Juvenile Dreams in New York and Vienna -or- Catcher in the Rye

The International Institute for Dream Research seldom receives a dream from children. In literature one can find children's dream visions in such classics as "Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan". This article researches the relationship between literature and adolescent dreams. Specifically, two juvenile dreamers will be examined, namely J.D. Salinger's fictional character Holden Caulfield and Freud's Dora, a.k.a. Ida Bauer, who have voiced their primal discontents with the societies they lived in.

Holden and Dora: Case Studies of Political Satire

Many literary critics have compared Salinger's character Holden Caulfield to Mark Twain's Huck Finn. A less common yet more psychologically accurate comparison is Salinger's Holden to Freud's Dora, known as one of the classic reports of psychiatric case histories. Both Holden and Dora live in major cities, Dora in Victorian Vienna at the turn of the 20th century and Holden in New York City circa 1940. Both explore the mysteries of city life, death, spirituality, sexuality, and meaning. While Holden is given the power to narrate his own story (albeit from a psychiatric institution), it is Freud (a psychiatrist) who must assume the role of the flawed and unreliable yet powerful narrator for Dora because she is unable, unwilling or plainly believed incapable of telling her own story.

On the first page of "Catcher in the Rye", Holden says he is sick. Later he talks about his "wound", yet attempts by himself to heal his illness. Dora has been sent by her father to Freud to cure her illness.

Case study as a medical literary genre relies on a symptom reading of an individual's psychopathological communication and behavioural patterns. Many clinicians have suggested that most symptoms find their causes in childhood and adolescent conflicts. Both Freud's case study of Dora and Salinger's novel are urban case studies of the malaise of living in New York City and Vienna. Holden and Dora both protest against the alienating forces of perversity and evil which enter the institutional doors of the families, schools, churches, business enterprises.

As satirical and ironic figures Holden and Dora represent a critical literary effort to subvert overpowering alienating forces in an evidently futile attempt to improve human institutions and humanity.

Freud's Dora or Dora's Freud

Feminist critics ask, What would Dora have said had she been given her own voice? Kim Morrissey ("Dora: A Case of Hysteria") and Hélène Cixous ("Portrait de Dora") have produced plays that address the theme of Dora's voice. Dora's complex ruminations are about playing out feminine Madonna/whore archetypes and the politics and deceits of the Viennese Victorian patriarchal family.

Holden's Dream

Much as Peter Pan protecting children from growing up, Holden's perception of himself is defined by his dream of being "the catcher in the rye", which relates to a poem where the catcher prevents small children from falling off a cliff which acts as metaphor for the fall from childhood innocence. All Holden's narrative structures revolve around this central inner antagonism. The fate and fortunes of Holden's character in New York City are directly related to this person-against-society and individual-against-self plot dynamic.

Is Holden's a mistaken dream? Is Holden's problem accepting the fact that everyone has to grow up, including himself? His protests against society and his attempts to escape alienation, corruption and perversity are fruitless and fall for the most part on deaf ears. Were not the counter-culture protests of the Woodstock generation of 60's America fueled in a small part by Salinger's continued popularity and his message of the Catcher and Holden's dream?

Freud's Interpretation of Dora's Dreams

Dora's dreams presented by Freud read as follows:

Dora's First dream:
"A house was on fire. My father was standing beside my bed and woke me up. I dressed quickly. Mother wanted to stop and save her jewel-case; but father said: "I refuse to let myself and my children be burnt for the sake of your jewel-case." We hurried downstairs, and as soon as I was outside I woke up."

Dora's Second dream:
"I was walking about in a town which I did not know. I saw streets and squares which were strange to me. Then I came into a house where I lived, went to my room, and found a letter from Mother lying there. She wrote saying that as I had left home without my parents' knowledge she had not wished to write to me to say that father was ill. 'Now he is dead, and if you like you can come.'

"I then went to the train station and asked about a hundred times:
'Where is the station?' I always got the answer: 'Five minutes.' I then saw a thick wood before me which I went into, and there I asked a man whom I met. He said to me: 'Two and a half hours more.' He offered to accompany me.

"But I refused and went alone.

"I saw the station in front of me and could not reach it. At the same time I had the feeling of anxiety that one has in dreams when one cannot move forward. Then I was at home. I must have been travelling in the meantime, but I know nothing about that. I walked into the porter's lodge, and inquired for our flat. The maidservant opened the door to me and replied that Mother and the others were already at the cemetery."

Freud goes through a series of flawed interpretations about women's desires which leads him to conclude that Dora's dream is one of defloration. In Freud's own words "there lay concealed behind the first situation in the dream a phantasy of defloration, the phantasy of a man seeking to force an entrance into the female genitals." Dora's dream he announces is a fantasy of forced seduction. Freud transforms Dora into a lecherous woman who desires sex, perhaps rape.

The dialogue between Freud and Dora proceeds somewhat as follows: Freud interprets the jewel-case, which appears in her first dream, in terms of female genitalia (which also becomes the topic of discussion surrounding her second dream). Dora's protests against Freud's interpretations and his conversational game are subtle. She says, "I knew you would say that" indicating that Freud's constant and obsessive ruminations are based on his biased trains of thought about her sexuality and that of women in general.

Dora in her second dream met a man in the wood who offered to accompany Dora to the train station. Dora "refused and went alone". The man was most likely a personification of Freud. Dora rejected Freud and his ideas and left his treatment. Salinger's Holden might well say "old Freud" is just another "phony".

In light of Freud's decision to publish the case study, has not the feminist movement been given a heroine, and taken up the cause of a martyr whose failed protest against the Victorian male dominated narrative structures lives on? Has Freud's flawed case study not become a classic feminist vehicle through which it can subvert the dark currents of ideological thought which are still flowing in the Western marketplace of patriarchal cultures?

Salinger and Freud: Literary and Clinical use of Dreams

Dora enters a thick wood in her one dream echoing the setting of many of Grimm's fairy tales of a dark wood. Dora's enchanted dark Freudian forest contrasts with Salinger's dark archetypes of the urban jungle Holden must navigate through.

The dreams of Holden and Dora can be clinically used to provide insight into the problems adolescents face while growing up. Holden and Dora represent two sides of the same clinical coin, that being the voices of adolescent confusion. Where Holden cannot hold back his critical voice, Dora's aphonia (loss of voice) causes her to be dependent on Freud to speak for her. In terms of personality and life writing development the ego psychologist Erik Erikson's model can be applied, which would assume that Holden and Dora are fixated in the stage of ego-identity vs. role-confusion which has caused an arrested development. In terms of the symptoms that Holden and Freud's Dora report, a diagnosis of adolescent borderline personality disorder could be envisioned.

Tragedy or Betrayal of the Child

The language situations described in contributions to the International Institute for Dream Research's dream bank, indicate a failure in Western societies to teach children what they need to lead happy, loving, productive lives. The dreams of Western children reveal a pattern, exposing a dark side of developmental arrest. Centuries of teaching lessons through irrational power games has transmitted and induced psychopathology into generations of children.

There are many tragic archetypal Holdens and Doras, there always have been. They have been part of our culture: the dissidents, the rebels, the revolutionaries, the schizophrenics. The disintegration of the self, love and loving, in all its manifestations, has led to a failure of adjustment, individually and collectively. The modern vision of Western society still primarily reflects prejudicial and corrupt structures of male, ethnological, class and race dominance. Western dreamscreens reveal a resultant tragic determinism of transgenerational psychopathological development.

The dramatic genre of tragedy imitates deadly life forces. Tragedy mirrors the inner psychological conflicts of life and death situations. The dramatic form thrusts dreamers into struggles with themselves and others. Tragedy dramatizes the human propensity for creative destruction. Crimes of passion, blood lust, jealousy, envy and pride provide the context for tragedy and everyday dreams.

Lord of the Flies or Divine Comedy

Children in Western cultures are thrown into pre-existing social worlds of existential tragic conflicts. Books such as William Golding's "Lord of the Flies", rated in the top 100 novels of the 20th century, echoes the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes' description of humans as selfish animals, where life is "nasty, brutish and short" and the "war of all against all" is a Darwinian-like guiding metaphor of life and death. Like Freud and Hobbes, as well as hundreds of fiction writers before him, Golding sees the poetic tragic fault and enemy as coming from within; namely, humanity's innate savagery. While these visions represent the human heart of darkness they do not represent the light. While the darkness is found within, the light is immanent as well. The Dantean poetic choice of light versus darkness is somewhat echoed in modern poetic form in Robert Frost's existential road less travelled.

Literature of interest includes:

  • Northrop Frye, "Anatomy of Criticism"
  • Alice Miller, "Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child"
  • Northrop Elias, "The Civilizing Process"
  • Fritz Redl and David Wineman, "Children that Hate"
  • Edith Cobb, "Ecology of Children's Imagination"
  • Bruno Bettelheim, "The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales"
  • Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane (eds), "In Dora's Case"
  • Freud-Hysteria-Feminism (2ed)
  • Hannah S Decker, "Freud, Dora and Vienna 1900"
  • Mark Kanzer. "Dora's Imagery: The flight from a burning house" in M. Kanzer & J. Glenn (Eds.), "Freud and his Patients"
  • James F. Masterton, "Treatment of the Borderline Adolescent: A Developmental Approach"
  • Robert D. Stolorow and Frank M. Lachmann, "Psychoanalysis of Developmental Arrests"
  • Patrick J. Mahoney, "Freud as a Writer"
  • Julius E. Heuscher, "A Psychiatric Study of Fairy Tales"
  • Joseph Chilton Pearce, "The Magical Child"
  • Charles Odier, "Anxiety and Magic Thinking"
  • Benjamin B. Wolman, "Children's Fears"
  • Marina Warner, "Cinema and the Realms of Enchantment"
  • Malcolm M. Marsden, (ed) "If You Really Want to Know: A Catcher Casebook"
  • Joseph Natterson (ed), "The Dream in Clinical Practice"
  • Christopher Lasch, "The Culture of Narcissism"
  • R.D. Laing, "Politics of the Family"
  • Patricia Garfield, "Your Children's Dreams"
  • Edward S. Tauber and Maurice Green, "Prelogical Experience: An Inquiry into Dreams and Other Creative Processes"

Hope these thoughts are of help and provide some insight,
Mark H.

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