Dreams provide a state of mind that allows our subconscious to express our emotions, fear, guilt, or desires as we are sleeping. In American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Shadow’s dreams are interpretations of all the emotions he has felt throughout the book; whether that would be happiness, guilt, desire, or the loss of someone close. All the emotions portrayed in Shadow’s dreams are the reality of his life. Dreams such as lucid dreaming, precognitive dreams, dreams that seem real, and unusual dreams that cannot be explained are all displayed throughout American Gods. Giving Gaiman the opportunity to express Shadow’s emotions through interpretations of his dreams.
According to Turner, “precognitive dreams are dream that appear to predict the future through the sixth sense” (Turner). From precognitive dreams, Shadow is predicting the future in the book from the first few dreams after meeting Wednesday. For instance, in one of Shadow’s first few dreams after meeting Wednesday, was in a room seemed to be “bigger than a city” (Gaiman, 76). In the dream Gaiman gives his audience a forecast into what is later on in the book; Shadow is walking through the room that is filled with statues, carvings, and rough-hewn images. All of sudden, a voice tells Shadow “These are gods who have been forgotten, and now might as well be dead” (Gaiman, 77). Predicting that later on the book a God or God’s may die. Another future reference Gaiman used was the three woman who had been “carved from the same granite boulder” (Gaiman, 77). This is later on depicted to be either the three women in the farmhouse or the Zorya sisters. However, this dream is already telling the reader that we will encounter the death of gods and three women and other events that were displayed in the dream. Shadow’s dreams are a way for the reader to predict what will happen later on in the book. Precognitive dreams are meant to tell the future and in American Gods that is exactly what Shadow’s dream did for him.
Shadow’s dream are interpretation of his emotions he has felt, the most common emotion Shadow displays throughout the book is guilt about Laura. Shadow had lost his wife earlier in the book who was a having an affair. Even though Laura had caused Shadow many pain he still loved her living or dead. In reality, some of the actions he performed was for Laura. “It was Laura, he realized. Living or dead, he couldn’t fear her” this quote shows how much of an impact she has on him even after she had passed away and came back (Gaiman, 81). One of the few vivid dreams of Shadow was he is climbing a mountain of skulls and and once he reached toward the top he tells the woman “tell me about the thunderbirds… Please. It’s not for me. It’s for my wife” this scene is powerful and says multiple things about Shadow (Gaiman, 383). At this point of the book Shadow is going through changes, however, his feelings for Laura did not change, he still calls Laura his wife. Shadow is begging because he made a promise to Laura that he would bring her back to life. He made a promise that he does not want to break. In this specific dream, Shadow represents the guilt he has felt throughout the book for Laura, even though, Laura was the one who caused him so much pain in the first place.
Lucid dreaming played a role in American Gods, however, the way Gaiman applied lucid dreaming to the book was opposite of the definition. According to Holzinger, lucid dreaming is a “dream which we are aware of the state and are aware of our ability to make choices” (Holzinger). In contrast, Gaiman uses lucid dreaming in a different way by not giving Shadow the option to have any control of his dreams, until towards the end of the book. For instance, Shadows dream with the thunderbirds upon the mountain of skulls, he describes the dream as “sometimes, you have no choices: either there are no decisions to be made, or they were made for you long before ever the dream began” which is the complete opposite of lucid dreaming (Gaiman, 383). Not giving Shadow the opportunity to choose in his own path in his owns dreams. Gaiman uses the contradictory of the definition to show the character development later on in the book. The character development happened once Shadow had reached the judgement of balancing the feather for Anubis. After the feather had balance, Anubis gave Shadow the choice to choose his path. The transition into Shadow not choosing what is done in his dreams to eventually having the chance to choose his own destiny, “it’s okay. It’s my choice” Shadow tells Anubis (Gaiman, 613).
The way Gaiman uses the dreams in a contradictory unique way is displayed throughout the story line in order to show the reader Shadow’s character development. Introduction: what are dreams for? written by Brian Attebery discusses the motivation of our dreams. Attebery says “by dreaming of danger, we practice dealing with that danger, and, of course, the most efficient way of dealing with danger is to run from it” while in Shadows dream he is faced with certain dangers, he does not run from instead embraces the danger (Attebery). In multiple dreams, Shadow is put into dangerous situations but instead of running from it, as Attebery describes, he runs towards it. In the mountain of skulls, Shadow had thunder bolts being struck and seemed to be a endless cycle, but continued to strive to the top. This shows that Shadow’s character is fearless with the right motivation. Shadow’s motivation being is to bring Laura back to life without the use of the coin. However, when Shadows character development begins to shift is when he is being judged. Shadow had the choice of heaven, hell, or purgatory. However, Shadow decided to pick nothing. “I want nothing. No heaven, no hell, no anything. Just let it end” this shows the shift in Shadow’s character of instead of embracing the fate he could have someone choose for him, he choose himself.
In conclusion, Gaiman applies dreams in a unique way that leaves the reader to question their knowledge of dreams. Whether Gaiman uses Shadow’s dream to predict futures by his precognitive dreams. Or contradicting lucid dreaming and the true motivation of our dreams to display a character shift as the story progresses. Or to display that our dreams are a showcase of our true emotions, whether that’d be guilt, happiness or betrayal. Gaiman uses Shadow’s dreams to show the growth, his emotions, and the supernatural ability to forecast the future.
Boag, Simon. “On Dreams and Motivation: Comparison of Freud’s and Hobson’s Views.” Frontiers in Psychology, 2017. Academic OneFile, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA476708184&it=r. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.
Gaiman, Neil. American gods. New York, NY: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. Print.
Holzinger, Brigitte. “Lucid Dreaming in Psychotherapy.” Lucid Dreaming: New Perspectives on Consciousness in Sleep, edited by Ryan Hurd and Kelley Bulkeley, vol. 1: Science, Psychology, and Education, Praeger, 2014, pp. -61. Practical and Applied Psychology. Gale Virtual Reference Library, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX6188000012&it=r&asid=02e3715be24403e0d43ebaf2b93c5798. Accessed 13 Apr. 2017.
Turner, Rebecca. “Are Precognitive Dreams Real?” World of Lucid Dreaming. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.
Weintraub, Pamela. “Dreaming for dollars.” Omni, Sept. 1993, p. 54+. Academic OneFile, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA14086389&it=r. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.