Dream Analysis in Invisible Man

Dreams play an important role in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. Even though it seems like the Invisible Man’s dreams mean exactly what they tell us, according to theorists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, we are able to look into the hidden meanings of dreams.

Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of the Hidden Meanings in Our Dreams

Sigmund Freud is considered the “father of psychoanalysis,” partly because of his in-depth analysis of the way dreams can shed light on the personalities. He Freud.jpgbelieved that our actions are stimulated by the unconscious mind and that the impulses and urges we hold back in order to fit in with our society are released in our dreams. While asleep and in the dream state, the unconscious, what Freud refers to as the “id,” has the opportunity to reveal our hidden desires [2].

Freud described dreams to have two different types of content, manifest and latent. The manifest content of the dream is the part that a person will remember as soon as they wake up. The latent content contains the true meaning of the dream, the hidden desires revealed by the unconscious. The manifest content has no meaning as it is a disguised representation of the true meaning of a dream. “Dream work” is the process in which the latent content is disguised into the manifest content [5]. It can be accomplished through any of these five ways:
  1. Displacement – Displacement occurs in a dream when the longing for a thing or a person is symbolized by something or someone [2].
  2. Projection – This occurs when we force our wants onto someone else [2].
  3. Symbolization – This happens when our repressed urges are shown metaphorically in a dream [2].
  4. Condensation – In order to hide his or her feelings and urges, the dreamer imagines them in a brief dream [2].
  5. Rationalization – Also known as secondary revision, this occurs when the mind turns an incoherent dream into one that is logical [2].

Freud was intent that the root cause of the happenings of our dreams is sex. He believed that the images of long slender objects, including knives and cigars represent the male genitalia and that cavities such as tunnels or bowls represent the female genitalia [2].

Carl Jung's Interpretation of Our Dreams

Carl Jung studied under Sigmund Freud for many years and worked with him in the matter of dreams. Jung agreed with Freud about the existence of the unconscious. However, the two men felt differently about what the unconscious was like. To Freud, the unconscious was sexually-driven, based on instinct, and almost animalistic. Jung, on the other hand, believed that the unconscious was a more spiritual realm [1].

According to Jung, people used dreams as a way to communicate and introduce themselves to the unconscious. Dreams were not a place to conceal true feelings, as Freud had said, but rather they were a window to the unconscious. Their purpose was to help guide during the waking life [1]. Carl_Jung.jpg
Moreover, Jung believed that the ego was one’s sense of self and how one depicted oneself to the world. Jung also theorized that there was a duality to all things, for example good/evil, love/hate, male/female, etc. The “counter ego” or “shadow” was what opposed the ego. This counter ego represented aspects of oneself that one did not wish to recognize [1].

It was Jung’s opinion that the imageries in one’s dreams were a way of revealing something about oneself, one’s relationships with others, or situations in everyday life. Dreams served to guide one and help one to reach one’s potential [1].

Furthermore, Jung stated that a dream’s visible content was just as important as the hidden content. By discussing what was currently occurring in one’s life, one could unlock the mystery of one’s dream [1].

Jung had strong faith in the dreamer and the dreamer’s ability to interpret his own dream. He felt that there was no right or wrong way to interpret a dream and that the meaning of a dream was a personal judgment and up to the dreamer to interpret. Whatever the dreamer believed was true was more significant than what anyone else thought [1].

An Insightful View on Freud and Jung's Interpretation of Dreams

This video provides an insightful look at the interpretations of dreams made by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Siva Baba also provides an example of interpreting a dream. In this example, a young woman was unsure of making a large investment of money. When she had a dream about pigs that were dying, Siva Baba interpreted the pigs to represent money and that the dream was a warning that the investment would fail. In addition, Siva Baba gives his culture's interpretation of dreams [4].

Dreams in Invisible Man

"That night I dreamed I was at a circus with him and that he refused to laugh at the clowns no matter what they did. Then later he told me to open my brief case and read what was inside and I did, finding an official envelope stamped with the state seal; and inside the envelope I found another and another, endlessly, and I thought I would fall of weariness. 'Them's years,' he said. 'Now open that one.' And i did and in it I found an engraved document containing a short message in letters of gold. 'Read it,' my grandfather said. 'Out loud!'
" 'To Whom It May Concern,' I intoned. 'Keep This Nigger-Boy Running' "
(33). [3]

The Invisble Man's relationship with his grandfather, who passed away before the novel begins, is a struggle that Ellison frequently brings up throughout the novel. The dreams and references to his grandfather usually relate to the fact that his grandfather believed that the white's controlled society and had a hold on the blacks. This dream symbolizes the idea that white's controlled black society. The clowns represent the whites, who are indirectly the "puppet masters" of society. In the dream, the clowns are trying to make him laugh, and by not laughing, the grandfather shows that he will not give into what the whites want him to do. In the dream, the Invisible Man is handed a letter in an envelope (presumably white, as standard envelopes are) that says to keep him running. The letter represents the idea that the Invisible Man actually conforms to the white society and that the whites should let him continue with them.

Jung believed that a dream can reveal something about a person's relationship with others. In this dream, the letter tells the whites to keep the Invisible Man running away. Later in the novel, the Brotherhood deceives the Invisible Man and he spends some time running from the whites, eventually landing in the sewer, where he reevaluates his life and goes to the basement for seclusion. According the Jung's theories, the Invisible Man's dream revealed some information that would be part of his life in his near future [1].

" '... I was lookin's for some fat meat. I went to the white folks downtown and they said go see Mr. Broadnax, that he'd give it to me. Well, he lives up on a hill and I was climbin' up there to see him. Seems like that was the highest hill in the world. The more I climbed the farther away Mr. Broadnax's house seems to git. But finally I do reach there. And I'm so tired and restless to git to the man, I goes to the front door! I know it's wrong, but I can't help it. I goes in and I'm standin' in a big room full of lighted candles and shiny furniture and pictures on the walls, and soft stuff on the floor. But I don't see a livin' soul. So I calls his name, but still don't nobody come and don't nobody answer. So I sees a door and goes through that door and I'm in a big white bedroom, like I seen one time when I was a little ole boy and went to the big house with my Ma. Everything in the room was white and I'm standin' there knowin' I got no business in there, but there anyhow. It's a woman's room too. I tries to git out, but I don't find the door; and all around me I can smell woman, can smell it gittin' stronger all the time. Then I looks over in a corner and sees one of them tall grandfather clocks and I hears it strikin' and the glass door is openin' and a white lady is steppin' out of it. She got a nightgown of soft white silky stuff and nothin' else, and she looks straight at me. I don't know what to do. I wants to run, but the only door I see is the one in the clock she's standin' in--and anyway, I can't move and this here clock is keepin' up a heapa racket. It's gittin' faster and faster all the time. I tries to say somethin', but I caint. Then she starts to screamin' and I thinks I done gone deef, 'cause though I can see her mouth working, I don't hear nothin'. Yit I can still hear the clock and I tries to tell her I'm just lookin' for Mr. Broadnax but she don't hear me. Instead she runs up and grabs me around the neck and holds tight, tryin' to keep me out of the clock. I don't know what to do then, sho 'nough. I tries to talk to her, and I tries to git away. But she's holdin' me and I'm scared to touch her 'cause she's white. Then I gits so scared that I throws her on the bed and tries to break her holt. That woman just seemed to sink outta sight, that there bed was so soft. It's sinkin' down so far I think it's going to smother both of us. Then swoosh! all of a sudden a flock of little white geese flies out of the bed like they say you see when you go to dig for buried money. Lawd! they hadn't not more'n disappeared than I heard a door open and Mr. Broadnax's voice said, "They just nigguhs, leave 'em do it." And I caint stop--although I got a feelin' somethin' is wrong. I git aloose from the woman now and I'm runnin' for the clock. At first I couldn't git the door open, it had some kinda crinkly suff like steel wool on the facing. But I gits it open and gits inside and it's hot and dark in there. I goes up a dark tunnel, up near where the machinery is making all that noise and heat. It's like the power plant they got up to the school. It's burnin' hot as iffen the house was caught on fire, and I starts to runnin', tryin' to git out. I runs and runs till I should be tired but ain't tired but feelin' more rested as I runs, and runnin' so good its like flyin' and I'm flyin' and sailin' and floatin' right up over the town. Only I'm still in the tunnel. Then way up ahead I sees a bright light like a jack-o-lantern over a graveyard. It gits brighter and brighter and I know I got to catch up with it or else. Then all at once I was right up with it and it burst like a great big electric light in my eyes and scalded me all over. Only it wasn't a scald, but like I was drownin' in a lake where the water was hot on the top and had cold numbin' currents down under it. Then all at once I'm through it and I'm relieved to be out and in the cool daylight again' " (57-59). [3]

Trueblood's dream helps to partly explain the way white and black Americans interacted during the time period of the novel. It is implied in the beginning of the dream that Mr. Broadnax is a white man, and the fact that he lives on such a high hill in Trueblood's dream shows that Broadnax, being a white man, is much higher up in power than Trueblood, who is a black man. Furthermore, Trueblood describes his entrance through Broadnax's front door as a shock, meaning that black people are expected to enter white people's houses through the back door. When Trueblood is in the white bedroom, he states that he'd seen one like it before when he went to "the big house" with his mother. As a black man, he does not get to experience luxuries (such as big bedrooms) that white people are able to experience. He also explains that he is afraid to touch the woman in his dream because she is white.

This dream clearly has a sexual meaning to it as well. He says the bedroom is a woman's and that it smells strongly of a woman. The grandfather clock that Trueblood refers to could be perceived as a long slender object, representing the male genitalia. Trueblood continues to describe how the woman that comes out of the clock holds him back from going inside, which could mean she is trying to keep him from having sex with her. From Freud's point of view, it appears that Trueblood has a hidden desire to have sexual relations with a white woman, because Freud says that dreams reveal one's true urges. This continues to relate to Freud's theories because Freud also states that the actions played out in a dream are usually those that do not occur in real life in order for someone to fit into society. Trueblood would clearly be going against society if he had a relationship with a white woman. When Trueblood finally gets away from the woman and enters the clock, he states that he is in a tunnel, which is symbol of female genitalia, according to Freud. This situation in the dream could be symbolic of when Trueblood begins having sex with his daughter [2].

"When I stopped, gasping for breath, I decided that I would go back and kill Bledsoe. Yes, I thought, I owe it to the race and to myself. I'll kill him... I could hardly get to sleep for dreaming of revenge" (194-195). [3]

The Invisible Man's dream of revenge is relevant to Freud's theories because he dreams about actions or urges that the he can not partake in without being cast out of society [2]. However, this dream also seems to take on characteristics of Jung's theory that dreams should be interpreted by the dreamer, and that the visible content is just as important as hidden content. We don't receive any details of the dream that the Invisible Man has this night, so we can only rely on the general statement by the invisible man that he dreams of revenge, which is his own interpretation. We can assume that the Invisible Man is dreaming about killing Bledsoe, because that is what he has in mind before falling asleep; this is his idea of revenge. The Invisible Man also reveals a sort of dual personality, relative to Jung's theories, in which he is clearly a good person throughout the novel, but becomes evil when thinking (and most likely dreaming) about murdering Bledsoe. Jung believed that dreams reveal characteristics of the dreamer, and the Invisible Man's dream reveals an evil side to his personality [1].

"It was dead quiet, yet I was certain that there had been a noise and that it had come from across the room as she beside me made a soft sighing sound. It was strange. My mind revolved. I was chased out of a chinkapin woods by a bull. I ran up a hill; the whole hill heaved. I heard the sound and looked up to see the man looking straight at me from where he stood in the dim light of the hall, looking in with neither interest nor surprise. His face expressionless, his eyes staring. There was the sound of even breathing. Then I heard her stir beside me" (417). [3]

This "dream" involves Gwen, one of the women that the Invisible Man has sex with during his time in New York. During the actual sexual act, the Invisible Man mentions that "it was like a dream" (416), which implies that the root of our dreams has to do with sex. In the actual dream that he has after having sex, the Invisible Man envisions himself being chased our of the forest by a bull. The bull in the dream represents Gwen's husband, who metaphorically "chases" him out of the bedroom because of sexual jealousy. When the Invisible Man wakes up, his "encounter" is totally different as there is actually no exchange between the two. It is to be believed that the husband didn't notice the Invisible Man in the bed with his wife, which further establishes his "invisibility," the failure of others to "see" him due to his race. The dream encompasses both the theories of Freud and Jung. The dream, which revolves around sexual charge [2], replaces the husband with the bull to show how he may affect the Invisible Man in the future [1], and also to show that the white man is kicking around the black man.

"When I saw them sitting in their shirtsleeves, leaning forward, gripping their crossed knees with their hands, I wasn't surprised. I'm glad it's you, I thought, this will be business without tears. It was as though I had expected to find them there, just as in those dreams in which I encountered my grandfather looking at me from across the dimensionless space of a dream-room. I looked back without surprise or emotion, although I knew even in the dream that surprise was the normal reaction and that the lack of it was to be distrusted, a warning" (462). [3]

This quote utilizes Freud’s ideas of projection. Projection is when one forces one’s wants onto someone else [2]. Here, the Invisible Man said that he “expected to find them [members of the brotherhood] there, just as in those dreams in which I encountered my grandfather…” (462) [3]. Because the Invisible Man had been expecting, or arguably wanting to meet the members, it had occurred. Moreover, the quote relates to Jung because according to Jung, one dreams about relationships with others [1]. Here the Invisible Man mentions his interaction with both members of the brotherhood as well as his grandfather. He may be rehashing old memories or else trying to act in a way that he wish he did or could in his conscious state.

"And just as I caught sight of the glasses I remembered grasping Rinehart's girl's hand. I lay there unmoving, and she seemed to perch on the bed, a bright-eyed bird with her glossy head and ripe breasts, and I was in a wood afraid to frighten the bird away. Then I was fully awake and the bird gone and the girl's image in my mind" (511-512). [3]

This quote can be analyzed using Freud’s theories about dreams. The woman in the dream transforms into a bird, exemplifying Freud’s idea of symbolism in dreams. Based on Freud’s teachings, symbolization occurs when repressed urges show up in a dream [2]. Here, the Invisible Man is obviously feeling the urge to be with Rinehart’s girl. The Invisible Man desperately wanted a female counterpart to talk to, just as Rinehart had with his girl, and thus he dreamed about Rinehart’s girl.

Additionally, the “wood” that the Invisible Man is perched on is most likely a tree, a long slender object. Such objects represent the phallic and relate back to Freud’s preoccupation with sexuality [2]. This dream was not only revealing the Invisible Man’s secret desire for a mate, but it also was a sexual fantasy as well.

"But somehow the floor had now turned to sand and the darkness to light, and I lay the prisoner of a group consisting of Jack and old Emerson and Beldsoe and Norton and Ras and the school suuperintendent and a number of others whom I failed to recognize, but all of whom had run me, who now pressed around me as I lay beside a river of black water, near where an armored bridge arched sharply away to where I could not see. And I was protesting their holding me and they were demanding that I return to them and were annoyed with my refusal.
" 'No,' I said. 'I'm through with all your illusions and lies, I'm through running.'
" 'Not quite,' Jack said above the others' angry demands, 'but you soon will be, unless you return. Refuse and we'll free you of your illusions all right.'
" 'No thank you; I'll free myself,' I said, struggling to rise from the cutting sand.
"But now they came forward with a knife, holding me; and I felt the bright red pain and they took the two bloody blobs and cast them over the bridge, and out of my anguish I saw them curve up and catch beneath the apex of the curving arch of the birdge, to hang there, dripping down through the sunlight into the dark red water. And while the others laughed, before my pain-sharpened eyes the whole world was slowly turning red.
" 'Now you're free of illusions,' Jack said, pointing to my seed wasting upon the air. 'How does it feel to be free of one's illusions?'
"And I looked up through a pain so intense now that the air seemed to roar with the clanging of metal, hearing, HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE FREE OF ILLUSION...
"And now I answered, 'Painful and empty,' as I saw a glittering butterfly circle three times around my blood-red parts, up there beneath the bridge's high arch. 'But look,' I said pointing. And they looked and laughed, and suddenly seeing their satisfied faces and understanding, I gave a Bledsoe laugh, startling them. And Jack came forward, curious.
" 'Why do you laugh?' he said.
" 'Because at a price I now see that which I couldn't see,' I said.
" 'What does he think he sees?' they said.
"And Jack came closer, threatening, and I laughed. 'I'm not afraid now,' I said. 'But if you'll look, you'll see... It's not invisible...
" 'See what?' they said.
" 'That there hang not only my generations wasting upon the water--' And now the pain welled up and I could no longer see them.
" 'But what? Go on,' they said.
" 'But your sun...'
" 'Yes?'
" 'And your moon...'
" 'He's crazy!'
" 'Your world...'
" 'I knew he was a mystic idealist!' Tobitt said.
" 'Still,' I said, 'there's your universe, and that drip-drop upon the water you hear is all the history you've made, all you're going to make. Now laugh you scientists. Let's hear you laugh!'
"And high above me now the bridge seemed to move off to where I could not see, striding like a robot, an iron man, whose iron legs clanged doomfully as it moved. And then I struggled up, full of sorrow and pain, shouting, 'No, no, we must stop him!' "
(569-570) [3]

This excerpt depicts a dream that the Invisible Man had, where he was castrated. Freud is clearly relevant here, as its focus is highly sexual. In the dream the Invisible Man is castrated, and he therefore loses his masculinity. According to Freud, the Invisible Man could only think of such an act in his subconscious, where his suppressed fears come out. This is then perhaps the Invisible Man’s uncertainty towards his sexual identity, a topic that to him might seem so dreadful, that he could only try to deal with while he was not conscious. Moreover, Freud would see this dream as the Invisible Man’s attempt to conceal his true confusion over his sexual orientation. Freud theorized that dreams were a place to conceal one’s feelings and by dreaming of such an act, the Invisible Man was trying to hide his sexuality [2].

Looking beyond the castration, however, one can see that the Invisible Man may have overcome such a fear of loss of masculinity. He laughs in the faces of those who have tried to bring him down throughout his life despite the fact that they took away such a big part of who he is. The Invisible Man sees that his loss is an even greater loss to the men in his dream, and the rest of society. He explains that although the men have taken away his ability to reproduce others like himself, they have also taken away their own chance of having others like him in the world. He knows that he can make a difference in society, and the fact that there can no longer be more like him is just worse for everyone else in the future. Therefore, his pain is not as great as the pain of the men in his dream.

Works Cited

[1] "Dream Moods", "Dream Theorists: Carl Jung." Dream Moods. 14 OCT 2006. 3 MAR 2008

[2] "Dream Moods", "Dream Theorists: Sigmund Freud." Dream Moods. 14 OCT 2006. 28 FEB 2008 <http://www.dreammoods.com/dreaminformation/dreamtheory/freud.htm>.

[3] Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. 2. New York and Toronto: Random House, Inc., 1952.

[4] Siva Baba, Dattatreya. "Meaning of Dreams." Youtube. 10 APR 2007. 3 Mar 2008 <http://youtube.com/watch?v=imF5saby05g#>.

[5] Wilson, Kevin. "Introduction to Sigmund Freud's Theory on Dreams." Insomnium. 28 FEB 2008 <http://www.insomnium.co.uk/text/freud.htm>.