Thursday, February 21

Dreams are important in relation to reality because they allow a person to escape from aspects of his life that are unpleasant or unsatisfactory. By dreaming of a better life, humans aspire to make their lives and the lives of their children better. This is how mankind progresses. Isak Dinesen’s “The Dreaming Child” is a better signifier of dreams in the world of reality than Franz Kafka’s “A Dream” or Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha because Dinesen’s Jens symbolizes the longing of mankind. Without longing, mankind would never progress and would eventually die as Jens dies when his dreams come true and his longing is rendered obsolete.
The situation Jens is raised in is one that would naturally give rise to dreaming. The dreaming symbolized by Jens in “The Dreaming Child” is an act of imagination that a person engages in to escape a reality that is harsh, dull, or otherwise unsatisfactory. Jens’s existence is more than just unsatisfactory; it is utterly bleak. His home in “the slums of old Copenhagen” is “a labyrinth of filth, decay and foul smell.” He is parentless, and Madame Mahler considers him to be a “weak”-minded burden. Such an existence would crush the spirit of many, but Jens knows that he belongs “somewhere else.” This belief of a right to a better existence allows Jens to have vivid dreams at night when he is unconscious. The memory of these dreams is enough to sustain Jens when he is awake, engaged in his dismal reality (156).
The belief that he belongs to a better world is the essential component of mankind’s longing manifesting itself in little Jens. This initial belief is what allows Jens to grab onto Mamzell Ane’s tales of grand houses full of light and warmth. In Jens’s fantasy world, he gets to control all of the components of his life. He gets to create what his parents are like and what his house is like. This is the opposite of his real life, in which he is basically powerless and at Madame Mahler’s mercy. His dream of a better life includes not only material trappings like a nice house and many toys, but also the love of a family; of a mother and a father. It allows Jens to feel that he deserves to be loved, thus he imagines what it feels like to be loved, which in turn makes his harsh life bearable. Jens longs for love before he meets Jakob and Emilie.
Emilie also longs for a love that is not part of her reality, and for a different reality than the one in which she exists. The life she leads doesn’t seem like it would make a person dissatisfied; she is wealthy, beautiful, and married with the promise of a financially successful future. She has little in common with Jens as far as her situation in life, but as Emilie tells herself, “This child is as lonely in life as I,” (170). She longs for the love of Charlie, the man she once rejected.
Jens dies because his dreams become reality, rendering his need for longing obsolete. Dinesen describes Jens as a being for whom, “the essence of his nature [i]s longing,” (176). He has no reason to live once all of his dreams are made true. After Jens dies, Emilie takes up this dream, incorporating Jens into her wish that she hadn’t rejected Charlie that night so long ago. Emilie alters the dream a little bit to suit her own wishes and desires, but it is still essentially the same dream begun by Jens; the dream of a family composed of a mother, a father, and a son. This dream appeals to Emilie because it keeps a part of Jens alive. It also allows her to feel in her heart as though she did not reject her true love and in fact got to keep a part of him. Emilie’s adaptation of Jen’s dreaming is going to be more successful than Jens’s because it can never come true and thus never quell her need for longing, as happened to Jens. The fact that this dream is adaptable to different dreamers is symbolic of the relation of dreams to the human condition.
In Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, Siddhartha is not interested in dreams. Siddhartha wants to achieve enlightenment, and this want is also a manifestation of human longing. Siddhartha is different from Jens or Emilie because he actively seeks the thing he longs for; he is not a dreamer. Siddhartha leaves the Brahmin lifestyle to become a Samana because he believes it will lead to enlightenment. When he wants to leave the Samanas, he does so. If he were to go about things like Jens and Emilie, he would just spend his time imagining what it would be like to achieve enlightenment, but he would never actually achieve it. Enlightenment is something that can only be achieved when “every longing and every drive in his heart ha[s] fallen silent,” (13). The very thing that Siddhartha longs for is to be free from all longing. That Siddhartha wishes to be free from longing places him in opposition to my thesis that longing is needed for mankind to progress.
Franz Kafka’s “A Dream” takes place within a dream. This dream is not the same as the dreams of Jens and Emilie, however, because Josef is not engaging his imagination as an act of will to create a different reality like they do. He is unconscious. He does not have control of this dream. This dream renders Josef a passive agent, and the only actions he takes are reactions. He must “quickly jump...onto the grass” because the path he walks on is moving away from him (75). Josef expresses longing in this dream, but his longing only attends to the immediate circumstance, such as the beginning when he “want[s] to go for a walk,” (75). When Josef watches the artist inscribe the tombstone, he wants to know what the artist is writing, but he cannot make the artist move faster and can only wait for him to continue. Josef spends a long time waiting for the artist and becomes frustrated. He is relieved of his frustration when he understands that he must get into the grave. This dream is about understanding; it is not about mankind’s longing for something better.
Isak Dinesen’s “The Dreaming Child” gives a better understanding of the significance of dreams and fantasies in the world of reality than Franz Kafka’s “A Dream” or Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. The reason Dinesen does this better than Kafka or Hesse is because her character Jens is an allegory, symbolic of man’s yearning for progress. He dies when he can no longer dream, because he lives to dream. Jens’s death is symbolic of the fate that mankind would suffer if humans had no need to dream or long for something better; progress would stop and mankind would die out. Hesse’s Siddhartha wants to be free from longing therefore his situation is opposite that of Jens. Kafka’s Josef K. is a man who experiences frustration until he understands the meaning of the dream he has while unconscious.

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