An interest of mine is how dreams are used in stories. I think I'm actually going to write a ten page paper on the subject for my English class this term!
This evening I picked up The Ransom of Mercy Carter by Caroline B. Cooney. It's a captive narrative about a girl named Mercy who is taken by Native Americans. Many of her friends as her family are also taken, but Mercy is the focus of the story. It's a pretty quick read -- I've been reading less than two hours and I'm on page 90 of 244.
So far there have been two dreams. The first is on page 8:
"Fingers grabbed Mercy's hair, twisting the thick yellow braid and yanking it tight. Her neck stretched and she could get no air. The scalping knife would --"
Mercy wakes up from this nightmare to find that her town is under attack by Native Americans.
So, what does this dream do for the story?
1) The first sentence of the paragraph following the nightmare is "All too familiar with the nightmare, Mercy suffocated her scream and hugged herself hard to keep from making a noise." So we know that this is a recurring nightmare, and that Mercy often thinks about being killed by the "savages" and is afraid of it. It even haunts her dreams. So one thing this dream does is show us that she would expect Native Americans to kill her, not take her captive, and it shows that they are on her thoughts even when she is asleep.
2) It sets the stage for the attack. Just minutes after she wakes Mercy realizes that the Native Americans are inside the walls of her town.
The next dream is on page 48, and it takes place after she has been taken captive and has had to march some distance.
"And yet her dreams, when they came, were sun-gilt and sparkly, as if the day had been made of crystal instead of blood. In her dream, it was October, and the leaves were gold. She gave a leaf to Marah, and Marah smiled."
Now, before I discuss this dream...
1) In this dream Mercy thinks of better times. She thinks of a time when the weather was good instead of snowing, and when she did not have to watch people she love be killed. Marah is her little sister, and unfortunately was very whiny. Because of this she was killed. So Mercy is reliving better times in her sleep.
2) Might the time of year in the dream be significant? In the story it is the middle of winter, but in the dream it is autumn "and the leaves were gold." Winter is when things are dead, but autumn is when the things are dying. So since her memory is taking place in a time of dying could it mean that her memory of home is dying? Since I've read the book before (years ago, but still) I already know that yes, Mercy does become a Native American and her memories of her old home fade, even if they don't completely die. In fact, in the end, she chooses to stay with the Native Americans who adopt her rather than return to where her home once was. So yes, I think this dream indicates that her memories and/or attachments to her old life are already dying.