At the beginning of the war a great many people dreamed that enemy troops were in the back garden, or down the street, and in the house, or knocking at the door for admittance. They dreamed that enemy aircraft were overhead, about to drop explosives on them. Many of these dreams were nightmarish. Often they were so vivid that people were troubled by them and half expected to see their immediate fulfilment. It will be of interest, perhaps, to examine some of these dreams and through them approach the subject of symbolism and interpretation with which the rest of this volume is concerned.
I will give two examples out of those I collected at the time.
1. "I was walking down the street where our house is, when suddenly some soldiers wearing helmets came round a corner. They stopped me, and one of them grasped my arm. I woke in terror."
2. "I dreamed I heard a noise and got up to look out of the window. I saw soldiers in the garden. The moonlight shone on their helmets. They were all round the house. I tried to call out for my husband, but he was fast asleep, and I was so helpless with terror that I could not make any sound."
These examples are taken from different sources. The first is the dream of a girl of seventeen. The second is the dream of a married woman.
In these dreams the theme is similar. A sudden, unexpected, and alarming situation develops. In the first dream a young girl walks down a familiar street and suddenly encounters the unfamiliar. In general that seems to have been the main feature of many of these early war dreams. Enemy troops suddenly invade familiar domestic scenes—the house, the street, the garden. Two interests, totally opposite, are fused together by the unconscious. The resulting products might, to some, seem to contain wish-fulfilments, thinly disguised and sexual in nature. That would be the Freudian view. But other interpretations may be permissible.
Let us suppose that the fear of invasion had been acutely conscious to the recipients of these dreams, which, in point of fact, was not the case. How far does this explain their dreams ? If that were the case, then these two dreams would roughly represent what was a constant preoccupation of the waking mind. They would merely be after-images, presented in sleep, of thoughts that continuously traversed consciousness during the day. One would then say that this was perhaps quite natural; that if you think constantly of a thing it is natural that it should repeat itself in sleep. But is this a fact of experience?
It is not a fact of experience. Dreams do not, characteristically, deal with the thoughts of the day in the same way as these thoughts have run. There are always marked differences. It often uses the incidents of the day for its symbolism, like the cartoonist, and this has given rise to the belief that dreams are simply confused recollections. But in these cases, the thoughts of the day did not concern the fear of invasion. In the second case, the dreamer seemed, on the contrary, indifferent to such a possibility. She had strong views about the war at the time, and these views were negative. The war had nothing to do with her or her husband. Let those who want to fight, fight. She had other things to do. In the case of the young girl, this extreme attitude was not apparent. The war, to her, was rather stimulating. It created excitement and bustle, and a certain new enjoyment. It opened up possibilities.
Now enemy troops may, of course, be taken literally, and a literal meaning be put on these dreams, in which case they may appear rather useless and purposeless. For the situations that they depicted did not come to pass. As symbols they must have a common kind of meaning. They represent danger. In the broadest sense, they must stand for a menacing factor. Now if you take people of any age, from early childhood up to senescence, it will be admitted that there is always to be found some menacing factor in their lives. For a child must learn certain lessons of self-control and behaviour from its nurse ; a boy must go to school; a girl must grow up and get married; a man must earn his living ; an old man must relinquish desire, and begin to adjust the past which begins to emerge from the unconscious. There is, in other words, a typical menace for a typical age, and each of these menaces demands an adaptation. A boy going to school comes up against his fellow creatures for the first time without the support of his mother. Life assumes a menacing aspect until the adaptation is made. Then life shows itself as another and a new menace. This seems to be the plan behind individual development.
When a national disaster like war arises, everyone is implicated in the general menace, and everyone has, in addition to the new public menace, what we may call his own private and personal menace. Both menaces demand adaptations. The two may naturally link up. To a young girl of seventeen there is a latent menace that is typical—the menace of sex and its consequences. This is her private and personal menace, and of it she may remain only vaguely aware. It lies concealed as yet in the background, but a great deal of her interest and consequent action is indirectly connected with it. It deflects interest, as we have seen when discussing the question of latent appeal, like an approaching magnet. In dreams and reveries it may assume a definite form that is anticipatory to the eventual attitude in consciousness. When, therefore, a girl of this age dreams that a menacing factor confronts her suddenly, round a corner of the familiar path, we may see in it something that is connected very deeply with inner problems. The foreign soldier who grasped her arm may be a symbol of life in a certain aspect. The reason why such a dream should come to her is to be sought for in mental background, where the immediate future is germinating. It is not to be sought for in the way in which she regards the war only. That has a lesser significance. The larger significance is that she is on the threshold of life, about to confront something unknown. These are dangers in some degree comparable to the dangers that a soldier confronts in a strange land. The excitement of the war opened up new possibilities of quicker development. A critical moment might arise at any time. The dream shows such a moment arising. It therefore may be prospective in kind. It is a foreshadowing, and not a wish-fulfilment.