The Interpretation of Dreams
Not many people realize that Freud was a relatively slow-starter.Although the top of his class for most of his school life, he spent eight years studying medicine and other subjects at university before graduating. He slowly entered the field of neurology, writing scientific papers on speech disorders, the effects of cocaine as an anesthetic, and child cerebral paralyses, before shifting his interests to psychopathology. But his ambition to be a renowned medical researcher came up against his desire to marry his fiancee Martha Bernays, and to provide for a home he had to actually get work practicing medicine.
The result was that the work which made his name, The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung in German) was not published until he was in his mid-40s, and even then it took over a decade for the book to become famous. Only 600 copies were printed of the first edition of one of the most influential books in history, and these took eight years to sell. Reviews, and there were not many, were mostly unfavorable, and the first English translation, by AA Brill, was not released until 1913.
The book provides a semi-autobiographical look into the bourgeois world of late 19th century Vienna, taking us behind the 'great man' myth to reveal a Freud enjoying his children, taking holidays in the Alps, dealing with his friends and colleagues and seeking professional success. It reads like a first book, with the author eager to get everything he knows on paper. Its main enjoyment is the description and analysis of the dreams themselves, which can easily run to a dozen pages each and draw upon the Freud's considerable learning in mythology, art and literature.
As a consequence of the book's personal style, it is fashionable to say that The Interpretation of Dreams is really a work of literature, with Freud's rich imagination and sex-obsession making for an intriguing and sometimes shocking read. Yet Freud should never have been punished for writing a readable book with some personal references (he apologizes for including analyses of his own dreams). The fact is, he brought a medical and scientific approach to a subject which had always defied real analysis, and in doing so created a science of the unconscious mind.
After finishing The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud wrote, "Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once in a lifetime". It had taken him forty years to fulfill his early promise, yet it was really just the beginning of his career.
The causes of dreams
It is surprising how much had been written about dreams before Freud. He begins his book with a lengthy survey of the literature, going as far back as Aristotle and giving due credit to more contemporary figures such as Maury, Burdach, Delage and Strumpell. Summing up his reading, he notes, "In spite of being concerned with the subject over many thousands of years, scientific understanding of the dream has not got very far."
From a conception of dreams as 'an inspiration from the divine', man had arrived at a scientific view that they were simply the result of 'sensory excitation'. While sleeping, for instance, you hear a noise outside, and that noise becomes woven into the dream in order to make sense of it. Freud notes experiments in which parts of the body were touched with a feather or colored light falls onto the eyes, and the narrative of the dream took a different course accordingly. Maury dreamed of a maid carrying a huge pile of dishes, which finally fell onto the floor. The 'clattering' of the dishes was in fact his alarm clock going off. According to this explanation, common dreams such as finding yourself naked are the result of your bedclothes falling off, flying dreams are caused by the rising and falling of the lungs, and so on.
But Freud felt that sensory stimuli did not explain all dreams. After all, why did dreams not simply recount the events of the day in a straightforward manner? Physical stimuli while we were asleep could certainly shape what we dreamed about, but they could equally be ignored and not incorporated into our dreams. There was also the ethical or moral dimension to many dreams which did not suggest merely physical causes.
Freud's interest in dreams originally came via his work with people with psychoses. He realized that the content of patients' dreams were a good indicator of their state of mental health, and that dreams were like other symptoms in being capable of interpretation. By the time he came to write The Interpretation, Freud had clinically interpreted over a thousand dreams.
Among his conclusions were:
While some writers believed that the memory of daily events was the prime cause of dreams, Freud came to the view that both physical sensations while asleep and memories of what happened during the day were "like a cheap material always available and put to use whenever needed". They were, in short, not the cause of dreams but simply elements used by the psyche in its creation of meaning.
The disguised message
Having concluded that dreams were the arena in which the unconscious mind could express itself, and that they are primarily concocted to represent the fulfillment of a wish, Freud wondered, why is the wish so poorly articulated, so wrapped up in strange symbols and images? Why should it need to avoid the obvious?
The answer could be found in the fact that many of our wishes are repressed, and may only have a chance of reaching our consciousness if they are somewhat disguised. A dream could seem like the opposite of what we wished for, because many of our wishes we may be defensive about or wish to cover up, so the only way a dream can make an issue known is by raising it in its opposite sense. Freud explains this phenomenon of 'dream distortion' by analogy: a political writer may criticize a ruler, but in doing so may endanger himself. The writer therefore has to fear the ruler's censorship, and in doing so "moderates and distorts the expression of his opinion." With dreams, if our psyche wants to give us a message, it may only be able to get it across by censoring it to make it more palatable, or by dressing it up as something else. The reason why we so easily forget dreams is that the conscious self wants to reduce the impact of the unconscious upon its domain - waking life. It is no surprise that as the day proceeds we are more and more likely to forget what we dreamt.
One of Freud's key points is that dreams are always self-centered. "The wishes fulfilled in them", he writes, "are invariably this self's wishes". When other people appear in a dream, often they are merely symbols of ourselves or symbolized what another person means to us. Freud believed that whenever a strange figure entered his dreamscape, the personage undoubtedly represented some aspect of himself that could not be expressed in waking consciousness. He wondered about all the stories in history of someone being told to do something in a dream, perhaps given a wise urging that proves to be correct. Freud admires the respect that ancient peoples paid to this sort of dream, because at a scientific level it makes sense. Dreams can forcefully express to a person an empowering message that they are wont to suppress during waking consciousness - and that message is always about themselves - not family or society or any other social influence.
All about sex
Freud's analysis of patients led him to the belief that neuroses evolved from repressed sexual desires, and that dreams were also expressions of these repressed feelings, usually going back to distant childhood. It was in The Interpretation of Dreams that Freud first discussed Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex to support his idea of a universal tendency of a child to be sexually attracted to one parent, and to to want to vanquish the other - what was later termed the 'Oedipus complex'.
He tells of a significant event from his childhood. Before going to bed one night he broke one of his parents cardinal rules and wet himself in their bedroom. As part of a general rebuke of the young Freud, his father muttered 'Nothing will come of the boy'. This remark must have hit him hard, Freud admits, as references to the scene had been a recurring motif in his dreams into adulthood, usually in connection with his achievements. In one of these dreams, for instance, it was now Freud's father who urinated in front of him. It was as if, Freud says, he wanted to tell his father, 'You see, something did become of me'. This competitor for his mother's affections had now been put in his place, complete with the shameful image of illegal urination.
In Freud's cosmology, civilization barely kept a lid on our instincts, and sex was the most powerful of these. Dreams were therefore much more than idle nighttime entertainments - in revealing our unconscious motivations they were a key to understanding human nature.
Freud famously wrote there had been three great 'humiliations' in human history: Galileo discovering that the earth was not the center of the universe; Darwin discovering that man was not the center of creation; and Freud's own discovery that we were not as in charge of our own minds as we believed.
This attack on the idea of human free will inevitably brought damnation, particularly in America, and as a result the whole of psychoanalysis was painted as unscientific. Though Freud was an atheist, it was pointed out that psychoanalysis had taken on the aura of a religion, creating a whole 'culture of the couch' that Woody Allen so well satirized. Not only did Freudian therapy have too great a dependence on the psychoanalyst, there was a lack of standard procedures and verifiable outcomes, and little evidence of effectiveness in healing people. Neurology even discounted the idea that dreams could be linked to desire or motivation. In this climate, Freud was quietly bypassed on the reading lists of university psychology classes, and the number of professional psychoanalysts dwindled. By the early 1990s, Time magazine felt it appropriate to ask on its cover: 'Is Freud dead?'
Today, if you visit a psychologist or psychiatrist, you may not be asked about your past or your dreams at all; these are irrelevant next to cognitive psychology's proven method of changing the emotional state by changing one's thoughts. Yet today's practitioners too easily forget their debt to Freud's original 'talking cure' of listening to and analyzing the content of a patient's mind, and his insight that a person can be easily sabotaged by the irrational within.
In addition, recent research at the Royal London School of Medicine has lent cautious support to Freud's ideas on dreams. Brain scan imaging shows that they are not simply the by-product of random neuron firings; in fact, the limbic and paralimbic areas of the brain, which control the emotions, desires and motivations, are very active during deep sleep. Dreams are therefore a higher mental function related to motivation, although the jury is out on whether this proves Freud's theory that they exist for 'wish fulfillment'.
For a hundred years commentators have been telling us why The Interpretation of Dreams is important, but Freud best summed up the work himself when he wrote that dreams are "the royal road to the unconscious". Although endlessly fascinating themselves, what we really want to know is what has generated them, and why. In opening the door to the unconscious Freud seemed to provide humankind with another dimension of itself, and in so doing changed the intellectual and imaginative landscape.
150 years since his birth, can we be sure of saying anything definite about Freud's legacy? Perhaps the Viennese doctor's greatest contribution was to make psychology fascinating to the general public. While his analysis of dreams gave us new insights into the mind generally, it was the possibility he gave us of seeing into our own minds that made his ideas so compelling.
"The dream never wastes its time on trifles; we do not allow a mere nothing to disturb our sleep. The apparently innocuous dreams turn out to be pretty bad when we take the trouble to interpret them: if I may be permitted the expression, the dream 'wasn't born yesterday'."
Born as Sigismund Freud in 1856 in Freiburg, Moravia (now known as Pribor, Czech Republic), Freud was the first of five children of parents Jacob and Amalia, who had come from Western Ukraine. Wool merchant Jacob, 41, was on his second marriage, with two sons, and Amalia only 21. The family moved to Leipzig in 1859 and then Vienna a year later.
Sigismund's parents recognized his intelligence from early on, giving him an education in the Latin and Greek classics and a separate room to study in. He was set to study law at the University of Vienna but changed his mind at the last minute and enrolled in 1873 as a medical student. After graduating in 1881 he became engaged to Martha Bernays and worked at the Vienna General Hospital, specializing in cerebral anatomy. Later he worked under JM Charcot at the Saltpetriere Hospital in Paris, and with Austrian psychologist Josef Breuer, with whom he wrote Studies in Hysteria (1895).
After the death of his father in 1896, Freud entered a period of deep reflection, study and self-analysis, and began work on The Interpretation of Dreams. It was published in November 1899 but had '1900' printed on the inside. The following year The Psychopathology of Everyday Life was published, which introduced the world to the idea of verbal mistakes ('Freudian slips') that reveal the unconscious mind. In 1902 the first meetings of the 'Wednesday group' of like-minded Jewish professional men were held, and Freud was made a professor of psychopathology at University of Vienna. In 1905 he published Three Essays on the History of Sexuality and Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious.
Psychoanalysis grew into an international movement, with the first major meeting in 1908. The following year Freud and Jung delivered the Clark lectures in the United States, a country Freud was not fond of. In 1920, the Freuds' second daughter Sophie, pregnant with her third child, died in a flu epidemic. Writings from this decade include Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), The Ego and the Id (1923), an Autobiography (1925) and The Future of an Illusion (1927), which aimed to debunk religion. His long essay Civilization and its Discontents (1930), crystallized his ideas about human aggression and the 'death instinct'. With Albert Einstein he wrote Why War? (1933).
With the Nazi regime's annexation of Austria in 1938, and its banning of psychoanalysis, Freud and family relocated to London. A lifelong heavy smoker of cigars, he died of cancer in 1939.
In what we may term "prescientific days" people were in no uncertainty about the interpretation of dreams. When they were recalled after awakening they were regarded as either the friendly or hostile manifestation of some higher powers, demoniacal and Divine. With the rise of scientific thought the whole of this expressive mythology was transferred to psychology; to-day there is but a small minority among educated persons who doubt that the dream is the dreamer's own psychical act.
But since the downfall of the mythological hypothesis an interpretation of the dream has been wanting. The conditions of its origin; its relationship to our psychical life when we are awake; its independence of disturbances which, during the state of sleep, seem to compel notice; its many peculiarities repugnant to our waking thought; the incongruence between its images and the feelings they engender; then the dream's evanescence, the way in which, on awakening, our thoughts thrust it aside as something bizarre, and our reminiscences mutilating or rejecting itall these and many other problems have for many hundred years demanded answers which up till now could never have been satisfactory. Before all there is the question as to the meaning of the dream, a question which is in itself double-sided. There is, firstly, the psychical significance of the dream, its position with regard to the psychical processes, as to a possible biological function; secondly, has the dream a meaningcan sense be made of each single dream as of other mental syntheses?
Three tendencies can be observed in the estimation of dreams. Many philosophers have given currency to one of these tendencies, one which at the same time preserves something of the dream's former over-valuation. The foundation of dream life is for them a peculiar state of psychical activity, which they even celebrate as elevation to some higher state. Schubert, for instance, claims: "The dream is the liberation of the spirit from the pressure of external nature, a detachment of the soul from the fetters of matter." Not all go so far as this, but many maintain that dreams have their origin in real spiritual excitations, and are the outward manifestations of spiritual powers whose free movements have been hampered during the day ("Dream Phantasies," Scherner, Volkelt). A large number of observers acknowledge that dream life is capable of extraordinary achievementsat any rate, in certain fields ("Memory").
In striking contradiction with this the majority of medical writers hardly admit that the dream is a psychical phenomenon at all. According to them dreams are provoked and initiated exclusively by stimuli proceeding from the senses or the body, which either reach the sleeper from without or are accidental disturbances of his internal organs. The dream has no greater claim to meaning and importance than the sound called forth by the ten fingers of a person quite unacquainted with music running his fingers over the keys of an instrument. The dream is to be regarded, says Binz, "as a physical process always useless, frequently morbid." All the peculiarities of dream life are explicable as the incoherent effort, due to some physiological stimulus, of certain organs, or of the cortical elements of a brain otherwise asleep.
But slightly affected by scientific opinion and untroubled as to the origin of dreams, the popular view holds firmly to the belief that dreams really have got a meaning, in some way they do foretell the future, whilst the meaning can be unravelled in some way or other from its oft bizarre and enigmatical content. The reading of dreams consists in replacing the events of the dream, so far as remembered, by other events. This is done either scene by scene, according to some rigid key, or the dream as a whole is replaced by something else of which it was a symbol. Serious-minded persons laugh at these efforts"Dreams are but sea-foam!"
One day I discovered to my amazement that the popular view grounded in superstition, and not the medical one, comes nearer to the truth about dreams. I arrived at new conclusions about dreams by the use of a new method of psychological investigation, one which had rendered me good service in the investigation of phobias, obsessions, illusions, and the like, and which, under the name "psycho-analysis," had found acceptance by a whole school of investigators. The manifold analogies of dream life with the most diverse conditions of psychical disease in the waking state have been rightly insisted upon by a number of medical observers. It seemed, therefore, a priori, hopeful to apply to the interpretation of dreams methods of investigation which had been tested in psychopathological processes. Obsessions and those peculiar sensations of haunting dread remain as strange to normal consciousness as do dreams to our waking consciousness; their origin is as unknown to consciousness as is that of dreams. It was practical ends that impelled us, in these diseases, to fathom their origin and formation. Experience had shown us that a cure and a consequent mastery of the obsessing ideas did result when once those thoughts, the connecting links between the morbid ideas and the rest of the psychical content, were revealed which were heretofore veiled from consciousness. The procedure I employed for the interpretation of dreams thus arose from psychotherapy.
This procedure is readily described, although its practice demands instruction and experience. Suppose the patient is suffering from intense morbid dread. He is requested to direct his attention to the idea in question, without, however, as he has so frequently done, meditating upon it. Every impression about it, without any exception, which occurs to him should be imparted to the doctor. The statement which will be perhaps then made, that he cannot concentrate his attention upon anything at all, is to be countered by assuring him most positively that such a blank state of mind is utterly impossible. As a matter of fact, a great number of impressions will soon occur, with which others will associate themselves. These will be invariably accompanied by the expression of the observer's opinion that they have no meaning or are unimportant. It will be at once noticed that it is this self-criticism which prevented the patient from imparting the ideas, which had indeed already excluded them from consciousness. If the patient can be induced to abandon this self-criticism and to pursue the trains of thought which are yielded by concentrating the attention, most significant matter will be obtained, matter which will be presently seen to be clearly linked to the morbid idea in question. Its connection with other ideas will be manifest, and later on will permit the replacement of the morbid idea by a fresh one, which is perfectly adapted to psychical continuity.
This is not the place to examine thoroughly the hypothesis upon which this experiment rests, or the deductions which follow from its invariable success. It must suffice to state that we obtain matter enough for the resolution of every morbid idea if we especially direct our attention to the unbidden associations which disturb our thoughtsthose which are otherwise put aside by the critic as worthless refuse. If the procedure is exercised on oneself, the best plan of helping the experiment is to write down at once all one's first indistinct fancies.
I will now point out where this method leads when I apply it to the examination of dreams. Any dream could be made use of in this way. From certain motives I, however, choose a dream of my own, which appears confused and meaningless to my memory, and one which has the advantage of brevity. Probably my dream of last night satisfies the requirements. Its content, fixed immediately after awakening, runs as follows:
"Company; at table or table d'hôte.... Spinach is served. Mrs. E.L., sitting next to me, gives me her undivided attention, and places her hand familiarly upon my knee. In defence I remove her hand. Then she says: 'But you have always had such beautiful eyes.'.... I then distinctly see something like two eyes as a sketch or as the contour of a spectacle lens...."
This is the whole dream, or, at all events, all that I can remember. It appears to me not only obscure and meaningless, but more especially odd. Mrs. E.L. is a person with whom I am scarcely on visiting terms, nor to my knowledge have I ever desired any more cordial relationship. I have not seen her for a long time, and do not think there was any mention of her recently. No emotion whatever accompanied the dream process.
Reflecting upon this dream does not make it a bit clearer to my mind. I will now, however, present the ideas, without premeditation and without criticism, which introspection yielded. I soon notice that it is an advantage to break up the dream into its elements, and to search out the ideas which link themselves to each fragment.
Company; at table or table d'hôte. The recollection of the slight event with which the evening of yesterday ended is at once called up. I left a small party in the company of a friend, who offered to drive me home in his cab. "I prefer a taxi," he said; "that gives one such a pleasant occupation; there is always something to look at." When we were in the cab, and the cab-driver turned the disc so that the first sixty hellers were visible, I continued the jest. "We have hardly got in and we already owe sixty hellers. The taxi always reminds me of the table d'hôte. It makes me avaricious and selfish by continuously reminding me of my debt. It seems to me to mount up too quickly, and I am always afraid that I shall be at a disadvantage, just as I cannot resist at table d'hôte the comical fear that I am getting too little, that I must look after myself." In far-fetched connection with this I quote:
- "To earth, this weary earth, ye bring us,
- To guilt ye let us heedless go."
Another idea about the table d'hôte. A few weeks ago I was very cross with my dear wife at the dinner-table at a Tyrolese health resort, because she was not sufficiently reserved with some neighbors with whom I wished to have absolutely nothing to do. I begged her to occupy herself rather with me than with the strangers. That is just as if I had been at a disadvantage at the table d'hôte. The contrast between the behavior of my wife at the table and that of Mrs. E.L. in the dream now strikes me: "Addresses herself entirely to me."
Further, I now notice that the dream is the reproduction of a little scene which transpired between my wife and myself when I was secretly courting her. The caressing under cover of the tablecloth was an answer to a wooer's passionate letter. In the dream, however, my wife is replaced by the unfamiliar E.L.
Mrs. E.L. is the daughter of a man to whom I owed money! I cannot help noticing that here there is revealed an unsuspected connection between the dream content and my thoughts. If the chain of associations be followed up which proceeds from one element of the dream one is soon led back to another of its elements. The thoughts evoked by the dream stir up associations which were not noticeable in the dream itself.
Is it not customary, when some one expects others to look after his interests without any advantage to themselves, to ask the innocent question satirically: "Do you think this will be done for the sake of your beautiful eyes?" Hence Mrs. E.L.'s speech in the dream. "You have always had such beautiful eyes," means nothing but "people always do everything to you for love of you; you have had everything for nothing." The contrary is, of course, the truth; I have always paid dearly for whatever kindness others have shown me. Still, the fact that I had a ride for nothing yesterday when my friend drove me home in his cab must have made an impression upon me.
In any case, the friend whose guests we were yesterday has often made me his debtor. Recently I allowed an opportunity of requiting him to go by. He has had only one present from me, an antique shawl, upon which eyes are painted all round, a so-called Occhiale, as a charm against the Malocchio. Moreover, he is an eye specialist. That same evening I had asked him after a patient whom I had sent to him for glasses.
As I remarked, nearly all parts of the dream have been brought into this new connection. I still might ask why in the dream it was spinach that was served up. Because spinach called up a little scene which recently occurred at our table. A child, whose beautiful eyes are really deserving of praise, refused to eat spinach. As a child I was just the same; for a long time I loathed spinach, until in later life my tastes altered, and it became one of my favorite dishes. The mention of this dish brings my own childhood and that of my child's near together. "You should be glad that you have some spinach," his mother had said to the little gourmet. "Some children would be very glad to get spinach." Thus I am reminded of the parents' duties towards their children. Goethe's words
- "To earth, this weary earth, ye bring us,
- To guilt ye let us heedless go"
take on another meaning in this connection.
Here I will stop in order that I may recapitulate the results of the analysis of the dream. By following the associations which were linked to the single elements of the dream torn from their context, I have been led to a series of thoughts and reminiscences where I am bound to recognize interesting expressions of my psychical life. The matter yielded by an analysis of the dream stands in intimate relationship with the dream content, but this relationship is so special that I should never have been able to have inferred the new discoveries directly from the dream itself. The dream was passionless, disconnected, and unintelligible. During the time that I am unfolding the thoughts at the back of the dream I feel intense and well-grounded emotions. The thoughts themselves fit beautifully together into chains logically bound together with certain central ideas which ever repeat themselves. Such ideas not represented in the dream itself are in this instance the antitheses selfish, unselfish, to be indebted, to work for nothing. I could draw closer the threads of the web which analysis has disclosed, and would then be able to show how they all run together into a single knot; I am debarred from making this work public by considerations of a private, not of a scientific, nature. After having cleared up many things which I do not willingly acknowledge as mine, I should have much to reveal which had better remain my secret. Why, then, do not I choose another dream whose analysis would be more suitable for publication, so that I could awaken a fairer conviction of the sense and cohesion of the results disclosed by analysis? The answer is, because every dream which I investigate leads to the same difficulties and places me under the same need of discretion; nor should I forgo this difficulty any the more were I to analyze the dream of some one else. That could only be done when opportunity allowed all concealment to be dropped without injury to those who trusted me.
The conclusion which is now forced upon me is that the dream is a sort of substitution for those emotional and intellectual trains of thought which I attained after complete analysis. I do not yet know the process by which the dream arose from those thoughts, but I perceive that it is wrong to regard the dream as psychically unimportant, a purely physical process which has arisen from the activity of isolated cortical elements awakened out of sleep.
I must further remark that the dream is far shorter than the thoughts which I hold it replaces; whilst analysis discovered that the dream was provoked by an unimportant occurrence the evening before the dream.
Naturally, I would not draw such far-reaching conclusions if only one analysis were known to me. Experience has shown me that when the associations of any dream are honestly followed such a chain of thought is revealed, the constituent parts of the dream reappear correctly and sensibly linked together; the slight suspicion that this concatenation was merely an accident of a single first observation must, therefore, be absolutely relinquished. I regard it, therefore, as my right to establish this new view by a proper nomenclature. I contrast the dream which my memory evokes with the dream and other added matter revealed by analysis: the former I call the dream's manifest content; the latter, without at first further subdivision, its latent content. I arrive at two new problems hitherto unformulated: (1) What is the psychical process which has transformed the latent content of the dream into its manifest content? (2) What is the motive or the motives which have made such transformation exigent? The process by which the change from latent to manifest content is executed I name the dream-work. In contrast with this is the work of analysis, which produces the reverse transformation. The other problems of the dreamthe inquiry as to its stimuli, as to the source of its materials, as to its possible purpose, the function of dreaming, the forgetting of dreamsthese I will discuss in connection with the latent dream-content.
I shall take every care to avoid a confusion between the manifest and the latent content, for I ascribe all the contradictory as well as the incorrect accounts of dream-life to the ignorance of this latent content, now first laid bare through analysis.
The conversion of the latent dream thoughts into those manifest deserves our close study as the first known example of the transformation of psychical stuff from one mode of expression into another. From a mode of expression which, moreover, is readily intelligible into another which we can only penetrate by effort and with guidance, although this new mode must be equally reckoned as an effort of our own psychical activity. From the standpoint of the relationship of latent to manifest dream-content, dreams can be divided into three classes. We can, in the first place, distinguish those dreams which have a meaning and are, at the same time, intelligible, which allow us to penetrate into our psychical life without further ado. Such dreams are numerous; they are usually short, and, as a general rule, do not seem very noticeable, because everything remarkable or exciting surprise is absent. Their occurrence is, moreover, a strong argument against the doctrine which derives the dream from the isolated activity of certain cortical elements. All signs of a lowered or subdivided psychical activity are wanting. Yet we never raise any objection to characterizing them as dreams, nor do we confound them with the products of our waking life.
A second group is formed by those dreams which are indeed self-coherent and have a distinct meaning, but appear strange because we are unable to reconcile their meaning with our mental life. That is the case when we dream, for instance, that some dear relative has died of plague when we know of no ground for expecting, apprehending, or assuming anything of the sort; we can only ask ourself wonderingly: "What brought that into my head?" To the third group those dreams belong which are void of both meaning and intelligibility; they are incoherent, complicated, and meaningless. The overwhelming number of our dreams partake of this character, and this has given rise to the contemptuous attitude towards dreams and the medical theory of their limited psychical activity. It is especially in the longer and more complicated dream-plots that signs of incoherence are seldom missing.
The contrast between manifest and latent dream-content is clearly only of value for the dreams of the second and more especially for those of the third class. Here are problems which are only solved when the manifest dream is replaced by its latent content; it was an example of this kind, a complicated and unintelligible dream, that we subjected to analysis. Against our expectation we, however, struck upon reasons which prevented a complete cognizance of the latent dream thought. On the repetition of this same experience we were forced to the supposition that there is an intimate bond, with laws of its own, between the unintelligible and complicated nature of the dream and the difficulties attending communication of the thoughts connected with the dream. Before investigating the nature of this bond, it will be advantageous to turn our attention to the more readily intelligible dreams of the first class where, the manifest and latent content being identical, the dream work seems to be omitted.
The investigation of these dreams is also advisable from another standpoint. The dreams of children are of this nature; they have a meaning, and are not bizarre. This, by the way, is a further objection to reducing dreams to a dissociation of cerebral activity in sleep, for why should such a lowering of psychical functions belong to the nature of sleep in adults, but not in children? We are, however, fully justified in expecting that the explanation of psychical processes in children, essentially simplified as they may be, should serve as an indispensable preparation towards the psychology of the adult.
I shall therefore cite some examples of dreams which I have gathered from children. A girl of nineteen months was made to go without food for a day because she had been sick in the morning, and, according to nurse, had made herself ill through eating strawberries. During the night, after her day of fasting, she was heard calling out her name during sleep, and adding: "Tawberry, eggs, pap." She is dreaming that she is eating, and selects out of her menu exactly what she supposes she will not get much of just now.
The same kind of dream about a forbidden dish was that of a little boy of twenty-two months. The day before he was told to offer his uncle a present of a small basket of cherries, of which the child was, of course, only allowed one to taste. He woke up with the joyful news: "Hermann eaten up all the cherries."
A girl of three and a half years had made during the day a sea trip which was too short for her, and she cried when she had to get out of the boat. The next morning her story was that during the night she had been on the sea, thus continuing the interrupted trip.
A boy of five and a half years was not at all pleased with his party during a walk in the Dachstein region. Whenever a new peak came into sight he asked if that were the Dachstein, and, finally, refused to accompany the party to the waterfall. His behavior was ascribed to fatigue; but a better explanation was forthcoming when the next morning he told his dream: he had ascended the Dachstein. Obviously he expected the ascent of the Dachstein to be the object of the excursion, and was vexed by not getting a glimpse of the mountain. The dream gave him what the day had withheld. The dream of a girl of six was similar; her father had cut short the walk before reaching the promised objective on account of the lateness of the hour. On the way back she noticed a signpost giving the name of another place for excursions; her father promised to take her there also some other day. She greeted her father next day with the news that she had dreamt that her father had been with her to both places.
What is common in all these dreams is obvious. They completely satisfy wishes excited during the day which remain unrealized. They are simply and undisguisedly realizations of wishes.
The following child-dream, not quite understandable at first sight, is nothing else than a wish realized. On account of poliomyelitis a girl, not quite four years of age, was brought from the country into town, and remained over night with a childless aunt in a bigfor her, naturally, hugebed. The next morning she stated that she had dreamt that the bed was much too small for her, so that she could find no place in it. To explain this dream as a wish is easy when we remember that to be "big" is a frequently expressed wish of all children. The bigness of the bed reminded Miss Little-Would-be-Big only too forcibly of her smallness. This nasty situation became righted in her dream, and she grew so big that the bed now became too small for her.
Even when children's dreams are complicated and polished, their comprehension as a realization of desire is fairly evident. A boy of eight dreamt that he was being driven with Achilles in a war-chariot, guided by Diomedes. The day before he was assiduously reading about great heroes. It is easy to show that he took these heroes as his models, and regretted that he was not living in those days.
From this short collection a further characteristic of the dreams of children is manifesttheir connection with the life of the day. The desires which are realized in these dreams are left over from the day or, as a rule, the day previous, and the feeling has become intently emphasized and fixed during the day thoughts. Accidental and indifferent matters, or what must appear so to the child, find no acceptance in the contents of the dream.
Innumerable instances of such dreams of the infantile type can be found among adults also, but, as mentioned, these are mostly exactly like the manifest content. Thus, a random selection of persons will generally respond to thirst at night-time with a dream about drinking, thus striving to get rid of the sensation and to let sleep continue. Many persons frequently have these comforting dreams before waking, just when they are called. They then dream that they are already up, that they are washing, or already in school, at the office, etc., where they ought to be at a given time. The night before an intended journey one not infrequently dreams that one has already arrived at the destination; before going to a play or to a party the dream not infrequently anticipates, in impatience, as it were, the expected pleasure. At other times the dream expresses the realization of the desire somewhat indirectly; some connection, some sequel must be knownthe first step towards recognizing the desire. Thus, when a husband related to me the dream of his young wife, that her monthly period had begun, I had to bethink myself that the young wife would have expected a pregnancy if the period had been absent. The dream is then a sign of pregnancy. Its meaning is that it shows the wish realized that pregnancy should not occur just yet. Under unusual and extreme circumstances, these dreams of the infantile type become very frequent. The leader of a polar expedition tells us, for instance, that during the wintering amid the ice the crew, with their monotonous diet and slight rations, dreamt regularly, like children, of fine meals, of mountains of tobacco, and of home.
It is not uncommon that out of some long, complicated and intricate dream one specially lucid part stands out containing unmistakably the realization of a desire, but bound up with much unintelligible matter. On more frequently analyzing the seemingly more transparent dreams of adults, it is astonishing to discover that these are rarely as simple as the dreams of children, and that they cover another meaning beyond that of the realization of a wish.
It would certainly be a simple and convenient solution of the riddle if the work of analysis made it at all possible for us to trace the meaningless and intricate dreams of adults back to the infantile type, to the realization of some intensely experienced desire of the day. But there is no warrant for such an expectation. Their dreams are generally full of the most indifferent and bizarre matter, and no trace of the realization of the wish is to be found in their content.
Before leaving these infantile dreams, which are obviously unrealized desires, we must not fail to mention another chief characteristic of dreams, one that has been long noticed, and one which stands out most clearly in this class. I can replace any of these dreams by a phrase expressing a desire. If the sea trip had only lasted longer; if I were only washed and dressed; if I had only been allowed to keep the cherries instead of giving them to my uncle. But the dream gives something more than the choice, for here the desire is already realized; its realization is real and actual. The dream presentations consist chiefly, if not wholly, of scenes and mainly of visual sense images. Hence a kind of transformation is not entirely absent in this class of dreams, and this may be fairly designated as the dream work. An idea merely existing in the region of possibility is replaced by a vision of its accomplishment.
"Dreams Have a Meaning" is reprinted from Dream Psychology. Sigmund Freud. New York: The James McCann Company, 1920.