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“The Dream” from Frog and Toad To..

by Arnold Lobel


“The Dream” is a story that explores the nature of dreams, the morality of bragging, and the value of friendship.

Toad is asleep and has a dream in which he stars in a play, while Frog sits in the audience and shrinks almost to non-existence.

Read aloud video by Mrs. Demeritt

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

There are a number of different philosophical questions that “The Dream” can be used to discuss. The first is a question from the theory of knowledge: How do we know that we are not dreaming? This question was put at the center of the philosophical stage by Descartes, who was worried about how we know our normal beliefs about the world are true. So he raised a series of skeptical doubts about our everyday knowledge. The question of how we know that we are not dreaming is one of these.

There are a variety of different ways that have been proposed to answer this skeptical doubt. The first question is whether dreams have the same intensity as our everyday experience. Although David Hume asserted that this was not the case, the fact that we can sometimes not be sure if a particular experience was a dream or not suggests that at least some dreams are as vivid and lively as our normal perceptual experience. A second question is whether dreams always include bizarre and unusual things that we know cannot really exist. If they do contain such odd entities, then their presence would assure us that we are dreaming. A final suggestion is that dreams don’t cohere with our ordinary experience, so we can be sure that our ordinary experience is not a dream.

A second issue concerns pride and bragging. The ancient Greeks considered pride to be a virtue, but early Christians thought it was a vice, ultimately believing it to be one of the seven deadly sins. Perhaps pride is actually somewhere in the middle, and the early Christians were talking about excessive pride, while the Greeks were thinking of our taking an appropriate amount of pride in what we have accomplished. Either way, in both traditions, too much pride isn’t good. In the story, Toad exhibits inordinate pride, which becomes clear when he boasts to Frog. The dream suggests that boasting is bad because it makes others feel bad (“small”) and that one will ultimately be alone and friendless if one boasts too much.

The final issue raised by the story is friendship. The Greek philosopher Aristotle maintained that friends were necessary for a person’s own well-being. Toad certainly panics when he thinks that Frog has completely disappeared. What does this concern reveal about his friendship with Frog? The story provides a good opportunity for thinking why it is important to have friends.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Toad was asleep, and he was having a dream…

  1. Have you ever had a dream that was no intense you didn’t know whether it was really a dream or not?
  2. How could you tell that it was really a dream?

When he wakes up, Toad asks Frog if it is really him standing beside Toad’s bed. Frog says that it is. Toad asks Frog if he is his own right size, and Frog says that he thinks so.

  1. Why does this convince Toad that he is not dreaming any more?
  2. Could Frog be just a character in Toad’s dream? Why or why not?
  3. Are things in dreams different from how they are in real life?
  4. Could you be having an intense dream right now in which you dream you are in school when you are really at home sleeping? How do you know?

In his dream, Toad brags about all the things he can do.

  1. Can you remember one of the things that Toad does well?
  2. Why do you think that Toad wants Frog to know that he can do these things?
  3. Have you had a friend who has bragged to you? Have you ever bragged to a friend?
  4. How did your friend’s bragging make you feel?
  5. Is bragging a bad thing to do? Why?
  6. Is it ever okay to brag?

Toad is scared that he will be all alone.

  1. Is it always scary to be alone?
  2. What’s scary about being alone?

Frog is Toad’s good friend.

  1. Do you have a good friend?
  2. Do you think it is important to have a good friend?
  3. What difference does having a good friend make?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Thomas Wartenberg. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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