The Interpretation of Dreams | Study Guide

Sigmund Freud

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The Interpretation of Dreams | Prefaces | Summary



Preface to the First Edition

Freud places his work in the context of medical science. He links dreams to other "abnormal" mental phenomena, including "hysterical phobias, obsessions, and delusions."

He also discusses his choice of dreams to interpret. Dreams already reported in the scientific literature cannot be interpreted with his method. Therefore, his only choices are his own dreams and his patients' dreams. His patients' dreams, however, have "neurotic features" and are not typical. Freud therefore uses his own dreams as models for interpretation.

Preface to the Second Edition

This preface is dated 1908. Freud complains "the professional philosophers" have failed to reckon with The Interpretation of Dreams. He is grateful to "a wider circle of educated and curious-minded readers" who have taken his work seriously.

Freud remarks his book holds up well after a decade; he did not find much that needed changing. He did not change his theory of dreams and did not change the basic material, those dreams of his own he analyzes. He then reveals he wrote The Interpretation of Dreams in the wake of his father's death.

Preface to the Third Edition

This preface is dated 1911. The new edition is necessary, Freud implies, because of the growing interest in The Interpretation of Dreams. He remarks on "the advance of scientific knowledge." Since the first edition in 1900, he has published his theory of sexuality. His ideas about dream-thoughts and unconscious thoughts have also expanded.

Preface to the Fourth Edition

This preface is dated 1914. Freud briefly remarks on an English translation of The Interpretation of Dreams. He thanks his Viennese psychoanalytic colleague Otto Rank for his contributions.

Preface to the Fifth Edition

This preface is dated 1918. Freud remarks on two publications. The first is a Hungarian translation of The Interpretation of Dreams, soon to be published. The second is his own Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, which he describes as "more elementary" than The Interpretation of Dreams and as "an epitome" of The Interpretation of Dreams. (An epitome is a summary of a book.)

Preface to the Sixth Edition

This preface is dated 1921. Freud remarks the only changes in the sixth edition are in the bibliographies at the end, updated by Otto Rank.

Preface to the Eighth Edition

This preface is dated 1929. (There is no preface to the seventh edition.) Freud remarks his Collected Works have been published in Vienna. He notes several translations of The Interpretation of Dreams have appeared. In this edition two essays by Otto Rank, previously appendixes to Chapter 7, have been eliminated.

Preface to the Third (Revised) English Edition

The preface to the third English edition is dated 1931. Freud remarks on his lectures in the United States in 1909 at Clark College in Worcester, Massachusetts. The scholar who invited Freud there, G. Stanley Hall, also published the first English translation of The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud briefly remarks "much has taken place in the world" since the first edition of The Interpretation of Dreams, and "much has been changed in our views about the neuroses." The Interpretation of Dreams, however, "remains essentially unaltered." He says it contains "the most valuable" discovery he ever made: "Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once in a lifetime."


In the course of these prefaces from 1900 to 1931, Freud's emotions range from pride to resentment and back to pride. He is wounded when the scholarly world ignores his book. Writers are usually advised not to respond to their reviews, and Freud's example shows why. It is hard not to see him as petty when he writes in the Preface to the Second Edition: "In the majority of publications ... my own work has remained unmentioned and unconsidered ... If there were such a thing in science as the right to retaliate, I should certainly be justified in my turn in ignoring the literature which has appeared since the publication of this book."

Later in this preface he recovers from the wound to reassert his pride and reveal the personal backdrop to the writing of this book. He wrote it immediately after his "father's death—that is to say ... the most important event, the most poignant loss, of a man's life." After his father's death he undertook a self-analysis, which included writing down and analyzing his own dreams. In a way the admission of his grief makes Freud seem more vulnerable. But he is not making excuses for his book. His book is not worse for having been written under the duress of grief; it's better. The death of a father is not only a sad occasion, as he remarks later; it is also a liberating one. In Chapter 5, Freud remarks, "a son's grief at the loss of his father cannot suppress his satisfaction at having at length won his freedom." Unlike other liberated, fatherless sons, though, Freud analyzed himself. He considers this work of self-analysis as providing a foundation for The Interpretation of Dreams and for psychoanalysis.

In the final preface, the Preface to the Third English Edition, Freud remarks on his "valuable discovery." He says, "Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once in a lifetime." He could be referring to his insight that dreams fulfill unconscious, disguised wishes. He could also be referring to his insight that dreams illuminate the nature of the mind, especially the relationship between conscious and unconscious thought. In either case he saw his discovery as fundamental for humanity. In the Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, which Freud mentions in the Fifth Preface, he compares his discovery to those of Copernicus and Darwin. Each discovered something that was a blow to humanity's ego. Copernicus showed the Earth was not the center of the universe and Darwin showed humans were the relatives of other primates. Freud showed "each one of us that he is not even master in his own house, but that he must remain content with ... scraps of information about what is going on unconsciously in his own mind."

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