I occasionally teach a structure workshop to writers' groups, and one of the challenges in that workshops is presenting a working definition of "protagonist" that crosses genres. So I'm always on the lookout for new ideas on this point, and that's one of the reasons I posed the question about protagonists last week.
One of the more interesting theories I've encountered applies Jungian dream analysis principles to the novel. I'm no expert in Jung's theories, far from it! So please keep that in mind. This is my understanding of the theories, and I'm sharing it because I'm interested in hearing what all of you think about it.
Jung said that dreams were ego mirrors. That is, people and features in dreams didn't stand for what they actually were, but for some aspect of the dreamer's ego. Your third grade teacher is not actually your third grade teacher, but some representation of your interaction with authority. Your empty refrigerator is not actually your empty refrigerator, but a symbol of your feeling that some basic need is being left unmet. Your first apartment is not actually your first apartment, but a symbol of newfound independence. And so on. Not a difficult idea.
And in some measure, it makes sense to transfer this notion to the novel. All of the ideas on the page spring, in some way or another, from the writer's individual psyche. We may think we've modeled the character of the waitress on a girl we knew in high school, but in fact, what we've done is model the waitress on our interpretation, our understanding, our memory and sensory impressions filtered through our own unique consciousness, of that same girl. The character has more to do with how we interpret people in our world than with who those people actually are.
So the novel itself becomes a mirror of the writer's ego. Here's where it gets interesting. Does this affect our definition of protagonist?
I saw one scholar argue that it should. (I can't find the link -- it was on my old computer, and didn't transfer to the new one.) This person theorized that if the novel, like the dream, is the writer's attempt to heal the psyche, then the "protagonist" should be properly identified as the character that changes the most. (I guess we have to assume that healing creates change, or change creates healing.) Whether we're pointing to the focal character or some secondary character, transformation would be the hallmark of the protagonist.
What do we think of this? Does this theory have any practical application to the day-to-day task of writing a story? Does it help with revisions, writers block, anything? I'm inclined to think it doesn't, but maybe I'm missing something.