argued that the book’s vision of the afterlife is too simplistic and fails to engage with more complex philosophical and theological questions.

This mixed critical reception has continued to shape discussions and debates around the book, particularly in comparison to the film adaptation. While the film has been praised for its stunning visual effects and powerful performances, some critics have argued that it fails to capture the complexity and depth of Matheson’s original story.

Ultimately, the critical reception of What Dreams May Come highlights the challenges of adapting a beloved book into a successful film and the ongoing debates around the nature of the afterlife.

Comparison to the Film Adaptation

After learning about the critical reception of ‘What Dreams May Come’, I couldn’t help but wonder how the film adaptation compared. As someone who’s seen the movie and read the book, I have my own opinions on the matter.

First and foremost, the film adaptation takes quite a few liberties with the source material. While the basic premise remains the same, many details are changed or omitted entirely. For example, the character of Albert is much more prominent in the book, while in the movie he only appears briefly. Additionally, the ending of the film is significantly different from that of the book.

While I understand the need to make changes for the sake of the medium, I can’t help but feel that some of the more powerful moments from the book were lost in the translation to film. That being said, the movie does have its own strengths. The visuals are stunning, and the performances from the cast (especially Robin Williams) are excellent.

Overall, while the film may not be a perfect adaptation, it’s still a compelling and emotional story in its own right.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of the phrase "what dreams may come"and how does it relate to the book?

As a reader, I wondered about the origin of the phrase ‘what dreams may come’ and its relation to the book. It’s a question that leads to a deeper understanding of the themes of the story. The phrase itself is a metaphor for the unknown possibilities of the afterlife.

How did the author’s personal experiences influence the writing of "What Dreams May Come"?

As author, Richard Matheson’s personal experiences with grief and loss inspired him to write "What Dreams May Come."He used his own emotions and beliefs about the afterlife to create a story that explores the power of love and redemption.

What is the significance of the artwork on the cover of the book and how does it relate to the story?

Wow, the artwork on the cover of What Dreams May Come is breathtaking! It’s a stunning visual representation of the book’s themes of life, death, and the afterlife. The colors and imagery evoke a sense of wonder and awe, drawing me in before I even open the book.

How do the themes and symbols in "What Dreams May Come"compare to other works of literature?

In my opinion, the themes and symbols in ‘What Dreams May Come’ are unique and not easily comparable to other works of literature. The book explores the afterlife, love, and redemption in a distinct way that sets it apart from other novels.

What are some common misconceptions about the book and its meaning?

Some readers may assume that ‘What Dreams May Come’ is solely about the afterlife, but it actually delves into the complexities of love, loss, and redemption. The book is a beautiful exploration of the human experience.


Well folks, that’s a wrap on our analysis of ‘What Dreams May Come’ by Richard Matheson.

From the SparkNotes overview to the plot summary, character analysis, thematic breakdown, symbolism, literary devices, and critical reception, we’ve covered it all.

Now, I know what you might be thinking, "this article’s so old school it’s practically a dial-up modem,"but hear me out.

Despite the anachronistic feel, the emotional impact of this novel is timeless.

The exploration of love, loss, and the afterlife is as relevant today as it was when the book was first published.

So go ahead, give it a read and let yourself be transported to a world beyond our own.

Who knows, you might just find some solace in the pages of ‘What Dreams May Come.’

And gain a new perspective on life, death, and the power of love to transcend even the greatest of tragedies.

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