You are on page 1of 25


Interpretation of
Dreams 1
Compiled by Dr. Inna Rozentsvit
The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
is a book that introduces Freuds theory of the
unconscious with respect to dream
interpretation. Freud provides an analysis of the
most common dreams and their meaning along
with an extensive discussion of dream
psychology and its role in psychoanalysis.
Culture and Dreams
Babylonians - saw dreams as messages from the
supernatural beings (good dreams came from the
gods, bad dreams came from demons).
Assyrians - saw dreams as omens. Bad dreams demanded
action, i.e. exorcisms. Other dreams were seen as "advice."
Egyptians -believed that the gods revealed themselves in
dreams, demanding pious acts, or warning of impending
Greeks -dreams were good or bad. Sometimes, a
treatment, or sleep ritual would be worked up to help
incubate good dreams. This "treatment" would include
abstaining from sex, meat, and drink. Dreams often told a
prophecy. Aristotle postulated that dreams may be
premonitions of an illness coming from within the body,
where some "unconscious" mind recognized early
symptoms, but the absolute sensation threshold had not
been crossed to alert the "waking self". (Sounds like he
was way ahead of his time) The Romans had similar
Hebrews -dreams were a vision or prophecy from a god
(keep in mind that we see monotheism emerging here).

Culture and Dreams
Hindus -dreams are prophetic, and the timing of the
dream will indicate how soon the prophecy will
come to pass
Japanese -dreams are sought as visions to help
answer questions that are plaguing the waking self.
Usually the answers come from ancestral spirits.
Muslims -dreams and astrology are closely related in
this culture. True dreams come from god, false ones
from the devil.
Australian Aborigines -the spirits from underground
rise and wander in the land of the living, and when
they pass through a mortal being, a "greater vision"
is momentarily acquired.. this would be what we call
a dream
North American Indians -hidden wished of the soul
are addressed and fulfilled in dreams. Visions can
also be sought after in the hopes of answering a
question or resolving a conflict.

Sigmund Freud and Dreams
Sigmund Freud is
considered by many to be
the reason for studying
dreams and the
unconscious in psychology.
His work provided paved
the way for others with
similar ideas to express
their beliefs.
Freud was classically
He was aware of the culture
of interpretation of dreams
since early civilizations (and
of the Dream Lore,), and
Freud's own theories were
"borrowed" from these
early civilizations.
His use of the Greek
civilization is very apparent,
as in his Oedipal (or
Oedipus) complex.

Freuds Theory of Dreams:
Freud's Questions:
1) How do dreams operate?
2)What mechanisms or structures account
for the creation of dreams?
3) Can we discern and describe a deep
structure that generates the infinite
production of dream material from a finite
set of rules?
4) Is there a grammar or syntax of dreams?
Rules for creating all dreams?
5) What is the significance of dreams?
What to they mean and what is their
relationship to our psychic lives?
6) Why are dreams so ethereal, why do we
forget them so easily?
Francis Picabia (1879-1959)
Collage: Kurt
Schwitters (1887-1948)
1. We have no direct access to the unconscious; we only have access to it by means of
its representations. These can take various forms, but the privileged form is dreams. This is why
Freud called dreams "the royal road to the unconscious."
Dream-texture, dream-logic as the closest approximation of how the unconscious functions
2. Predominance of visual representations.
Dreams, like other modes of unconscious representation (e.g. fantasy), tend toward the
pictorial, toward images, scenes that occur as individual elements without causal connections.
Dreams dramatize ideas; like playing a game of "charades" in which ideas must be acted out.
Unconscious knows no logic, no sequence, no "plot" = it may be a language, but it has no
syntax: just images arranged in a series.

The Visual
Character of
The Id, the Ego and
the Super Ego

Id (primitive) operates on
preconscious and unconscious levels
Ego (reality based)operates on
conscious and (some) preconscious
Super Ego (conscience, values,
morality) works at every level
Understanding of Dreams
Sketch of Freud's dream scheme from
According to Freud,
...dreams are disguised, hallucinatory fulfilment of
repressed wishes....
...dreams are not only represented current wishes,
but were also invariably expressions of wish-
fulfilments dating from early childhood....
if expressed in undisguised form, would so disturb
the dreamer that he would wake up.
because these wishes are unacceptable and
potentially disturbing, they are censored and

RULES for dream Interpretations:
do not trouble yourself over the manifest's meaning;
allow the dreamer to free-associate - to say whatever
comes to mind when he/she thinks about different
parts of the dream;
the hidden thoughts will appear on their own, we can
not rush them along

Psychoanalytic (Freud's) Theory of Dreams

Dreams and Meanings:
Dream interpretation requires that you ask the
dreamer what he/she thinks the dream means.
The first words out of their mouths are usually the
most telling.
There is no "quick reference" book to identify what
objects in dreams symbolize.
The objects undergo changes that only the individual
can gain an understanding of, and the psychoanalyst
can learn of through the "talking" cure.
There are obstacles that the patient's own
unconscious throws up to keep the meanings of
dreams hidden (remember, this is the function of
dreams according to Freud).
These obstacles can be in the form of forgetting the
content of a dream, being uncooperative in analysis,
censorship in what they do say about the dream, and
other forms of resistance.

Psychoanalytic (Freud's) Theory of Dreams (cont.)
Freud introduced the terms manifest content (to describe what the dreamer
recalled) and the latent content (= the hidden, true meaning of the dream).
This latent content could be ascertained only when the dreamers associations to
the images in the dream had been subjected to psychoanalytical scrutiny and
Types of Dreams:
1) Manifest content makes sense and has a coherent "plot"; its connection to
psychic life is clear.
2) Manifest content seems clear and connected (has plot), but meaning of dream
remains obscure.
3) Manifest content confused and chaotic, and there seems to be no discernible
meaning; interpretation apparently impossible. (For Freud,
most dreams fall into this

Manifest Content -------------------------------------------------------Conscious
Distortion -----------------------------------------------------------------Censorship
Latent Content ----------------------------------------------------------Unconscious
Structure of Dreams and Structure of the Freudian Psyche
Latent content = unconscious dream thought (wish).
Manifest content = form the dream takes in our conscious mind, our memory.
Distortion (or dream-work = the set of rules or processes that dictate the
translation of the latent content, the truth of the dream (the unconscious
dream thought), into its manifest content, its faade or its purified, cosmetic
form. (Freud Reader 147-148.)
Parallel between dream structure and structure of psyche:
If dream production moves from latent content, through distortion, to manifest
content, then interpretation reverses this process, undoing distortion in order to
arrive at the original dream thought.
Read more:
Freud described the mental processes, or dream-work, by which the
dream was modified and rendered less disturbing.

These processes included:
Condensation, the fusing together of different ideas and
images into a single image;
Displacement, in which a potentially disturbing image or idea is
replaced by something connected but less disturbing;
Representation, the process by which thoughts are converted
into visual images;
Symbolization, in which some neutral object stands for some
aspect of sexual life or those persons connected with it which
the dreamer would prefer not to recognize.
Freud Dreamers Dictionary
Freud found that many times, certain "items" of the real world, were represented the
same way between different people. Some of these "generalities" are listed here:
a house = the human form
if the house is flat (no balconies or things coming off the house)- it is a man
if the house has balconies, awnings, etc., then it is usually a woman
emperors and empresses = parents
Kings/Queens = parents
little animals/vermin = siblings
water = birth
journeys/travel = dying
the #3, umbrellas, sticks, poles, trees, (things that penetrate) knives, daggers,
lances, sabers, guns, pistols, revolvers, (things form which water flow) taps, water
cans, springs (objects that get longer) balloons, slide rulers, (things that defy gravity)
airplanes, and (animals) snakes, etc. = the male sex organs
pits, hallows, caves (things that hold things) jars, bottles, boxes, chests, coffers,
pockets, cupboards, stoves, rooms, (things that hold other things) mouths, doors,
gates, (things that represent breasts) apples, peaches fruits, and (others) woods,
shrubs, bushes, etc. = female sex organs
Intercourse (the act) was often found to be represented as dancing, riding,
climbing, or experiencing some violent act

Common Dreams
Interpretation of Dreams,1900
Dream of Irmas Injection
Freud's dream of "Irma's injection" introduced the process of dream
interpretation and, in a way, psychoanalytic technique as well. It is described in
the second chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams, "The Method of Interpreting
Dreams," and was reinterpreted many times by Freud's successors and
Early in the morning of July 24, 1895, Freud, then on vacation at the Htel
Bellevue, near Vienna, had a dream about one of his patients, whom he called
Irma. The manifest content of the dream can be summarized as follows:
Irma is not doing well; she has pain in her throat, stomach, and nose. Freud
examines her in spite of her reluctance and is disturbed, wondering if he has
made a medical error. He calls over his two friends M. and Otto, both doctors, for
a consultation. This results in an absurd diagnosis that involves trimethylamine .
Later in The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud provided a detailed account of this
dream that illustrated his approach to dream analysis. The analytical procedure
suggested by Freud begins by examining "day residues," events that occur during
the days preceding the dream and which, through association, can clarify the
dream episode and restore the identity of the protagonists.
Dream of Irmas Injection, continued
The interpretation is guided by the assumption that the dream is the fulfillment of
a wish, in this case, the wish to deflect responsibility for the fault onto someone
else, namely M. and Otto. Freud's friend Wilhelm Fliess, an ENT doctor, who played
an important part in Freud's self-analysis, appeared in the background of the
dream in connection with the anomalous appearance of turbinate nasal bones in
Irma's throat. In reality, Fliess had previously made a serious professional error in
treating one of Freud's patients, Emma Eckstein, leaving a bandage in one of her
nasal cavities after an operation, which had resulted in infection and serious
The interpretation of this dream was the beginning of Freud's self-analysis, which
he conducted primarily through analysis of his own dreams. He chronicled the
results of this process in The Interpretation of Dreams and thus introduced the
practice of psychoanalysis itself.
...One day I had a visit from a junior colleague, who had been staying with my
patient, Irma, and her family at their country resort. I asked him how he had found
her, and he answered, Shes better, but not quite well. I was conscious that my
friend Ottos words, or the tone in which he spoke them, annoyed me. I fancied I
detected a reproof in them, such as to the effect that I had promised the patient too

Dream of Irmas Injection, continued
That same evening, I wrote out Irmas case history, with the idea of giving it to
Dr. M, a common friend, in order to justify myself. That night I had the following
dream, which I noted down immediately upon waking.
Freud dreamed he was at a formal party in a long reception hall, and his patient
Irma was there. He criticized her for not accepting his interpretations, and said,
If you still get pains, its really only your fault. She said she was suffering
greatly, and Freud noticed that she didnt look well. He became alarmed that he
had missed a physical illness, and began examining her throat. Then he called
over his friend Dr. M to examine her as well.
By this point, Freuds colleague Otto was standing next to them, and after
declaring the Irma had an infection that eventually would pass, Dr. M. observed
that my friend Otto had given her an injection of propyl, propyls, propionic acid,
trimethylamin (and I saw before me the formula for this printed in heavy type)...
Injections of that sort ought not to be made so thoughtlessly....
Freud reports his free associations to the dream, image by image. These led to
his own doubts about his medical competence and newly-propounded
psychoanalytic theories.

Dream of Irmas Injection, continued
Other associations led to thoughts about supporters of his work, and others to
thoughts of getting back at his detractors. He discovered that trimethylamin
was an allusion not only to the immensely powerful factor of sexuality, but also to
the person whose agreement I recalled with satisfaction whenever I felt isolated in
my opinions. Freud concluded that :
The dream fulfilled certain wishes which were started in me by the events of the
previous evening. The conclusion of the dream was that I was not responsible for
the persistence of Irmas pains, but that Otto was. Otto had in fact annoyed me by
his remarks about Irmas incomplete cure, and the dream gave me my revenge by
throwing the reproach back on to him.
The dream acquitted me of the responsibility for Irmas condition by showing that
it was due to other factors... The dream represented a particular state of affairs as
I should have wished it to be. Thus its content was the fulfillment of a wish....

Day Residue
Regression from secondary process
(verbal) to primary process (pictorial)
Disguise and distortion of the wish
Free association to images
Interpretation of Dreams Involves:
Theory of Dreams
Manifest Content

day censor

Latent Content
( wish )
Example Dream
Last Saturday night, Tom went to a night club with a couple of his friends, and met
another friend named Horace there, who was out with his girlfriend Terry. Tom really
took a liking to Terry, and thought she maybe liked him, but he didnt even talk with
her very much because he was afraid Horace might notice his attraction to her and be
angry. He went home alone and lonely, and that night had a dream:
He and Terry were horseback riding through the countryside on a beautiful autumn
day. They stopped and spread out a blanket and picnic lunch under a tree, and were
just about to kiss when to his horror, Tom noticed that Terrys horse had wandered
onto a road, and a large truck was bearing down on him.
Tom leaped up, raced down to the road, grabbed the horses reins, and led it off the
road to safety just as the truck roared by. When he looked back, Terry and the picnic
were gone, and he found himself coughing in the thick smoky exhaust and dust left by
the truck. Then he woke up in a start.

Possible Interpretation:
Day Residue: Tom met & liked Terry
Manifest: Tom saves Terrys horse
Symbol: Horse = Horace
Latent wish: Get rid of Horace & get Terry
Defense: Reaction formation
Possible Deeper Interpretation:
Oedipal triangle?
Horse = Horace = father?
Terry = mother?