Yale University

In "The Writer in the Family" by E.L. Doctorow

What does johnathan finally understand about his father's dreams for his own life?

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Jonathan realizes that his father's dreams were never realized. His father's dreams revolved around the sea, the navy, and his desire for a commission..... the commission he never receives. His fathers dreams were found in adventure novels and telescopes.

I took the picture of my father and his shipmates and propped it against the lamp at my bedside. I looked into his youthful face and tried to relate it to the father I knew. I looked at the picture a long time. Only gradually did my eye connect it to the set of Great Sea Novels in the bottom shelf of the bookcase a few feet away. My father had given that set to me: it was uniformly bound in green with gilt lettering and it included works by Melville, Conrad, Victor Hugo, and Captain Marryat. And lying across the top of the books, jammed in under the sagging shelf above, was his old ship’s telescope in its wooden case with the brass snap. I thought how stupid, and imperceptive, and self-centered I had been never to have understood while he was alive what my father’s dream for his life had been.

Having come to this realization, Jonathan's last lettter as his father requests a burial at sea. I think is father would have approved.