The Interpretation of Dreams | Study Guide

Sigmund Freud

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The Interpretation of Dreams | Symbols


Freud's Dreams

Irma's Injection

In Chapter 2 Freud analyzes one of his own dreams. He calls it a "specimen dream," like a botanical specimen in a laboratory. Freud uses this dream to demonstrate dreams fulfill wishes. It is not obvious what wish this dream could fulfill. Therefore Freud analyzes it.

In Freud's dream he and his wife greet their guests in a great hall. One of the guests is a former patient of Freud's, Irma, whom Freud had treated for hysterical symptoms. Other doctors had treated her physical symptoms. Freud takes Irma aside and says her lack of improvement is her own fault. Freud looks into Irma's throat. It contains white scabs and some strange, curly structures. The structures remind Freud of nasal bones. Two other doctors examine Irma: Dr. M and Freud's friend Otto. Freud and the doctors use medical jargon to discuss Irma's case. In the dream Freud thinks Otto should not have given her an injection. The needle was not clean.

Freud's dream is partly a distorted version of events from his real life. In real life Otto gave someone else an injection. In real life his friend Wilhelm Fliess has theories about a connection between sexuality and nasal structures. Most importantly, in real life a friend told Freud Irma was still not well. However, Freud believes a dream is more than a fun-house mirror reflection of everyday life. He shows this by analysis of his specimen dream.

Freud analyzes what he said to Irma in the dream: "If you still get pains, it's your own fault." This statement makes an excuse for Freud: "If [the pains] were her fault they could not be my fault." Freud interprets the dream as the fulfillment of a wish. In real life, he was upset to hear Irma was not better. Her illness cast doubt on his methods of treating hysteria. The dream fulfills Freud's wish to be a good scientist and good at treating hysteria. In the dream, Irma's illness is her fault and also Otto's fault. "Thus [the dream's] content was wish fulfillment and its motive was wish fulfillment," Freud concludes.


Freud has a dream in which he lies on an operating table, dissecting his own pelvis and legs. He says the self-dissection stands for the self-analysis he began after his father died. This self-analysis included writing down and analyzing his own dreams. This dream of self-dissection relates to a conversation he recently had. He jokingly said he had not yet written his own "immortal works." The joke revealed an anxiety about finishing his book The Interpretation of Dreams. In the dream he is working away on his "self-analysis," that is, he is busily dissecting himself. The dream fulfills his wish to finish his book, by showing him at work on it.

Old Man at Train Station

Freud dreams he is on the platform at a train station. An old man is there. His is either blind or he has only one eye. Freud hands the old man "a male glass urinal," an object a patient in a hospital might use. "So I am a sick-nurse," Freud thinks in the dream. He finds the scene humiliating.

As Freud analyzes the dream he recalls a scene from childhood. At age seven or eight he went into his parents' bedroom and urinated in front of them, into their chamber pot. His parents were shocked. His father said, "The boy will come to nothing."

Freud interprets the old, one-eyed man in the dream as a figure for his father. Later in life his father went blind in one eye due to glaucoma. In the dream the father is reduced to urinating in front of Freud. Handing the old man a urinal in the dream seemed humiliating. It actually fulfills Freud's wish to be revenged on his father.

Typical Dreams


Many people have dreams of flying. Freud calls these "typical dreams," because so many people have them. Other dream-books try to interpret flying as a symbol in dreams. Freud associates flying dreams with childhood memories. The dreamer has childhood memories of being carried, or of adults playing flying and riding games with them. A dream of flying fulfills a wish to return to these childhood memories.


Many people dream they are failing tests they passed in real life. Or they dream they are taking school tests again in adulthood, even though they have already graduated. Test-taking dreams are upsetting and full of anxiety.

Often people have test-taking dreams before some other important event, such as a business meeting or public speaking engagement. Freud says test-taking dreams fulfill a wish for reassurance. A test-taking dream shows the dreamer something they once worried about, which actually turned out fine. Freud says the dream's message is one of comfort, not fear. "Don't be afraid of tomorrow!" Freud imagines the dream saying.

Death of a Loved One

Many people dream of the death of someone they are fond of. If the dreamer does not feel sad in the dream, Freud says the dream stands for some other wish, unrelated to death. But if the dreamer feels sad as the loved one dies in the dream, then dreamer is wishing that person would die. The dreamer cannot admit to such a wish in waking life, so it appears in a dream.

Often the wish is a very old one, says Freud, and stems from childhood. Anyone who claims they never wished a loved one dead in childhood, says Freud, does not understand children. They are strongly attracted to the parent of the opposite sex, says Freud. For example, a young boy might want only to be with his mother, the source of comfort and nourishment. His father is like an intruder, preventing the boy from completely possessing his mother. "Children are completely egoistic," says Freud, and they are selfishly concerned only with fulfilling their desires. In such a situation the boy might wish his father were dead. Freud explains children do not understand the meaning of death. They picture death as meaning the dead person ceases to annoy them.

Childhood wishes never die, says Freud. Long into adulthood, alongside love one carries the memory of childhood rage. Thus when a man's father dies in real life, he cannot help feeling some satisfaction, says Freud, even as he feels real grief. In dreams these inadmissible wishes are covered up with sorrow. The dream of a loved one's death is experienced as sad. But something of the childhood wish for revenge remains.

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