Mr. Gleason, a ‘small meek man with rimless glasses’, is the title character of this particular short story but the largest impact he has on his small country town only surfaces after his death. Told from the perspective of a young resident who has since grown older and wiser, it starts with this gem of an opening line, ‘No one can, to this day, remember what it was we did to offend him.’
Initially the town is described as a nondescript, ordinary place in a little valley where people use it as ‘somewhere on the way to somewhere else’. So all of its residents dream of the big city, of wealth, modern houses and motor cars. The father of our narrator calls these ambitions, American Dreams and thus the story by author Peter Carey (Oscar & Lucinda, Bliss, Parrot & Olivier in America) derives its title.
We learn after his retirement, Mr. Gleason starts to build a wall around a two-acre plot up on Bald Hill. This does not please the townspeople because the wall being erected blocked the view of the town and he does not bother to explain his reasons.
When Mr Gleason passes away, the walls are torn down by the Chinese labourers who were originally hired to build it. The revelation inside excites the town until they realise it also has the ability to expose their secrets. But they are thwarted in their desire when Bald Hill is declared a tourist attraction.
This works to the benefit of the town for a while and people regard Mr. Gleason in a new light as they prosper. Then the long awaited Americans arrive . Life goes on as usual but the Americans keep coming as people start to realise their once longed for dreams are quite different in their obtained reality.