Teach Me Dreams: The Search for Self in the Revolutionary Eraby Mechal Sobel
One day in 1698, Robert Pyle of Pennsylvania decided to buy a black slave. The next night he dreamed of a steep ladder to heaven that he felt he could not climb because he carried a black pot. In the dream, a man told him the ladder was the light of Jesus Christ and would bear any whose faith held strong; otherwise, the climber would fall. Pyle woke that morning… See more details below
One day in 1698, Robert Pyle of Pennsylvania decided to buy a black slave. The next night he dreamed of a steep ladder to heaven that he felt he could not climb because he carried a black pot. In the dream, a man told him the ladder was the light of Jesus Christ and would bear any whose faith held strong; otherwise, the climber would fall. Pyle woke that morning positive that he should eschew slaves and slavery, having equated the pot with the slave he wished to buy. In fact, so acutely did this dream awaken him to his sins that he became a dynamic advocate of liberation. This dream literally changed his outlook and his life.
Teach Me Dreams delves into the dreamworld of ordinary Americans and finds that as their self-perception increased, transforming them on a personal level, so did a revolutionary spirit that wrought momentous political changes. Mechal Sobel considers dreams recorded in the life narratives of one hundred people, revealing the America of the Revolutionary Era to have been a truly dream-infused culture in which analysis of dreams was encouraged, and subsequent personal reevaluation was striking. Sobel uses a wealth of information -- letters, diaries, and over two hundred published autobiographies from a wide range of "ordinary" people: black, white, male, female. In these accounts, many previously neglected by historians, dreamers explain how their nighttime adventures opened their eyes to aspects of themselves, or unveiled new paths they should take both personally and politically. Such paths often led them to challenge those in power.
Charting the widely dreamed-of opposition between blacks and whites, men and women, Sobel offers astounding new insights into how early Americans understood their lives. Her analysis of the dreams and lives of ordinary Revolutionary-Era people demonstrates links between dreaming, self-reevaluation, and participation in the radically changing politics of the time. This book will appeal to specialists in the fields of American and African-American history, and anyone interested in dreams and self-development.
"Sobel has boldly probed into a strange and demanding and promising subject . . . Sobel has certainly identified a critical set of raw nerves in our history, and a bold new approach to the understanding of our past."Alan Taylor, The New Republic
"Sobel's book is notable in turning our attention back to a topic too long thought off limits to historians: the psychological origins of race and racism."Ann Marie Plane, Common Place
"This book links the psychological and spiritual work of individual self-fashioning with the emergence of the Republic in strikingly fresh ways, including detailed analysis of recorded dreams and how these dreams changed social behavior and sometimes influenced political action."Charles Hambrick-Stowe, H-SHEAR
"Sobel details how decades of religious and political upheaval impelled Americans from all walks of life to refashion their identities, typically in aggressive opposition to other social groups."Konstantin Dierks, The Journal of American History
"Mechal Sobal's Teach Me Dreams will grip readers from the first page to the last, sweeping them up in her vision of self-formation in the revolutionary era. The book's multi-faceted approach to issues of self and identity brings new insight and rigor to the field. . . . This is a wonderfully original book, certain to delight, provoke, and inspire for years to come."Nicole Eustace, Journal of Social History
Anne Marie Plane
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"In the process of writing or thinking about yourself, you actually become someone else." Paul Auster1
TODAY the acceptance of an inner consciousness of self is so widely taken for granted that it is hard to realize how modern this development is. At the outset of the eighteenth century most people seemed to regard themselves as having porous boundaries and as part of a wider or "we-self."2 It was in the hundred-year period between 1740 and 1840, the greater Revolutionary period, that many people in America first came to accept that they had an inner self that controlled their emotions and actions and to believe that they themselves might alter this self.3 In this period, and as part of this process of change, the churches and then the new state encouraged the written reevaluation of life experiences in journals and in autobiographies. Writing a self-narrative became virtually a ritual act, and as a result myriad life narratives were written by "ordinary" people, black and white, male and female. Well diggers, wall plasterers, mechanics,farmers, robbers, poor rapists and murderers sentenced to death, cross-dressers, madmen, wanderers, and spiritual seekers wrote narratives of their lives. A great many of these narratives were published, often by the writers themselves. By writing themselves on to the public stage they were making a public claim to newly recognized rights, and leaving evidence of their changing selves.4
When the writing of self-narratives became ritualized, it was also, in part, because transforming images, often first taken note of in visions and dreams, could be preserved in these documents. A very large number of the autobiographical narratives from the early modern periodover half of the more than two hundred autobiographies considered for this studycontain such dream and vision reports. When written, these dramatic envisionings of dreams were much like plays, which may well have helped the writers see themselves as actors in a drama.5 The narratives, the dream reports, and the dream interpretations by the narrators provide vivid evidence of the change in self-perception in ideal and functioning selves. They also provide powerful evidence that American culture was a dream-infused culture and that work with dreams provided an important bridge into the modern period, helping people change their self-view and their selves.6
Studies of self-fashioning in other places and/or other periods have suggested that such change is brought about by opposition to an enemy other and through commitment to a legitimating authority.7 These life narratives, although often opaque and difficult for a modern reader, contain evidence that enemy others and outside authorities were also crucial for self-fashioning Americans in the Revolutionary era. All through this hundred-year period new religious groups, focusing on adherents to the old religions as their enemies, were the most important outside authorities for Americans. The Revolution, however, provided a society-wide issue of self-commitment and a focus on enemies for most every person then in the colonies. While it is often recognized that becoming a revolutionary brought about a change in self, evidence in the narratives suggests that many of those who chose to oppose the Revolution also significantly changed their selves in the process.8
At the opening of this period, life narratives retold what had happened to a person: Events were recounted by narrators who viewed themselves as observers of happenings and emotions that had taken them over. Over the course of this period, as narrators moved from a sense of a "we-self" to a far more individuated "I," they began to attest to changes they believed they were initiating both in their outer and inner lives, and a radical change began to take place in their narratives. It was as these narrators began to document their acts of commitment to outside authorities and to recognize or create enemy others that they began, as well, to see their lives as patterned dramas in which they had to make fateful choices. Increasingly, individuals began to see themselves as dramatic actors, and some went further and came to see themselves as self-creators.
In creating these new narratives of their lives these individuals found coherence and purpose and gave new structure to the self. The narratives these people wrote not only record these changes occurring in the self; they were also agents of change in and of themselves. In the early modern era writing a life narrative aided in the reframing of the past, expanded the consciousness of self, and prepared the individual (as well as many of those who read the narrative) for a new future.9
By the close of this period, the ideal white male was individuated, self-concerned, and determined to succeed in a rapacious market economy. The subtext of this ideal was the expectation that white women and all blacks would remain enmeshed in a communality and serve the needs of increasingly individuated white males. Women, white and black, and black males had to respond to this situation as best they could. Some tried to adopt the same goal of individuation that white males were adopting; others reacted against it and actively sought to strengthen communality; most (including most white males) were limited by both social and economic circumstances to continuing their more communally embedded self-orientation.
Although in Europe class antagonism and class "others" played the central role in the development of individuality during this period, in America, in good part because the Revolutionary elite felt compelled to forge working bonds with the middling and poorer sort, gender and race (often in combination) became the central focuses of alterity and identity.10 White males increasingly defined themselves as not-black and not-female, while women increasingly recognized the male as the alien other. Blacks recognized whites as their enemy other, although this was in part complicated by an historic African appreciation of the color white seen as betokening purity and good fortune, but more tellingly by African Americans' need to protect themselves from the whites who had virtually unlimited power over them. The open expression of aggression by blacks and women was always dangerous. Most blacks and most women had to deal with their own rage at their alien others at the same time that they had to cope with the increasing otherness projected onto themselves.11
Both Africans and Europeans began developing in opposition to each otherthose whom they would "not be"however, this process actually made them dependent on their oppositional others. In addition, insofar as not-me or alien other figures were often projections of rejected aspects of the self, they were potentially reclaimable through a process of introjection whereby hated attributes of the other became cherished attributes of the self. The narratives are rich in evidence of this process of introjection, and it clearly played a significant role in the development of individuality in America. For many whites this development can be seen as a peaceful borrowing from blacks, which sometimes occurred without either party consciously recognizing what was happening. In other cases whites took by force, generally through psychological manipulation, that which had belonged to blacks. Evidence provided by the life narratives suggests that a range of adaptive and extractive processes was underway: that whites indeed often stole mental content and affective processes from blacks and that whites were undergoing change in part as a result of Africans' values and emotions. While whites' borrowings often resulted from their jealousy of what seemed to be blacks' freer libidinal enjoyment, at the same time whites were frightened of "them" and of what might happen to themselves should they be like "them."12 Blacks widely hated whites but often needed and/or wanted to share in the dominant culture, which meant that they too were following the other's ways. The fact that they were often also compelled to do so led African Americans to fear the loss of their sense of African selfhood and increased their anger at the white other and their ambivalence about the attraction that the dominant culture held for them.
Native Americans also played a significant role as alien others for whites and blacks as whites and blacks did for native Americans. An early text indicating Indian awareness of this is that of Samson Occum, a Mohegan Christian missionary teacher, who wrote a "Short Narrative" of his life in 1768, perhaps the first recorded Native American autobiography. Occum bitterly lamented his mistreatment at the hands of white people and concluded: ". . . I Must Say, 'I believe it is because I am a poor Indian.' I Can't help that God has made me So; I did not make my self so.-" These words suggest that Occum felt being Indian was a cross he had to bear. Occum became a severe critic of white society and turned away from participating in it, although he continued to accept Christianity. Notwithstanding Occum's testimony and other narrative evidence of the white othering of the Indian and the Indian othering of the white, this study focuses on black-white interaction inasmuch as this relationship was the defining self-other relationship for most of the narrators in this study and has remained central in American culture since that time.13
The changes in commitments and alterity were stimulated by many crucial and interrelated social shifts and economic upheavals: a shift in religious affiliation began with the First Great Awakening of the 1740s and continued in waves of revivals and new church growth that followed during which a great many Americans moved from Congregational and Anglican affiliations to become Baptists and later Methodists.14 These new churches welcomed individual conversions made in opposition to the family, which was often regarded as the enemy. As a result individual choice and commitment came to play a far more significant role than they had previously.
A shift in racial makeup was brought about by the importation of enslaved Africans who, by the time of the Revolution, came to equal some 20 percent of the total population. Significant areas of the South were over 50 percent African, and overall 42 percent of the southern population was African or African American. As a result of the demographic change and of the shift in population during the vast turmoil of the Revolution, myriad whites and blacks came into daily contact with "alien" others, which led them to alter their selves.15
The economy shifted from one based in good part on exchange to widespread market production, which brought in its wake a cyclic pattern of expansions (1750s, 1795-1807, 1827-1837) and downturns, with particularly hard times for most between 1776 and 1790, and with depressions following political or economic crises in 1807, 1819, and 1837. The rapid growth of slavery in the eighteenth century, the addition of the newly freed in the North to the ranks of the free poor during and after the war, and the growing concentration of wealth made for an alteration in the class structure. Nevertheless, many individuals buffeted by the economic "tidal waves" felt personally responsible for their own failures or successes.16
These economic changes affected a shift in gender roles as more men began to work outside households while most women remained within them. This shift placed men in a double bind as they increasingly idealized independence in a world where economic dependence was growing; it also led to a new modal view of women (ideally protected in the home from the rapacious market) as more virtuous than men. This seemingly positive change for women was, however, utilized in males' increasing bid for control of women.17
The changes in religious affiliation, racial makeup, class structure, gender roles, and the economy were all related to the positing and creation of a kingless democratic society by means of a revolutionary war, which led the elite males to an alliance with and reliance on many of those white males who until that point they had regarded as outcasts, such as Baptists in Virginia, and the lower classes more generally (many of whom served in the Revolutionary army). The same Baptists, as well as Methodists, blacks, the poor, and downtrodden females (overlapping groups) engaged in "fantasies of freedom" as well as acts intended to change both their selves and their social situations; many of them opted for personal wars of independence by opposing the national war of independence.18 Radical changes in self-perception were thus taking place along with the social, economic, and political changes.
The Revolutionary period was clearly a time of social upheaval and the loosening of many bonds. The enslaved widely took their own freedom, and many in other repressed groups sought to change their lives. When the war was over those in control were determined to reestablish limits on the expression of the formerly repressed desires of the lower sort and the nonconforming. In the nineteenth century the expansion of both slavery and the limitations imposed on African Americans in the areas outside the slave South reestablished and extended the pre-war repression of most African Americans; the economic upheavals of the post-war period and the instabilities of capitalist expansion that culminated in the depressions of 1819 and 1837 led to an increase in the economic oppression of many whites as well. A new, more standardized life course built around the extension of education was fostered in part to control the white population, as were the new "purer" ideals for women, which were limits they were expected to internalize.19 White females were increasingly expected to be controlled by what was now seen as their superior moral sensitivity, while white males were pressed to share in the Revolutionary ideal of independence at the same time that more white men were becoming part of the dependent working class.
Although at the outset of this hundred-year period people did not generally own their own emotions, over the era emotional awareness grew.20 Both intentionally and through indirection, the personal narratives reveal the emotional toll that most paid as a result of these economic and social changes: many narrators wrote of their outer "Sufferings" (a term that appears in the title of many of the narratives) while their dream reports reveal painful aspects of their interior lives.
It is well known that American Indians and the whites they adopted into their societies were taught to attend to their dream life and that dream or vision quests were central to Native American spiritual development.21 One of the earliest recorded Indian dream reports is from the Sauk chief Na-nà-ma-kee, or Thunder. Dating from the early1600s, it was preserved in the life narrative of his great-grandson, Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak or Black Hawk (born in 1767), whose father had told him of the dream. When Thunder was a young man he had dreamed that "at the end of four years he should see a white man, who would be to him a father." Many subsequent dreams reaffirmed this promise, and Thunder reportedly shared them with his community. At the appointed time Thunder took his two brothers on the journey he had dreamed of and led them to their first meeting with a white man. This white man told them that he too had been directed by his dreams to come to this meeting, and that while the King of France had laughed at this idea he had approved of his journey. The white man chose Thunder over his older brother to serve as the supreme chief who would lead his people into war and presented him with European arms, clothes, and a medal signifying the role he had bestowed upon him. Black Hawk reports that Thunder's father accepted this change as "directed" by the "great Spirit" and handed over his powers to his younger son. This dream report of a search for a "white father" (which may record Samuel De Champlain's arrival in North America in 1603) can be seen to open an Indian narrative of white settlement in North America that places racial interchange, power redistribution, and dreams at its center.22
Anthropological studies suggest that many Africans held views of the positive value of dream teachings similar to those of Native Americans.23 Africans brought these traditions to America, where they flourished. It has not been widely recognized, however, that in this period European Americans also often turned to dreams for wisdom and that a great many came to important new understandings of themselves and/or acted in radically new ways on the basis of their dreams, many influenced by African American approaches.24 While in all three traditions, the Indian, African and Anglo-American, dreams were widely assumed to foretell a preordained future, many of the dreamers in this study began to regard their dreams as relevant to difficult choices they had to make. Dreams were used to legitimate participation in as well as opposition to the Revolution. Dream interpretations were directly involved in slaveholders' decisions to free their slaves, as well as in the decisions of the enslaved to revolt against enslavement. Dreams widely legitimated changes in behavior by people who were on the margins of societymost women, blacks, and the poor whitesand often helped these people to act in ways that those in power opposed. Deborah Samson dreamed of "girding her loins" before she fought in the Revolution as a man; Nat Turner dreamed of a battle between black and white spirits before he initiated his 1831 rebellion. Interior landscapes and dream actions were often directly connected to social reality and future realization, and particularly to the changing perception of the nature of individuality and self-development.25
In the period following the Revolution, as reason was more widely seen as replacing emotion and faith and as those in power sought to limit or control the "fantasies of freedom" of the downtrodden, there was a widespread reversal in the evaluation of dreams from portentous and likely to be God-sent to useless or dangeroussomething that only blacks and women relied on.26 The growing disrepute in which dreams were regarded, as well as the white male rejection of the communally connected or "we-self," which was increasingly seen as feminine, led to a serious loss for both individuals and society and to a dangerous growth in distance from interiorized desires and emotions that played a role in the growth of racial and other violence in the nineteenth century.27
The dreams and narratives that were often tools of change can now be used to analyze the nature of the change in self that was undergone, particularly the commitment to an outside authority and the creation of an alien other as well as the process of introjection of values from the alien other. This is a central part of this study, in which I am primarily concerned with the dreamers' own understanding and use of their dreams at the same time as I accept that these dreams also reflect the social changes underway in the society, or, in Montague Ullman's term, a "social unconscious."28
I have been deeply impressed by the study of dream reports collected in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1939 by Charlotte Beradt. In a key passage, Beradt records a dream that a sixty-year-old factory owner, a Social Democrat, who afterward unsuccessfully attempted to conform to Nazi demands, told her he had dreamed three days after Hitler took power:
Goebbels was visiting my factory. He had all the workers line up in two rows facing each other. I had to stand in the middle and raise my arm in the Nazi salute. It took me half an hour to get my arm up, inch by inch. Goebbels showed neither approval nor disapproval as he watched my struggle, as if it were a play. When I finally managed to get my arm up, he just said five words"I don't want your salute"then turned and went to the door. There I stood in my own factory, arm raised, pilloried right in the midst of my own people. I was only able to keep from collapsing by staring at his clubfoot as he limped out. And so I stood until I woke up.
Beradt concludes that this man and most of the dreamers in her cohort had begun to conform to Nazi demands in their dreams long before they did in life, and that those who eventually resisted had resisted in their earlier dreams. Moreover, some of the early dreams envisioned death camps and other horrors that were first imposed years later. Beradt's work demonstrates that dream reports can indicate the internalized impact of social and political life long before the individual is aware of this impact and that dreams can also attest to the preparation of the inner self for later reactions to outward political change.29
Heinz Kohut's approach to dreams and the self also grew out of his analysis of dream reports from the Nazi period. Kohut came to see the dream of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant, who became a martyr-hero resister to the Nazi regime, "as a triumph of the nuclear self."30 Jägerstätter, who chose to die rather than serve the Nazi regime in any capacity, tied his decision to the following dream, which he had in the summer of 1938:
I was shown a beautiful railroad train which circled around a mountain. Not only the grownups but even the children streamed toward this train and it was almost impossible to hold them back. I hate to tell you how very few of the grownups there were who resisted being carried along by this occasion. But then I heard a voice which spoke to me and said: "This train is going to Hell."31
This dream moved Jägerstätter deeply and, for the first time led him to acknowledge that he and his friends and neighbors were moving toward a moral disaster. He decided that whatever the cost he would have to stand in opposition to the mass euphoria surrounding him. Although he had not been politically active, he chose to voice his opposition even as he recognized that such an act might (and did) lead to his death. Kohut found this a type-setting example for his important theoretical concept of "self-state dreams"those in which the manifest dream indicates a meaningful reaction to a real threat to the self.32
While Kohut regarded only some dreams as self-state dreams, many of Kohut's followers as well as those in other schools of interpretation now view virtually all "dreaming [as] organized around the development, maintenance, and restoration of the self."33 In contradistinction to Freud, who was convinced that the manifest dream deceives, these analysts believe that the manifest dream often presents knowledge about the dreamer and the dreamer's existential situation that he or she is not consciously aware of.34 In this study dreams and narratives are explored in relation to their role in "the development, maintenance and restoration of the self." Both work with dreams and the writing of narratives are regarded, in Michel Foucault's terms, as technologies of the self.35
Ernst Lawrence Rossi is among those who hold that every dream can be shown to reflect the status of the dreamers' self-perception. Rossi has developed a scale with which to judge a dreamer's level of self-reflection, the lowest being those dreams in which there are no people, the medium levels those in which the dreamer is present, and the highest those in which there are multiple states of being and multiple levels of awareness which are seen as "characteristic of the process of psychological growth and change." Rossi's scale for evaluating psychological growth through dreams has been applied to key dreams in this study.36
These understandings are reinforced by Christopher Bollas's view of dreams as the place for playing with the possibilities of self, other, and reality, and as a crucial part of imagining and making a future.37 Bollas also pays particular attention to the process termed "extractive introjection," which occurs when in the course of development a person borrows or steals ideas or emotions from another.38 Taken together these ideas suggest an understanding of an internalized interplay between self and other, both in dreams and in waking life, that involves giving and taking, both by force and through play, a process which is always ultimately serious.
These views have deeply influenced my interpretation of Revolutionary-era dreams, which are seen as indicating that threats to the self were coped with in dreams and then in the narrated lives. Change in the self was often worked out on the dream-screen, and this change was then played out in the narrative report of the waking life. In crucial dreams in the narratives written by people in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, an alien other was targeted and a dream-screen commitment was made. Many people awoke determined to act on this recognition and commitment. As introjection occurred in these dreams as well, dreams both targeted enemy others and helped to bring about a more inclusive reconstruction of the self.
In this study I have taken the narrators at their word: It is their words that are the significant data. These are the views they arrived at, or the views they wanted others to have of their lives. This makes them "true," or the basic data for a study of changing self-perception and self-representation. This is not to deny that narrators knowingly and unknowingly sought to affect their readers' views through omission or commission: John Leland (born in 1754) and William Watters (born in 1751), both leaders in what became an important movement to alter the popular consciousness, barely mention their significant antislavery roles. Eleazer Sherman (born in 1795), a workingman who preached to the poor at new mills and factories, who defended women's right to preach and who sought out contact with Africans, wrote three triumphant autobiographies in which he was proud of these acts and of himself, before he was charged with and convicted of sodomy. He wrote a promised continuation afterward but chose not to note the nature of the charges made against him nor the fact that he had confessed to them: He wrote that he had been vilified, and his every action taken out of context and exposed.39 Other narrative writers also put an ironic spin on their past, while some no doubt constructed fictive parts or the whole of their narratives, knowingly or unknowingly. Nevertheless, it still holds true that these narratives are the views they wanted us to have of their lives, views that many hoped would have influence.
There is evidence that many of the accounts published between 1740 and 1840 did influence the lives of readers. One way in which an individual prepares for a new role is "through 'anticipatory socialization.' " Traditionally, young people watched others play roles and followed their patterns. But as small community life was changing, and so many people were breaking with family, friends, and mentors, and as more knew how to read, reading began to be a more common source of new knowledge and published life narratives began to play a significant role for identification through imagination.40 A number of the narrators attest to the power other written narratives had over them. The enslaved African James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (born about 1714) took the dramatized life of Bunyan (and his dreams) to heart: Bunyan's sins repelled him but the narrative made him much more anxious for conversion. George Peck (born in 1797), who became a preacher, informs us that when he was a boy his family sat together in the evenings and listened to books being read aloud: "What a glorious time we had reading the Life of Benjamin Abbott!" Peck was referring to The Experience and Gospel Labours of the Rev. Benjamin Abbott (1805), filled with dreams of hell and heaven, as well as the narrative of Abbott's rebirth and dedicated life. Ebenezer Thomas (born in 1775) records that while Bunyan was most important to him at a young age, by the time he was twenty he set out with "Franklin's life in my pocket" and tried to follow in Franklin's footsteps. Many narrators reported that their conversions were facilitated by conversions they read of, while others emulated key nonreligious activities they had learned of in narratives. This pattern was incorporated into fictional autobiographies of the period: Lucy Brewer, alias Eliza Webb (allegedly born in 1790), "wrote" that she modeled her 1812 break to freedom from a life of prostitution on Deborah Samson's act of taking on the role of a male soldier in the Revolutionary War, as told of in Samson's narrative.41 Inasmuch as many of these narratives describe the acceptance of a new, more regulated, life, they helped prepare others to do so as well, so that while the books were often freely chosen by readers and came to mark a break with their pasts, they were in fact exerting influence in the direction of conformity to new patterns.
For the writers, presenting oneself for evaluation in a narrative was a form of "public confessional," a new disciplinary form, a new way to reframe the past, and at the same time a way to get income. It was a selling of the self, in both material and psychological terms.42 Above all, it was a venue for dreaming of and creating a new self.
This book focuses on four elements that were of key significance in the self-fashioning of the greater Revolutionary period (1740-1840). These are:
1. The dream, as an authoritative forum for representing the self; in Foucault's terms, a technology of the self.43 The dream was both a witness to the self and a catalyst for change in self, in that key commitments were made in dreams and alien others were often targeted for attack there.
2. Alien others, against which the new self differentiated itself. As noted, this study focuses on black-white and female-male interaction. While alien others were oppositional forces that the individual sought to destroy, it is crucial to recognize that narrators often built their sense of self through both externalizing and introjecting the other. Blacks and whites and men and women were doing this with and to one another; attacking each other and taking crucial parts of themselves from one another.44
3. Authorities, who enabled and legitimated the change in self. The need for an authoritarian power outside the self seems antithetical to the goal of a self-fashioning individual, but many theories of change recognize this seemingly contradictory need. These theories maintain that in order to change, an individual must reframe the past. However, a person with a fixed self-view and a fixed worldview is highly unlikely to be able to do this inasmuch as "a rule for the change of . . . rules . . . must be introduced from the outside." Such a new evaluation can come about as a result of a traumatic emotional experience, or through submission to an outside authority.45 Sects and churches provided the key authorities that individuals submitted to down to the revolutionary period, when the revolutionary movement and then the new state became jealous institutions that played a similar role for many people.46
4. Life narratives. The mapping of the new territories that the self was occupying in this period demanded a new cartography: the writing of self-narratives was quickly ritualized into an almost sacred method for this map work.47
Narratives increasingly reflected the newer view that a life should be seen as a patterned drama rather than as a series of acts. Analysis of these very documents allows us to begin to reimagine the inner lives of these people. Narratives published in the greater Revolutionary era are the basic primary data for this study, which focuses on the personae that individuals wanted others to perceive. I have read as wide a range of published narratives as I could, both those with and those without dream reports, written by people who came of age between 1740 and 1840 and who lived in America for a significant period of time. I found dream reports in narratives written by Quakers, Baptists, and Methodists, as I expected, but also in those written by Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and unchurched African and European Americans.48
While this work is concerned with the period in which many came to believe in a bounded inner self, in the contemporary or postmodern period many of those opposed to white male domination are embracing the richness of possibilities in "fluid, multiple subjectivities."49 Both the variety of selves in different cultures and the radical changes in self-perception that can occur over time in any one culture (as they have in the West) clearly indicate that there is no one natural or proper sense of self and that the sense of self is deeply influenced by society.50 The evidence of the malleability of the self does not, however, support the conclusion that the lack of a sense of a unified self is socially viable or desirable. On the contrary, a sense of the self as unified seems to be a crucial component of "ontological security." If the self as a unified entity is an illusion (as many post-modernists suggest), I believe it is, as Christopher Bollas holds, "an illusion essential to our way of life."51
Inasmuch as we are faced with a serious division over the direction self-fashioning should take, an analysis of early modern self-fashioning may help clarify some possibilities and dangers. Moreover, in and of itself I have found it fascinating to observe this self change, which is documented both in these narratives and in the dream reports they contain, and which I believe should be taken into account as a causal factor in the history of this period.
This book opens with a consideration of the interrelationship of self-fashioning, dream interpretation, and life narratives in the greater Revolutionary period. In the chapters that follow narrators are considered in (overlapping) categories, and each group of narrators is analyzed when focusing on a key enemy other. Whites focusing on blacks as their alien other are the subject of chapter 2, while blacks focusing on whites as their enemy is the concern in chapter 3. Men attacking women are considered in chapter 4, and women opposing men in chapter 5. Most of these narrators both hated and loved, attacked and "borrowed" from their enemy others. While relationships to the other were thus highly ambivalent, commitment to an authority facilitated behavior that was generally predicated only on the negative response to the other. As a result, all these individuals, and society as a whole, suffered. The concluding chapter considers some of the implications of this ironic process, in which as a result of the growing need to develop an individuated self, irrational hatreds came to further dominate our lives.
The Jewish liturgy for the New Year includes an ancient prayer for the "repair" of dreams, asking God to strengthen those dreams that are "for good" and "cure" or "heal" those that are not. By the post-biblical period, Jewish commentators seemed to emphasize the efficacy of human action, suggesting that alternative dream interpretations can alter reality.52 While the primary intention in this study is to assess the extent to which there was a significant change in self-perception and self-presentation over the greater Revolutionary period and to consider the dynamics and effects of this change, I also hope that these dreams and narratives can be reinterpreted or "repaired" so as "to give dignity to the commonplace, to let sad and frightened voices speak, to sing 'close to the magic of what happens,' to set free."53
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Linda K. Kerber, author of "No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship"
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