Freudian Explanation for Significance of the Narrator’s Dreams
Freudian Explanation for Purpose of the Narrator’s dreams in “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”
Various theories of why we dream range from practical applications like facilitating encoding memories for long term storage or working through problems in an abstract fashion, all the way to activation synthesis theory, which states dreams have no purpose or meaning at all, and are the result of random activity from the pons and brainstem. For anyone unfamiliar with Sigmund Freud, put simply, his theory emphasized dreams reveal our subconscious thoughts and innermost desires. According to Freud, dreams have both manifest content, the remembered story line, and latent content, the hidden meaning. In this theory, dreams are key to understanding inner conflict. This theory can be clearly understood in “Balzac”, as it is easily applied to the central unnamed protagonist. Particularly since the Narrator is confined to a small isolated area with little ties to the outside world and few outlets for his desires and true inclinations on the mountain in the midst of his oppressive reeducation, the Narrator works through these impulses by experiencing extremely vivid dreams. In Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, the Narrator’s’ honest, harsh and unwanted thoughts can be blissfully played out within dreams.
The Narrator is constantly torn between his feelings of loyalty towards his best friend, Luo, and feelings for the girl Luo says he loves. This inner tug-of-war is something that is simply impossible to express in reality without creating some kind of emotional fallout or scene, which would be likely to destroy the Narrator’s longtime friendship and would not be tolerated by the strict regime in place on the mountain. To make up for this, the Narrator’s subconscious formulates fantasy worlds for him. One of the narrator’s dreams involved his best friend to have “…dreamed Luo entrusted the master-key to me.”(Sijie 91) a device which is critical to the success of their mission to steal forbidden western novels, of invaluable worth. His dream throws him into the midst of another fairy tale utopian world. Luo’s complete trust and approval has been given to him through this master key, showing the dream gives him one of his deepet desires, Lou’s complete and utter trust and respect. In the dream the mission is successful “As a last resort I tried the master-key again, and suddenly, with a dry click, the padlock gave away.”(92) revealing how these dreams are obviously the narrator’s covet, as the mission goes perfectly only after his own intervention. Dreams also display the Narrator’s greatest sources of expression of hidden desires, seen when the narrator points out “the villagers shouting and singing revolutionary songs” (91). Unable to reveal his yearning for new knowledge in the midst of an oppressive re-education allowing for no western ideas whatsoever, immediately passing the celebration narrator’s actual wishes are, shown in his dream. The narrator’s conscious attempts to concern itself with the events in the village, while the Narrator’s true want is to explore elsewhere in the world, he wants to explore western ideas, or in this case, direct access to Four-Eye’s foreign books, the action taken in the dream, and later in reality when it becomes feasible. The dreams are the direct outlet for his id and those honest yearnings which can not be accepted in the real world.
Another dream of the narrators’ proves his inner thoughts can be more harsh and self-centered altogether. His first thoughts upon waking up in fact seem disappointed, noting that “it took (him) a while to work out where (he) was.” (116). This remark exudes disappointment, suggesting the narrator was happily lost and wrapped up within his dream world. In the dream, the narrator is following close behind a young girl, “A girl of our class, modest, ordinary, the kind of girl I had forgotten existed.”(116). who soon turns “into the Little Seamstress, vivacious, full of fun”(116). In his dream he is finally with the Little Seamstress, a direct link from his real life to fantasy dream life. “I felt myself blushing and my ears turning red-hot, like a teenger on his first romantic assignation.”(92) indicating the Narrator working through his repressed sexual desires, and the subsequent wet dream. After transforming the seamstress grew wings and briefly flew, “While her young lover Luo followed behind on all fours.”(116). Unhappy thoughts of the Seamstress maturing and leaving the clinging Luo behind because she has no need of him anymore are not wanted by the narrator, but make their unwelcome appearance in his dreams. After the dream takes him near a steep cliff, the narrator sees “the Little Seamstress had fallen over the side.” (117). revealing the unknown observations the narrator has subconsciously made, the knowledge the Seamstress is preparing to leave, and his fear she will ‘fall’ and have serious harm come to her as a result, what his subconscious formulates in a description of horrific injuries from the fall over the edge to her death. Possible events the Narrator cannot bring himself to contemplate are done so whether he wants to or not in his dreams.
In the same dream, the narrator finds himself constantly worrying about Luo, another unique connection between real and dream world. One of his introductory thoughts was “what she could be doing there with Luo on the mountain.”(116). The Narrator is so concerned with the competitive aspect between the three friends that he can not even shake the thought in his utmost fantasy world. The unknown girl at the beginning of the dream is a harsh reminder that it may not be the Seamstress herself that the narrator is drawn to, but the femininity, or the boyish competition and adrenalin he receive competing with Luo. The dream gives him readers a look at a harsh reality, but a true, desired reality for the narrator himself. To get revenge and some kind of personal satisfaction, the narrator notes the Seamstress “while her young lover Luo followed behind on all fours.” (117). The narrator has subconsciously bent his dream at will to turn his best friend into a person with beastly, rudamentary animal features, dehumanizing a childhood friend, not to mention his only real connection to his past life. Here, the dream is again giving in to what the Narrator really feels, in this moment an expression of his desire for dominance and victory over Luo, something the Narrator refuses to acknowledge in his conscious actions to avoid jeopardizing the relationship. The dream is able to contain the harsh instinctive urges of the Narrator.
All in all, dreams are an obvious and extremely necessary outlet for the Narrator’s unwelcome and repressed feelings, desires, and fantasies he cannot express or experience, and the thoughts he cannot consciously articulate or refuses to. All of these can be worked through in his dreams, where he cannot escape them and there are no immediate real world repercussions. While the inner machinations of the Narrator’s mind can be made much clearer through psychoanalysis, often our own dreams can be exceeding less telling, much to our own dismay.
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