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 dream world 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 100 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 200 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.
Mechal Sobel is a professor in the History Department and director of the Graduate Program in American Studies at the University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel. She is author of The World They Made Together: Black and White Values in Eighteenth-Century Virginia and Trabelin' On: The Slave Journey to an Afro-Baptist Faith.
"Mining over 200 narrative memoirs of blacks and whites, both rich and poor, as well as letters and diaries, the author found that dream interpretation was central to self-transformation, whether in revolutionary participation, religious conversion, or race and gender relations."—Publishers Weekly
"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
"Mechal Sobel has written an important, marvelously original book, gracefully written. . . . It is the first book in a long time that takes as its subject the psychological meaning of living through the American Revolutionary Era, not for one or a few individuals who left enormous bodies of personal papers (e.g. Thomas Jefferson) but a wide range of 'ordinary' people—white and black, male and female. This book will force many historians to examine skeptically much that they thought they knew."—Linda K. Kerber, author of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship