In his telling of a dream he had, Dysart describes an unusual ritual in which he is responsible for killing young boys and girls and removing their organs so that his assistant priests can analyze them. With amazing surgical skill, Dysart manages to cut up child after child, feeling sicker with each one. However, he tries not to make his nausea flagrant to the other priests, for he fears that he will be next to be sacrificed if he is exposed. While trying to maintain a professional and apathetic appearance, he feels his mask, which was covering his sickened face, slip to reveal his “green sweat,” a sign of weakness. As a result, the priests tear the knife out of his hand, causing him to wake up.
When a person dreams, all of his or her subconscious fears or pains are allowed out. However, since the actual pain or fear may be too intense for the person to handle, the mind uses symbols to create a dream through which all of the pain and fear is released. In this case, it appears that Dysart has the constant underlying fear of being seen as weak or a fraud by either his patients or his colleagues (the priests). He is afraid that every move he makes is being watched and that his “mask,” or reputation, will not be able to protect him. He sees himself as a very confident and strong person when behind this “mask,” but deep down he has problems of his own that will be seen as weak.
From the above statement, it could be deduced that while he tries to help others and show security in tough times, he is actually very insecure at a deeper level and has the constant fear of this insecurity being exposed.
The sacrifice itself symbolizes the main theme that he hates his job in which he peels away layers of children’s minds using psychoanalysis, or his “knife.” By peeling away layers of the children, he is, in a sense, taking away their uniqueness and making them all the same, hence his wording: “a herd of children,” symbolizing a herd of sheep,...