Symbolism Of The Dream House

House symbolism is an interesting way of looking at a story. Have you noticed that houses as depicted in Western picture books tend to look the same? Two storied, bedrooms upstairs, slightly untidy but still Pinterest-worthy? There’s a reason for this. Each part of a house is symbolically unique. Gaston Bachelard talks about this in his famous book on architecture and philosophy, The Poetics of Space.

house symbolism
Ben Rea Cross Section of Dennis Severs House

House As Human Body

Some commentators (e.g. Scherner) interpret houses in dreams as stand-ins for the human body. The windows, doors and entrances are the entrances into the body cavities. The facades are smooth or provided with balconies and projections to which to hold. In anatomy the body openings are sometimes called the body-portals.

Buildings As Characters In Fiction

There is a problematic trope in which the large house correlates to a large, overbearing woman. The trope intersects with fatphobia and misogyny. For an example of this trope see the children’s animated feature film Monster House. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is another example of the same trope.

The mind itself is often imagined as a house. Korean writer Kim Hee-kyung took this metaphor and created a picture book which won the 2011 Bologna Ragazzi Award.

I thought our minds are very much like a house. That’s the metaphor I used for this book.

Kim Hee-kyung

Home As Metonym For Family

In the middle ages houses were simply places to seek refuge and sleep. There was no conception of children, and no concept of family in connection to this place of crude shelter. Today we think of home quite differently. We strive to make it comfortable (another newish concept) and we strive to fill it with the people closest to us.

만희네 집 (Man Hui’s Home) is a Korean picture book (1995) by Yoon Duck Kwon. The book shows how home is not just a place to live but a place which connects you to your history, heritage, friends, family and memories.

Off-kilter Houses

Dwellings in fantasy don’t always look like the rectangular structure we know and love.

For example, Bilbo’s circular house feels particularly cosy, in stark contrast to the jagged mountains in the distance.

the-hall-of-bagend-hobbit
Heath Robinson The Folding Garden Date- 1933

Another example of extreme oddity is the Gingerbread House of Hansel and Gretel.

The Gothic House

When storytellers take the dream house to its horror extreme you get the terrifying mansion which features heavily in Bluebeard stories and its descendants.

The dark, terrifying house contrasts the warm, welcoming house important to children’s stories with a home-away-home structure. Without a home base, modern stories cannot have happy endings.

Interestingly, a Medieval audience wouldn’t have thought in this way. In Medieval Europe, the house did not equal the home, and shelters were just that — places to sleep. If there was furniture, it wasn’t made for comfort. The very concept of comfort is a modern one. Even until Jane Austen’s time, ‘comfort’ as a word was used quite differently and meant strengthening, support and consolation rather than the modern experience of sitting in a nice, padded chair. The concept of ‘child’ is also modern. In the Medieval era, offspring were sent out into the world as apprentices from about the age of seven. Most people lived in shacks but not houses; houses were not used as metonyms for family as they very much are today.

Scary houses are not always dark. White gothic exists, such as depicted in the cold house below — opulence without comfort. Modern films and TV shows achieve a similar effect by making use of large houses made largely of windows.

The Ice Palace in David Lean’S 1965. Film ” Doctor Zhivago

However, if you take the coldness and put it outside, the cosy house becomes even more cosy. It is now an oasis of warmth.

James Hope – Winter House

SEE ALSO

What Would Be The Houses Of Filmmakers If They Were Based On Their Own Films

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