National Dreams: Western Dream Visions

National Dreams and the Sociological Novel

The Sociological Novel encompasses all forms (genres) of story telling and has as its major interest the motifs, attitudes and conditions of the society in which the character exists.

Historians and critics who are interested in the way a literary work is shaped by circumstances such as class, gender, race, and political orientation investigate the social, political, economic, and religious organization of the forces of the era in which the author lived.

The Sociological Novel is a prose fiction whose major interest and background derives from the conditions of the society in which the characters exist. Ibsen had a major influence on this genre, which treats social, political or religious problems with a didactic message.

The Sociological Novel is itself is a form of Problem Novel whose primary concern is the working out through characters and incidents of a central agon or problem. Dreams reflect the narrative structures of myths, fairy tales and the Sociological Novel .

National Dreamscreens and Language

The advent of language in human development altered how life was viewed by those who lived it; with the ability to speak came the telling of stories, and life could be viewed as a literary work.

Dream work can investigate human history by examining the cultural influences revealed in our dreams. This work can be undertaken with reference to literary concepts such as narrative, character, plot, semiotics and point of view.

The dream is an ever-present narrator, providing insight into humanity's stories by revealing secret desires and hidden motives. In whose voice is the narrative spoken? Whose vision is seen?

In both individual and communal dreams, we watch ourselves and how we relate to each other. Humans evidence a need to witness and participate in rituals that express communal identity. Rituals that were once played out in the relatively small theatres of church and family are now often large-scale media events, on radio phone-in shows, social relationship talk shows, home video television shows, and individual web-sites, for instance. This is also evident in news stories that witness ritualistic outpourings of grief following tragedies such as mass murders or the deaths of societal icons.

Have we then created news stories that require tragedy to provide a dramatic tension that will fulfill the need for ritual?

Western Dream Visions

For Harold Bloom, The Western Canon,  national canons are represented by their crucial figures: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth and Dickens for England; Montaigne and Moliere for France; Dante for Italy; Cervantes for Spain; Tolstoy for Russia; Goethe for Germany; Whitman and Dickinson for the United States.

The collective dream work patterns found on the communal dream screen sees these figures as formative but not definitive in defining national canons, which in turn provide the narrative infrastructures for the Western Canon and dream work in Western society. So for example, although Whitman provides the light for the American novel and social life in America, Hermann Melville's Moby Dick and Mark Twain's Huck Finn shed light on its dark side. William Blake reveals the unity and the bridge connecting the light and the darkness. Let us also remember that the English are still deeply driven by the legend of Camelot of King Arthur and his round table of knights.

Each society has a variety of guiding fictions (ideals) which constitute the image of a "good person." When speaking of national character of a people we are searching for a collective ideal personality type. The French, German, British, American national characters can provide insight into understanding national collective behaviour and conduct. Dreams reflect and reinforce the influences that culture and national character have on individuals and individuals have on national character.

All nations develop a sense of community, with different sensibilities and points of view. Common, fundamental questions may be posed, but each nation answers them differently. The British novel The Secret Agent, the American novel Under Western Eyes, and the Russian novel Nostromo are politically shaped stories that suggest the belief in freedom and individuality is an illusion that must be surrendered.


Politics of National Dreams

Rhetoric – the effective use of persuasive language – can affect how individuals, societies and entire nations view themselves. We recount our national histories to ourselves, through the media, through speeches by public figures, through our education system, and this constant reinforcement of dominant narratives will affect our lives in realms from public discourse to the privacy of our own subconscious.

As Kenneth Burke has shown in his rhetorical analysis of Hitler's Mein Kampf, each ideology alters the public discourse via dominant narratives. When conflicting narratives appear, such as might be told by women, children, visible minorities, and any other member of a group without power, these narratives may be subject to censorship, suppression and oppressive forces. To illustrate how the dreams of Germans were a "parable par excellence on how submissive subjects of totalitarian rule (Hitler's regime) were produced," I have included one such dream (reported by Berandt) which reflects the fashion, music and theatre of pre-war Germany and Germans' collective memory.

"I was sitting in a box at the opera, dressed in a new gown, and my hair beautifully done. It was a huge opera house with many, many tiers, and I was enjoying considerable attention. They were presenting my favourite opera, The Magic Flute. When it came to the line ‘That is the devil certainly,' a squad of policeman came stomping in and marched directly up to me. A machine had registered the fact that I had thought of Hitler on hearing the word ‘devil.' I imploringly searched the festive crowd for some sign of help, but they all just sat there staring straight ahead, silent and expressionless, not one showing even pity. The old gentleman in an adjoining box looked kind and distinguished, but when I tried to catch his eye he spat at me."

Sociology of the National Dreams

As personal and collective documents, dreams dramatize life and the rites of passage we all go through. Biographic analysis of dreams suggests that people are losing their sense of individuality, being subsumed in the collective narratives. This is resulting in feelings of alienation and depersonalization. From a biographic perspective, both the individual and the collective have a relationship with dominant narrative forms, such as literature and film. From a sociological perspective, the individual dream can be viewed as a personal document, similar to a journal or diary, which captures an individual's own view of his or her life. When we analyse groups of dreams, we discover the intersection of individual biography and collective history. This is the Sociology of Dreams.

Children, Nationalism and Dreams

National narratives imprint their own language and patterns of socialization on children. A nation's culture is derived from its legends, folk-tales and national myths, and these are taught to us at a very early age. That they have a profound effect on our collective psyche is evident from examining the dreams of children. Children are the purest form of what Jean-Jacques Rousseau called "the Noble Savage," uncorrupted by learning and socialization. But they learn quickly to absorb their cultural legacy. All individuals living in a speech community are shaped via instruction to learn their culture's literary storehouse inheritance.

Language Games: Play of Social Constructions

For Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations, language games help children enter an already-constructed social universe. By using simple and repetitive words or phrases, language games instruct children and in the process reveal how language is acquired. Language games also show that no language is private, in that even one's private thoughts can only be expressed in the language of the game which is shared and defined by all the players. To enter the social order of language and culture is to enter a work in progress. It is a symbolic, historical dramaturgy that determines the child's fate. Once entered, the game or play can no longer be spoken of freely and objectively by game players. They have now been influenced by the process, and the roles, rules and values taught. A society perpetuates culture by educating its members with its values around issues such as gender and class, literally before new members have the capacity to imagine alternatives. As children grow up, the games become dramatic realities which members reconstruct in families, institutions and the workplace. Much of what is learned about how to cope in the world, and in society, is picked up outside schools and institutions. The process begins in the womb before birth, but even there, children do not arrive as blank slates.


National Spells of Enchantment: Fables, Fairy Tales and Cultural Animation

For Jack Zipes, Fairy Tales, the magic spell of fairy tales use fantasy – magic, wish-fulfillment, achievement of desire – to introduce children to the myths and narratives which form the basis of their community. The purpose of telling fairy tales to children is to help them become functioning members of that community. The characters, settings and motifs of folk tales are combined to create a sense of wonder.

Wonder, while it can open a child's eyes to great possibilities, can also create a sense of awe and even fear. So for example, Snow White teaches children the value of remaining pure, of waiting for true love, and to be wary of strangers bearing gifts. J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga, while vast and beautiful, teaches children to be suspicious of progress, to love the old and scrutinize the new. (Tolkien, a confirmed Luddite, made all his villains love machines, while all the heroes worshipped nature.) The stories we tell our children reinforce a sense of community by enshrining in literature our customs, beliefs, laws and values.

The fable (which we still teach our children) is the narrative vehicle which flourished among primitive peoples. The genre of the presentation and personification of human beings as animals can be traced as far back as 6th century B.C. Greece, for example Aesop's fables. The dream of the animal echoes the collective unconscious connections to our primitive origins addressing the problems and questions we all face when entering culture. Animal personifications found in both fables and fairy tales are narratives about the fortunes and misfortunes of a hero or heroine experiencing adventures of the supernatural kind. Magic, charms and spells are the main ingredients of such stories about human nature and psychology. The fairy tale ending of living happily ever after is an important theme and motif of the American Dream.

Simon O. Lesser, Fiction and the Unconscious, believes that wish fulfilling fantasies are shared between the author and the reader of a text. A dictionary of narrative structures and their adaptations of memory, language, thought and fantasy is being compiled at the IIDR web-site. Already the dreams collected reflect the social narrative organization of the speech community. The forms of Dream Vision story-telling found include the four primary genres: romance, satire, comedy and tragedy.

The dream is a news channel through which to view, hear and generally sense the spectacle of the Western Speech community as it is produced by its cultural industries. As a news channel it also provides insight into the past, present and prognosticates future narrative experiences.

For the anthropologist Ruth Benedict (Patterns of Culture), culture shapes children by impressing upon them ideal personality types, that is, those behaviours, customs and dispositions that best suit communal living. Each society has definite philosophical norms for character development. The use of reward and punishment secures the individual's role, rules and values in their speech community. Exposing the deep structures (configurations) of a speech community provides insight into the motifs upon which a speech community is built. Spectacles that affirm solidarity (as opposed to negating it) remind citizens of the community of the moral, artistic, logical and truth foundations and therefore the philosophy of a speech community. The workings of a social system are reflected and made transparent in the dream work of its individual members.


Derrida and Iragaray

Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology, critiques Western discourse for maintaining the dominant narrative (i.e., the one written by the winner). Derrida encourages readers to read in the "margins" when analysing texts, in order to give voice to other marginalized narratives. Such narratives might include those told by women, children and visible minorities. Marginalized narratives have been alienated from the speech community and have been relegated to the social unconscious. The dream is one such text that makes the center and the margins transparent. Luce Iragary, Speculum of the Other Woman, sees the marginalization of women as making their narratives silent, unspoken and invisible since they exist outside patriarchal representations of male logic. Dreams make these marginalized narratives visible.

The Agonistic Language Games of Western Society

The American psychologist Rollo May, Innocence and Power, believed that Western society is bereft of basic human needs such as love and security. To compensate, we have built structures that reward us with power, over our environment or our fellow human beings. These power structures are reinforced by the language games referenced above: these games contain the ideas of winners and losers, hierarchy, dominance and submission, and therefore corrupt childhood innocence with notions of power.

If history is written by winners, so too are the rules of our communal games. People who "succeed" in Western terms – those with money, power, privilege – have an interest in maintaining the status quo. They don't want things to change, for fear they might lose their positions of privilege. They therefore can often be heard to argue for the inevitability of our society as it is now structured: Society's "losers," the poor and disenfranchised for instance, will always be with us, we are told. There is nothing to be done to improve their lot. Better to get on with assuring your own place in the hierarchy. The only alternative to ideological or political conformity is to deviate, which is really no choice at all.

The structures of language in western societies are predetermined to promote patriarchal and capitalistic values. The codes of our languages and dreams are about the love of power. Imprinted on the human life-cycle in western society is a dramatic power game, of conspicuous consumption and possessive individualism, driven by social comparisons based upon money and status, and power rivalries that produce feelings of envy, greed, jealousy, hate, inadequacy, insecurity, paranoia and fear of failure. Behaviours based on these emotions, such as the development of fetishism to relieve the anxiety created by such feelings, result in low self-esteem, shame and guilt. In western societies, such patterns are evident in the dreams of children, adolescents and adults.

Dream Vision, Biography and Dictionary of Fantasy

Humans fashion and pass on meaningful myths, rituals and symbols from the collective conscious and unconscious literary experience of each individual life. Each dream is a literary work which is part of the whole of literature. Norman Holland, Dynamics of Literary Response, provides a "dictionary of fantasy" in which core or primal themes can be traced to early child development. Dream work provides access and insight into the literary foundations for these primal themes and the dictionary/encyclopedia of fantasy. We can look at dreams to see how successful (or not) an individual has been in learning socially acceptable language and behaviour.


When communal living no longer appeals to us, we become disillusioned with social reality. Those who experience this disillusionment often turn to art (painting, sculpture, music, theatre, film) to express their disenchantment. When the fairy tale turns into a nightmare, tragedy is often the logical outcome. The Yellow Brick Road is littered with broken promises and broken dreams.

Themes of corruption, unleashed sexuality, and obsession show up regularly in people's dreams and on Film Noir movie screens. Dreams and dreaming are frequently mentioned in the dialogue of the genre. Film Noir is the dark side of the communal dream screen, providing a perspective by which we can read the pathological and evil aspects of popular culture.

Film Noir circumvents the dominant narrative of legitimate social reality and exposes the dark side of society to the prurient, sensationalistic and voyeuristic gaze of an intrusive public. Private, criminal matters are revealed, creating an atmosphere of scandal. The dramatic energy of stories in the genre is provided by the conflict between the audience's sense of what is right, often represented by a detective protagonist, and attempts by criminals and corrupt officials to cover-up their crimes.

In Fear of Freedom Erich Fromm discusses the meaning of freedom in democratic and authoritarian political systems. For Fromm the regulation of the marketplace of thought is driven by the need for self-realization. When this desire is thwarted, individuals can become driven by a need to either conform and/or escape the perceived oppressive and closed system. There are many forms of escape and flight such as crime, mental illness and suicide.


Dream of National Transparency

The dream of achieving transparency in our social environment stems from the eighteenth century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau recognized that freedom and opportunities for individuals would increase if the workings of societies' institutions, political structures, social groups and business organizations, were evident to all participants.

The dream provides a context for an examination of social relations and memories to provide this transparency. The unconscious mind sees our life throughout our entire biological cycle, remembering and making connections that are forgotten by the conscious mind.

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.