The Interpretation of Dreams Themes

Themes

The Unconscious
Freud makes an important distinction between the conscious and the unconscious mind. The concept of the ‘‘unconscious’’ was not itself Freud’s invention and had already been in use at the time of his writing. However, Freud developed his theory of the unconscious far beyond any previous understanding of it. He makes a distinction between ‘‘manifest,’’ or conscious, dream content—the surface- level content of the dream, which can be described by the dreamer upon waking—and the ‘‘latent,’’ or unconscious, ‘‘dream thoughts,’’ which are only revealed upon analysis. He demonstrates that, through dream analysis, it is possible to access the workings of the unconscious mind, which is less accessible in the waking thought process.

Childhood Experiences
One of Freud’s original insights was his assertion of the importance of early childhood experiences on the unconscious mind, as expressed in dream thoughts. He observed that, while dreams draw manifest material from the ‘‘remnants’’ of the previous day, this material could always be linked back to associations drawn from early childhood. More specifically, Freud asserted that the wishes expressed through dreams are always rooted in infantile desires that have been repressed and yet remain an active part of the unconscious psychical life of the adult. Thus, childhood experiences play a significant role in the unconscious mind of the adult dreamer. For example, in analyzing his own dreams, Freud recalled significant events from his childhood, including interactions with his mother and father, as well as a formative friendship with his nephew (who was a year older than he) during his youth.

Psychoanalysis: The ‘‘Talking Cure’’
The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) followed Freud’s book Studies in Hysteria (1895), which was co-written with Josef Breuer. In Studies in Hysteria, Freud and Breuer put forth their findings that patients suffering from hysteria experienced some relief from their symptoms through a method one patient (given the pseudonym ‘‘Anna O.’’ ) termed the ‘‘talking cure.’’ In a hypnotic-like state, the patients in these case...

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