Themes in Fiction #14 – The Emptiness of Achieving a False Dream

Picture by Joris Louwes

Picture by Joris Louwes

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” ~ Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar


Everyone has a dream. Be it something simple, like meeting someone to love, having a family, or something complex and incredible, like curing deadly diseases – there’s something within all of us that we strive for.

But sometimes, we’re the last person to know what we actually want. Meeting other people, having life changing experiences can change our dreams, but sometimes we can be a little slower to realise this, sticking stubbornly to our false dream, even though deep down we know it can’t bring happiness.


Wanting to be ‘Popular’MV5BMTI4NjgxODE3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjMyMjU5._V1_SX640_SY720_

I’m having trouble thinking of specific examples on this one – largely because there are many hundreds of them, but they’re the ‘beach read’ sorts of books I don’t tend to remember… So let’s talk about the YA trope of seeking popularity. Be it wanting to be in with the In Crowd, or desiring the love and attention of the Hot Guy, many YA Heroines chase after the false dream of living the ‘popular’ life, realising when they get there that the people they hurt to get there are the ones that really matter.

The Princess Diaries is the example that springs to the front of my mind – though I’ll be honest, I remember the film better than the books and can’t remember the names of any of the characters – but awkward, unpopular Mia’s (it was Mia, right?) sudden catapult to fame and fortune puts her on the radar of the boy everyone wants to date, and she thinks it will be her happily ever after if she bags him. Then she discovers he’s a selfish jerk, and the only person who wants her for who she is, not the princess she’s become is her best friend’s brother. (This would be much easier to talk about if I could remember what they are all called!) The dream that every young girl has of being a princess, and all the trappings of fame and fortune that come with it, turns out to be a false dream, and true love is what Mia really wants and needs.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickensa christmas carol

Perhaps the most infamous miser in literature, Ebeneezer Scrooge has pursued wealth all his life, and has become rich and successful, but his life is empty for it. Without friends and family, and the warmth of human connection, Scrooge can’t even feel joy on Christmas.

Fortunately a few ghosts show up to let him know the error of his ways, and after Scrooge is taken on a tour of everything that went wrong in his life, and everything that could go wrong yet, he wakes up relieved that it’s not too late to make amends. He gives away lots of his money to charity and treats his workers with greater kindness, becoming a better, happier person.

I Have A Dream

And because he’s one of my favourite Disney characters ever, have Flynn Rider explaining his false dream:


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