There's No Place Like Home - or - I'm Just A Girl Who Had A Dream

Dreamer: Sara, 16, American student

I have dreams that read like stories. For instance, one of my most vivid dreams comes from my past. I had a dream about a little girl in a town that seemed out of a fantasy book, and there is a witch who is turning all of the people in this town into animals. She does this by bringing them into the movie theatre to see movies that turn them into animals. The girl somehow figures this out, but no one will believe her. When the mayor of her town goes into the theatre, she goes in after him to drag him out, and she sees the ending of the movie. Up on the screen there are two sexless golden figures, almost like Oscar statues but not really, embracing on top of a cloud that is floating in a perfectly blue sky. I wake up.

A few days ago I had a dream in which I was a character from a book I'm writing, but her face and body seemed to resemble me more than her when she looked in a mirror. What does this mean?

Mr. Hagen's Reply:  Dorothy in Wonderland

"I have a Dream"
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

"The American Dream does not come to those who fall asleep"
- Richard Nixon

"I'm just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream"
- Hillary Swank, 2005 Oscar Winner/Best Actress Million Dollar Baby 

Of course your dream was sent a few weeks prior to the presentation of the 2005 Oscars; unfortunately I was not able to post my reply earlier. I will endeavour in the future to post a dream which discusses the influence of Hollywood on collective dreaming patterns. Your dream is shaped by the milieu (environment) of your culture, namely, it represents your growing up in America and the American Dream. The American Dream has a long history. I am including a number of concepts to help understand the cultural influences and ancestry of your thoughts. For the most part your dream seems to represent a literary meeting between George Orwell's dystopian vision of "Animal Farm" and L. Frank Baum's American fantasy "The Wizard of Oz".

Politics of the American DreamTheatre

In your dream the town mayor enters the theatre. The mayor is a symbolic representative of the "politics of the American Dream". Fredric Jameson ("The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act") sees the past only as being understood as parts of a single political collective story as illustrated in the American literature.

Dreams are subject to their political economy which is driven by the dialogue within the political national and international theatres. The House Republicans' 1995 manifesto "Restoring the Dream" represented their persuasive recipe to refashion the American political economy. Dreams expose the deep political dialogical structures of language, sex, race, age and the body. The politicizing of the realms of consciousness and unconscious has existed since the beginnings of the ancient Greek polis and their body politic. Dreams received by IIDR from Americans reveal a deeply divided political theatre.

Oscar and the American Culture Industry

The culture industry refers primarily to the entertainment industry. The culture industries labour to produce products tailored to the needs of mass consumption. Products are industrially characterized by the identification and classification of market consumers. Something is provided for everyone in order to ensure that no one escapes the influence of the market. Cultural needs are shaped by the culture industries typified by Hollywood cinema, commercial radio, and advertising. The effect of the culture industries is to promote conformity in social, intellectual and sentimental life.

Daniel Boorstin, in "The Image or What Happened to the American Dream", discusses the media's increasing "Management of Illusions". For Boorstin the management of the consumption of images of staged-reality has created a misinformed public and destroyed the fabric of the American Dream. This message was echoed twenty-five years later by Neil Postman in "Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business".

American Performances: American Folk-ways of Theatre and Fantasy Literature

The American stage imprints a distinct language and socialization pattern on its children. This socialization pattern is visible in the dreams of the children who enter the American stage. The distinct communal frame-work of political, economic, religious, domestic and ethnic institutions shapes the everyday drama of American life. The communal dreamscreen of America reflects the folk-ways and the unique social problems of the life-cycle of Americans.

Your dream is about a girl in/out of a fantasy book and as such from a literary perspective represents American fantasy literature. Your story has a similar literary structure as that of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" or "Through The Looking Glass". The theatre is a place of the projection of thoughts, feelings and sensations via identification, idealization, repression and catharsis (release of tensions). In dreams, fantasies are acted out in an inner space. The stage space of the dream takes on the shape and form of the spectator's and actor's self and desire.

An individual's and the community's inner space are bound together in time and space along a continuous thread of desire. The daydream is the individual's and community's conscious stage for acting out unconscious desires. Dream-work binds the real, the imaginary and the fictive into the Theatre of the Mind (read article Theatre of Dreams). This allows for individuals to call on past communal experience and create the vision of the present and future. American communal fantasies such as those found in film, radio, TV, water-cooler rumour and gossip circulate in the field and flow of everyday exchanges. Dreams reflect these narrative currents of communal fantasies and their underlying fears, hopes and desires.

The American Theatrical Mirror: American Fables and Fairy Tales

In your dream your character finds a (Lacanian) mirror. The theatre also acts as a social mirror and casts its spell on the audience. The mirror achieves importance in the cultural domain beginning with the child who learns to recognize its self-image. The mirror also illustrates how individuals learn to recognize and personify themselves through the images of others who act as a point of reference. In this sense the mirror and its reflections create the looking glass personality and act to configure the many personifications of our selves.

Personifications can be found in both fables and fairy tales. 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. Fables were the creation of primitive and illiterate people and therefore belong to oral tradition. Fables become folk literature only when people gather the stories together and write them down. A fairy tale is a narrative 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, "Living happily ever after" is an important theme and motif of the American Dream.

Spells of Enchantment: Fables, Animals and Animation

According to Jack Zipes's "Fairy Tales" the magic spell of fairy tales contains fantasized wish-fulfillments and fascinations. The tales told to children are connected to initiation rites that introduce the child into the proper folk-ways to become a member of a community. Understanding the dynamic narrative animation of American social reality via social roles, rules and values projected on the cultural stage provides transparency to the audience of how social reality is brought to life (animated) and how life in all its aspects conforms to this constructed social reality. The characters, settings, and motifs of folk-tales are combined to induce a sense of wonder. Wonder produces astonishment, awe, and fear of social reality. These oral tales have served to didactically stabilize the narrative sense of community, and conserve or challenge the common folk-ways, mores, customs, beliefs, laws, values, and roles of a group.

The dream of the animal echoes the collective unconscious connections to our primitive origins addressing the problems and questions children face when entering culture. How a society and the family faces these problems and answers these questions mythically configures the child's communication with the world and itself. The witch that transforms people into animals in your dream can be viewed from the Jungian perspective as the archetype of the "terrible mother", which provides the literary foundation and vehicle for the horrors and tragedies of life and living. The witch in the film and Hollywood classic "The Wizard of Oz" is the antagonist who persecutes Dorothy in the realization of her dreams. By contrast the television's popular sitcom "Bewitched" (1964-72) provided an iconoclastic (breaking of the stereotypical image) function in which a pretty witch was married to a mortal attempting to have a normal life in American suburbia. The show, based on a 1958 movie called "Bell Book and Candle" was recently updated in a new movie, "Bewitched".

Bildungsroman: Growing up in America

Your dream seems to represent your own distinct American Bildungsroman. Bildungsroman is a style of novel that emphasizes the psychological and moral maturation of its characters. Individual dreams frequently use similar themes. Dreams offer a developmental narrative reconstruction of the socialization process that can be viewed through memory recollection and free association. They are individual Bildungsromans, autobiographical reconstructions of the Self as it interacts and unfolds within the dynamics of the milieu of the surrounding society.

Hollywood's Dream Factory: American Communal Dreamscreen

Communications technologies have progressively produced media that reproduced the physical characteristics of the dream. The combined presentation of visual and auditory animation most closely resembles the modern media of film, television and the Internet. Information is adapted to connect directly to primal patterns of human perception and understanding. We can think of these media as the communal dreamscreen.

The American dreamscreen is part of a perceptual and narrative theatre, with the individual, society and the past providing the characters, plot and dialogue. The dreamscreens of Americans have been shaped by a variety of media influences. Hollywood and the Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences provide an American archetypal mythology.

The word fiction derives from the Latin word fingo, meaning "I fashion or shape". Fiction is most often a thinly-veiled biography and can be viewed as any narrative structure that shapes biographic and linguistic material which is inherently fluid. Fiction, fantasy and dream merge to create a surrealistic amalgam in the theatre of the mind. America can be viewed through this surreal looking glass of dreams, daydreams and fantasies which produces a distinct American mythology and folklore. When these are translated into art, literature, music, dance etc. the process of the animation of American culture becomes clearly visible. American myths such as Herman Melville's Moby Dick provide the dark literary archetype for the American communal dreamscreen. By contrast, L. Frank Baum's novel "The Wizard of Oz" (and Judy Garland's film rendition of "Somewhere over the Rainbow") creates a distinct idealistic American message, "there is no place like home".

Dorothy's Disillusionment -or- Transformations

"Some animals are more equal than others"
- Animal Farm

George Orwell's "Animal Farm" is a political satire in fable form about the danger and follies of totalitarianism. The 1954 animated film adaptation with its attempt to create an optimistic Hollywood "happily ever after" ending overreaches.

When the spell of enchantment of communal living fails disillusionment with social reality is the result. Disillusionment is unconsciously acted out on the communal dreamscreen and more consciously (for those with access to the unconscious) expressed through the thoughts in poetry and literature.

The American poet Anne Sexton, who committed suicide in 1974, wrote "Transformations" a subversive adaptation of Grimm's tales from a woman's perspective, in which she addresses the abuse, commodification and alienation of women. The Americanized version of Cinderella does not end on a happy note. Sexton writes: "Cinderella and the prince, lived they say, happily ever after, like two dolls in a museum case never bothered by diapers or dust, never arguing over the timing of an egg, never telling the same story twice, never getting a middle-aged spread, their darling smiles passed on for eternity. Regular Bobbsey Twins."

At the IIDR archive web-site the growing multitude of social problems (the reader can take note that the wikipedia list matches many of the dream interpretations found at the IIDR website) and alienation found in dreams include rape, violence, crime, terrorism, prejudice, right to life vs. freedom of choice, pornography, hate crimes etc. The archive is therefore aimed at a systematic mapping and accurate understanding of the Anatomy of Global Social Problems including American ones. I hope these ideas have provided some help in understanding the dream you have yet to build for yourself and the dangers and obstacles you will be faced as you attempt to realize your hopes on your journey through America and the lands of Oz and Wonderland in search of "A Wonderful Life."

Further literature that might be of interest includes:

  • Abram Kardiner, "Psycholgical Frontiers of Society"
  • Charles H. Cooley, "Human Nature and Social Order"
  • Mark Twain's Autobiography (Albert Bigelo Paine Ed.)
  • William Manchester, "The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America 1932-1972"
  • Elizabeth Long, "American Dream and the Popular Novel"
  • John Tipple, "Crisis of the American Dream"
  • Antony Bouza, "The Decline and Fall of the American Empire: Corruption, Decadence and the American Dream"
  • Paul Goodman, "Growing up Absurd"
  • Jack Zipes, "Breaking the Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales"
  • Jack Zipes, "When Dreams Come True: Classical Fairy Tales and their Tradition"
  • Jack Zipes, "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children and the Culture Industry"
  • Elisabeth Lenk, "Die Unbewusste Gesellschaft" (The Unconscious Society)

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

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