The Interpretation of Dreams | Study Guide

Sigmund Freud

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The Interpretation of Dreams | Summary



The Interpretation of Dreams sets out to prove dreams are scientifically meaningful mental phenomena. Previously mystics have viewed dreams as having supernatural meanings, and scientists have viewed dreams as meaningless responses to physical stimulation. Freud claims dreams fulfill repressed, unconscious childhood wishes.

Chapter 1

Freud reviews the scientific literature on dreams, as well as philosophy, folk traditions, and ancient religious beliefs. All these writers have offered different ideas on what dreams are. Freud also considers the sources of dreams, in experiences and physical stimulation. He emphasizes disagreements and gaps in the existing literature, leaving a space for his own method of dream interpretation to fill.

Chapter 2

Freud analyzes one of his own dreams, using it as a "specimen dream" (an example). He dreams he and his wife greet evening guests in a large country house. A patient of his named Irma is among the guests. Several doctors consult about Irma, and one doctor proposes an injection. Freud interprets the dream by tracing the associations it brings up for him. He shows the dream fulfills his wish to be respected as a doctor. At the end of the chapter Freud wonders if all dreams fulfill wishes.

Chapter 3

Freud restates the question of Chapter 2 as a thesis: all dreams are wish fulfillments. This is his book's big idea and he announces it with great excitement. "We find ourselves in the full daylight of a sudden discovery," he writes. He gives examples in which dreams fulfill wishes in a straightforward way. A hungry prisoner dreams of a meal; a child denied an excursion to the mountains goes there in a dream.

Chapter 4

Freud discusses an objection to his wish fulfillment theory by showing how unpleasant dreams are actually wish fulfillments. He does this by making a distinction between the surface level of a dream and its hidden level. The surface or obvious part of a dream Freud calls the manifest content. Freud labels the hidden part of a dream the latent content. On the surface an unpleasant dream appears not to fulfill any wishes. But on a hidden level the unpleasant dream fulfills a wish.

Chapter 5

Freud considers what dreams are about and where these topics come from. The material and sources of dreams include recent memories, apparently trivial experiences, events in childhood and infancy, and physical sensations during sleep. He also discusses dreams many people have, such as dreams about flying or taking tests. Earlier Freud insisted every dream interpretation is unique. He now admits there are a few dreams everyone seems to have. He shows how these dreams also fulfill wishes.

Chapter 6

In this chapter Freud introduces his concept of the dream-work, by which he means all the processes that change unconscious dream-thoughts (or latent content) into dream-content (manifest content). One such process is condensation. The dream-work condenses many ideas into one image. The next process is displacement. Important latent dream-thoughts are disguised as seemingly trivial manifest content. The next process Freud calls the "means of representation." This is how dreams find a way to represent connections between ideas. Freud calls the next process secondary revision. In secondary revision the dream changes as the dreamer talks about it.

Chapter 7

Freud describes his model of how the mind works. His model is based on his investigation into dreams. He names the operations of the unconscious the "primary process" because it is chronologically older than consciousness and because the unconscious is the major, largest part of the mind. He calls the operations of the preconscious, which censors unconscious wishes, the "secondary process." Freud shows how unconscious wishes try to reach the conscious mind. Sometimes the unconscious wish becomes a neurotic symptom. Sometimes the wish is expressed in a dream.

Appendix A

Freud examines a dream that seems to foretell the future. If a dream can foretell the future, it changes Freud's theory of dream interpretation. A fortune-telling dream does not fulfill a wish. However, Freud demonstrates the seemingly supernatural dream is really the expression of a repressed sexual wish.

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