The Interpretation of Dreams | Study Guide

Sigmund Freud

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The Interpretation of Dreams | Chapter 6, Part 4 : The Dream-Work | Summary



H. Affects in Dreams

In this section Freud examines why feelings in dreams often do not match the dreams' subject matter. He uses the word "affects" to refer to feelings or emotions. He starts by recalling a point from Chapter 1: affects in dreams are real. Then Freud considers the situation in which the affect experienced in a dream does not match the dream-content. He says the reason is the censor has distorted the dream-content but has left the emotional content unchanged.

Freud then gives some examples from dreams. A woman patient dreams of three lions but is not afraid of them. The interpretation shows each lion stands for someone in her life she does not fear: her father (with a beard like a lion), her teacher Miss Lyons, and her husband's boss, who should be a big deal but is in no way frightening to her. For the second example Freud returns to the dream in which a woman sees her nephew lying in a coffin. She was not sad in the dream because the nephew actually represented a man she expected to see again.

Freud adds these dream affects can be displaced onto different dream-content. As an example he analyzes a dream of his own in which the dream-work displaced the intense latent content, a fear of death, onto an indifferent manifest content, the sight of approaching ships.

Freud then considers dreams in which there is not much feeling at all, or less feeling than in the latent dream-thoughts. He says the dream-work can cause "suppression of affects"—a thinning-out or dulling-down of feelings. He compares this to "the peace that has descended upon a battlefield strewn with corpses; no trace is left of the struggle that raged over it." In this analogy the struggle is in the unconscious, between wishes that want to be expressed and the psychical forces that don't want to let them out.

Next, he visualizes the release of affects as a physiological process; the affects have been spun off the dream-thoughts, centrifugally, and flung into the interior of the body. He then proposes a kind of law: "The inhibition of affect, accordingly, must be considered as the second consequence of the censorship of dreams, just as dream-distortion is its first consequence."

He gives an example of a dream in which the lack of affect "can be explained by the antithesis between the dream-thoughts." He dreamed of a kind of open-air outhouse, with a large wooden seat. The seat was covered with feces; in the dream Freud urinated on the seat and washed the feces away. He felt no disgust at this action.

In interpreting the dream Freud brings up associations with conflicting affects, pleasure and disgust. The dream-work took these contradictory feelings of pride and self-disgust and represented them in the dream-content's images (pleasure of heroically urinating, disgusting sight of feces). The important point is the dream-work suppressed the contradictory feelings.

Emotions in dreams can also be represented by their opposite, says Freud. This is another case in which the dream-work alters the affects. Ideas and relationships can be represented by their opposites in dreams, and so can affects. "It seems likely that this reversal of affect is brought about as a rule by the dream-censorship." Freud compares this to self-censorship in a social situation. Just as it is important in social situations to say nice things to someone you despise, it is important to display the appropriate affect. Nice words said in a tone of malice won't do the trick and it's the same for some dreams. In Freud's dream about his friend R., he felt affection for him although the dream-thought declared R. a simpleton.

Freud adds the dream-work finds this contrary affect lying ready-to-hand in the unconscious; the dream-work does not have to create the feeling. He then cites another example of contrary affect—a man laughs in his sleep, although his dream-thoughts of death would ordinarily make him sob.

Attention then turns to what he calls "hypocritical dreams," or dreams that accuse the dreamer of being a hypocrite or an impostor. He cites a story in which a successful man who had once been a lowly journeyman tailor dreams he is a journeyman again. Freud then recalls he also sometimes dreams of his days when he was being trained in a medical lab and achieving nothing much. Here the dreamer's life has pleasurable affects—those associated with success and renown—and the dream-content has emotion and feeling associated with a low station in life.

He proposes these "hypocritical dreams" might be an exception to the rule that dreams fulfill wishes. Perhaps they should be called "punishment dreams," he says. He considers they might be fulfilling masochistic wishes, however. In 1930, he adds a footnote stating that these dreams fulfill the wishes "of the super-ego." The super-ego internalizes the moral demands of society; it could wish to see the ego taken down a peg. This represents a later development in Freud's theory of the mind and an example of how The Interpretation of Dreams remained a work in progress throughout his lifetime.

Freud then discusses dreams in which the dreamer feels satisfaction on waking. He says in these cases something slips past the censor. He then gives a long example from waking life: Suppose he hates an acquaintance. When that acquaintance does something wrong and is caught, all right-thinking people feel satisfied at his comeuppance. But Freud, who hates this man, feels their satisfaction plus an extra satisfaction of his own, and in this way, says Freud, elements that produce the same affect can pile up together.

Freud revisits the "Non vixit" dream in which he annihilated the ghost of his friend P. by glaring at him. Freud reports the dream-thoughts had to do with his friend "Fl.," Wilhelm Fliess, who was about to undergo surgery. He felt anxious about his friend's recovery, and guilty and ashamed about not going to see him. "All of this combined to produce an emotional storm ... which raged in this region of the dream-thoughts." He then considers how Fliess is like his childhood playmate John: "My emotional life has always insisted I should have an intimate friend and hated enemy ... and it has not infrequently happened that the ideal situation of childhood has been so completely reproduced that friend and enemy have come together in a single individual."

Continuing the analysis of the dream, he says he found a substitute for the dead P. in his newer friend Fliess. But also having his friend P. appear as a ghost fulfills a not-so-nice wish to outlast his friends: "I've survived them all; I'm in possession of the field." Freud then wonders why the dream-work seems not to have censored this feeling of satisfaction. He describes a process like smuggling something past the censor: "other, unobjectionable trains of thought" connected to his friends made their way into the dream, and these pleasant feelings "screened with their affect the affect which arose from the forbidden infantile source."

Next, he considers the question of how waking moods affect dreams. If a bad mood has clouded a dream-day, perhaps this affects the night's dream. Freud concedes it might, but no more than as a physical sensation like the position of the limbs. The dream's meaning is still connected to wish fulfillment. He then makes a note about anxiety dreams, which he will take up later (in Chapter 7, section D).

I. Secondary Revision

In this section Freud discusses the fourth process of dream construction: secondary revision. In secondary revision the waking mind contributes to revising the dream, giving it more logical continuity and clarity. These changes serve to disguise the dream-thoughts further. Freud starts by considering moments when the dreamer makes a judgment about the dream during the dream: "the dreamer is surprised, annoyed or repelled in the dream ... by a piece of the dream-content itself." In this same category Freud includes moments when a dreamer says, while dreaming, "This is only a dream." Freud's initial explanation is something has slipped past the censorship. The censorship sends the message "it's only a dream," as if to cancel or take back a dream that has already found its way into consciousness.

Freud notes this means some parts of a dream do not come from the dream-thoughts, but from "some psychical function ... indistinguishable from our waking thoughts." He says this function is always active in dreams, and it can add or subtract content to dreams. This function "that is akin to waking thought" fills in gaps in the dream, smoothing it over, making it understandable. However, when this psychical function adds something to dreams, it prefers to use ready-made material. For example, it uses fantasies and daydreams the dreamer has already had and can also use unconscious fantasies of which the dreamer is not aware. Freud then makes a comparison between dreams and daydreams, finding many commonalities. Elements that have been added to a dream by "this fourth factor" are different because they make more sense than the rest of the dream, but they're fragile and easily forgotten. These easily forgotten parts of the dream are unconscious fantasies, says Freud.

Freud claims he has never been able to "pin down" an unconscious fantasy. However, he recounts a dream containing two opposing fantasies. A young man dreams he is at a restaurant. Some people come to get him, and one of them will arrest him. He says to his dinner companions he'll be back. They laugh and don't believe him. He is led into a room where there is a woman holding a child and someone repeats his name. Someone asks him a question to which he replies, "I will." Freud sees two fantasies. The first is a fantasy of arrest. The second is a fantasy of leaving his bachelor friends behind and getting married. The fear of what he might lose in getting married was transformed into a scene of arrest.

Returning to an anecdote from Chapter 1, Freud tells the story of the scholar Maury who was hit on the back of the neck by a piece of wood while he was sleeping, and later he had a long dream about being executed by a guillotine. The dream must have been called up after he was hit, but its length is confusing. How did he dream something so long and complicated in the instant of being hit? Freud's answer: maybe dreams speed up thoughts, but this secondary revision made use of an existing fantasy of the guillotine. Such a fantasy could be about ambition, symbolized by a tragic and revered figure of the French revolution, Danton. Freud adds the fantasy did not necessarily need to be played out in the dream, in full. The dream needed only to touch on or refer to the guillotine fantasy; Maury would still have the impression of having dreamed it.

Freud then considers whether secondary revision happens after the dream, as its name—secondary—suggests. He decides it does not; secondary revision is active from the start of dream construction. He adds secondary revision has "the least cogent [logical] influence on dreams" in comparison to the other factors of dream construction: displacement, condensation, and consideration of representability.

The part of the mind responsible for secondary revision is "our normal thinking," says Freud. This normal thinking wants dreams to be intelligible, and as a result, normal thinking gets almost everything about the dream wrong. So when Freud interprets a dream, he must leave aside things like continuity and clarity. If they are present, they probably come from secondary revision and thus are "of suspect origin."

Freud returns to a philosopher quoted in Chapter 1, Herbert Silberer. When very tired, Silberer has seen images of his own fatigue. He also has seen images of passing from the sleeping state to the waking state, such as an image of crossing a stream. Freud says these represent an intention to wake. He also says Silberer, being a philosopher, is inclined to self-observation, and this pervades his dreams.

Freud summarizes the book so far—"this lengthy disquisition on dream-work." He says he began with the question of whether dreaming is done by the entire mind or a special part of the mind. First, the question is badly framed, says Freud. Second, the answer to the question, whole or part of the mind, is yes, both: "we should be obliged to reply in the affirmative to both the alternatives, mutually exclusive though they appear to be." On the one hand, the dream-work is different from waking thought, "completely and qualitatively different." On the other hand, the dream-work does not create the dream-thoughts; it only rearranges them and gives them form, using displacement, condensation, and considerations of representability. Additionally a small part of the dream-work is the secondary revision, carried out by "partly roused waking thought." The dream-thoughts come mostly from unconscious wishes.


Freud's remarks on affect and secondary revision are typical of Freud's style of explanation. The dream-work does not change affects, feelings, and emotions—except when it does. Secondary revision happens after the dream slips past the censor, but then again, secondary revision is active throughout the construction of the dream.

This style of Freud's reaches a peak when he answers an either/or question with a both/and answer: Is the whole mind or a part of the mind responsible for the construction of dreams? Yes, answers Freud. Dreams are constructed by the whole mind and by a special part of the mind, even though, Freud admits, these seem like "mutually exclusive propositions." (Mutually exclusive propositions exclude or negate each other.) Freud's contradictory explanations are appropriate to the nature of the two objects Freud is examining: dreams and the unconscious minds that create them. The dream-work is contradictory and sometimes leaves affects unchanged, and sometimes does change them, draining the emotion out of a dream or representing it by a contrary affect. Freud also exhibits this contradictory style in his own emotional life: for him the same person can be "an intimate friend and hated enemy."

Freud seems to revise as he goes along, and he remains open to new evidence that might contradict what he has said earlier. Thus, late in the book near the end of Chapter 6, he abruptly, if briefly, stops insisting all dreams are wish fulfillments, even though this was his once-in-a-lifetime discovery. At least for a moment he considers there might be dreams in which the opposite is the case, "punishment dreams" that do not fulfill a wish. He reins the chaos back in by proposing a masochistic wish, but it is telling Freud seems ready to throw over his entire theory and welcome chaos in for the sake of staying true to the phenomena he studies.

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