The feather in “Dumbo” holds symbolic magic. Holding it tight, he leaps from dependency to loss, then audacious growth. He must believe the feather holds power before placing it in himself. We all need symbolic objects or talismans to project our potential onto. How else could we find it?
The feather symbolizes the developmental process of growing beyond external validations to inner recognition. It comforts Dumbo in his grief and fear; it reassures and inspires him. As he matures, the feather’s role evolves to signify his inner potential, transcending its initial purpose.
His transformation is aided by Timothy Mouse, a mysterious mentor with unfailing confidence in himself and Dumbo. Timothy is a psychopomp like Hermes, whose winged sandals let him arrive just in time. All heroes are gifted a mentor at times of greatest need. Jung understood the Self often activates at times of unbearable suffering and offers symbols that bridge the ego to unconscious sources of vitality.
Imagination is the bridge to our potential, and locating the right symbol links our aspirations and latent capabilities to real-world actions. This psychic process spurs Dumbo to experiment and take tangible steps towards establishing his agency.
Dumbo’s large ears, amplified by the feather, symbolize his heightened sensitivity, particularly to external criticism. Attuned to danger, every whispered cruelty is picked up and amplified, internalized and excruciating. Like all highly sensitive children, Dumbo learns the value of shifting from outer noise to inner recognition. He needs his mother’s empathy but, more importantly, Timothy’s resilience and grit.
Disney wanted children and adults to understand the power of perception. Perhaps he came across a paragraph often attributed to Goethe, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back — concerning all acts of initiative, there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
HERE’S THE DREAM WE ANALYZE:
“I was walking in a forest, maybe with my husband. I/we came to a part of the path that was too steep downhill and too muddy to walk down safely. A park ranger appeared at the bottom of the steep part and asked if we would like to ride an elephant down it, and soon, I found myself astride an elephant. We were going down the track, but I was facing backward. I assumed the elephant was walking backward (the way people get down a ladder), but then I realized I was facing the tail end, and the elephant was walking forward. I was worried about slipping off. Then we were walking in a trench beside a flat road. The ranger said the trench was for elephants, to keep them safe from traffic, but that our elephant had to go off for a procedure, maybe fertility treatment. We came to a town, and I saw a poster on a pole, but I forget what it said.”
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