The Interpretation of Dreams

by Sigmund Freud

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Sigmund Freud

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Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) is universally considered the ‘‘father’’ of psychoanalysis, a term that he first used in 1896. Upon his father’s death, Freud began a process of intensive self-analysis, which resulted in the writing of The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). This ‘‘magnum opus’’ (as many have called it) puts forth Freud’s early theories of the unconscious, which he was to develop throughout the remaining forty years of his life. The Interpretation of Dreams includes extensive, detailed analysis of many of Freud’s own dreams, as well as those of his friends, family, and clinical patients. He asserts that, contrary to the current scientific opinion, dreams are meaningful and that though they often seem nonsensical and absurd, dreams actually function according to a logic and language different from that of waking life. It is the task of the analyst to ‘‘translate’’ the language of dreams, which resembles a form of ‘‘hieroglyphics,’’ or word-pictures, into everyday speech. Through this process, analysis of dream-content can reveal valuable insight into the workings of the unconscious mind.

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Josef Breuer
Josef Breuer (1842–1925) was an Austrian physician with whom Freud co-wrote Studies in Hysteria in 1895. Their findings were based on Breuer’s work with a patient, referred to by the pseudonym ‘‘Anna O.,’’ who suffered from hysteria. Breuer found that Anna O.’s symptoms were relieved after he put her in a state of mind resembling hypnosis and she described an early childhood experience that had brought on her illness. Anna O. called this process the ‘‘talking cure,’’ a term that Freud and Breuer adopted to describe their new method. By the late 1890s, Freud, in his characteristic way, found that his intense ten-year-long friendship with Breuer had cooled, in part due to differences regarding psychoanalytic theory. However, Freud considered Breuer, and not himself, to be the true father of psychoanalytic theory. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud refers to Breuer by the pseudonym ‘‘Dr. M.’’ in describing his appearance in the ‘‘Irma’’ dream. Freud had this dream the night after writing down the case history of a patient named Irma to present it to Breuer for further consultation. In the dream, Breuer appears with several colleagues who examine Irma. In this same dream, Breuer appears as a ‘‘composite figure’’ with one of Freud’s brothers; he makes the association between the two that ‘‘I was out of humor with both of them’’ for rejecting suggestions he had recently made to them. Freud concludes that the dream is in part a wish-fulfillment in which he portrays ‘‘Dr. M.’’ (Breuer) as an incompetent physician, thus reassuring himself of his own professional competence, which had been put into question (in his waking life) with regard to his only partial success in treating Irma.

See Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke

See Professor Ernst Fleischl von Marxow

Wilhelm Fliess
Wilhelm Fliess (1858–1928), a Berlin physician, was a close friend of Freud’s and an important professional influence. An unfortunate incident occurred in 1895 when Freud referred a patient of his, a female hysteric, to Fliess for an operation on her nose. Freud at that time subscribed to Fliess’s theory that the nose and the sexual organs were linked. Because of his own theory that hysteria was sexual in nature, he thought that by operating on her nose, Fliess might be able to cure the patient of hysteria. After the operation, however, the patient suffered from near-fatal nosebleeds. When a different physician examined her, he found that Fliess had accidentally left half a meter of gauze in her nasal cavity. This was quite an embarrassment to Freud, who nonetheless felt obliged to defend...

(This entire section contains 2363 words.)

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his friend’s professional competence. The figure of Fliess, referred to as ‘‘my Berlin friend Fl., ’’ appears in several of Freud’s dreams, as described inThe Interpretation of Dreams. One of these dreams is sparked by criticism in a professional journal of Fliess’s recent book. Freud, fearing professional criticism of his own work, has a dream in which he stands in for Fliess and the book critic is discredited. Freud’s dream is thus a wish-fulfillment that those who may come to criticize him professionally are unfounded in their opinions. Freud uses this as an example to demonstrate that ‘‘there is no dream that is not prompted by egoistic movies.’’ In this dream, for example, the dreamer (Freud) ‘‘makes my friend’s case my own.’’ Another dream is sparked by Freud’s concern that Fliess may soon die as the result of a recent operation. The dream recalls associations with a past habit on the part of Freud of arriving late to work. In Fliess’s case, Freud fears he may arrive in Berlin (where Fliess lives) ‘‘too late’’—that Fliess will already be dead. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1877–1904, edited by Jeffrey Masson, was published in 1985.

Amalia Freud
Amalia (maiden name Nathansohn) Freud (1835–1930) was Freud’s mother. In The Interpretation of Dreams, he describes a dream in which one figure, a woman in a kitchen rubbing dough between her hands to make dumplings, evokes associations with his mother. In another dream, from age seven or eight, he dreamed that his mother had died. In these dreams, his mother is associated with both nourishment and death. Freud’s strong childhood attachment to his mother and his corresponding feelings of jealousy toward his father became the basis of his theory of the Oedipus complex, one of the fundamental theories of psychoanalysis.

Anna Freud
Anna Freud (1895–1982) was Freud’s youngest child. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud describes a dream from Anna’s second year of life. She had gotten sick in the morning and was given nothing more to eat for the rest of the day. Her nurse had attributed the illness to eating too many strawberries. That night, Anna was heard to utter in her sleep: ‘‘Anna F[r]eud, strawberry, wild strawberry, scrambled eggs, mash.’’ Freud observed that this was clearly the expression of a wish-fulfillment on the part of the child, who had been denied food of any kind and strawberries in particular: ‘‘the menu no doubt included everything that would have seemed to her a desirable meal.’’ Having been told that she had eaten too many strawberries, Freud notes, ‘‘she took her revenge in her dream for this annoying report.’’ As an adult, Anna maintained a very close relationship with her father, becoming his constant companion toward the end of his life. She also made a name for herself as a psychoanalyst in her own right, pioneering in the fields of child and adolescent psychology. From 1925 to 1928, she served as chairman of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. In 1938, she fled Nazi-occupied Vienna with the Freud family to settle in England. In 1947, she founded the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic in London, serving as director from 1952 until her death in 1982. Anna Freud: A Biography, by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, was published in 1988.

Jacob Freud
Jacob Freud (1815–1896) was Freud’s father. Freud’s process of mourning his father’s death in 1896 inspired the years of self-analysis that resulted in the writing of The Interpretation of Dreams. Throughout the book, Freud mentions several dreams that include either direct or indirect associations with his father. In many of these dreams, Freud expresses concern that he impress his father with his professional accomplishments. Freud recalls that his father had once said to his mother of the young Sigmund, ‘‘nothing will come of the boy’’ (as in, he will never amount to anything). He explains the impact of such a comment on his unconscious mind:

It must have been a terrible blow to my ambition, for allusions to this scene occur in my dreams again and again and are invariably connected with enumerations of my successes and achievements, as though I wanted to say: ‘You see, something did come of me.’

Freud’s early childhood attachment to his mother and his consequent jealousy toward his father became the basis of one of his fundamental theories of psychoanalysis: the Oedipus complex. Freud drew from the Greek myth of Oedipus, who, as ordained by fate, unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother. Freud theorized that a universal developmental stage for all (male) children is the feeling of strong sexual attachment to the mother and a corresponding desire to kill the father, whom he sees as his arch rival.

Joseph Freud
Joseph Freud was Freud’s uncle. Freud had negative associations with his uncle, who was imprisoned in 1866 in connection with counterfeit money. He recalls that his father had always told him his uncle Joseph ‘‘had never been a bad man, he had been a numbskull.’’ Freud describes a dream in which his uncle Joseph appears as a ‘‘composite figure’’ with two of his colleagues. He concludes that this association served the function of identifying one of these colleagues as a ‘‘criminal’’ and the other as a ‘‘numbskull’’ (although Freud makes clear that, in his waking life, he has nothing but the highest regard for both men).

Martha Freud
Martha (maiden name Bernays) Freud (1861–1951) was Freud’s wife, whom he married in 1886 and with whom he had six children. Freud describes several of his dreams that call to mind associations with Martha. In one dream, his patient, Irma, suffers from abdominal pains, which remind him of a symptom suffered by his wife long ago. He observes that this dream included many indications suggesting his concern for the health of his friends, patients, and family. In one of Freud’s most famous examples of his own dreams, a simple scenario in which he has just written a monograph on a certain unspecified plant, Freud is able to connect this reference to the plant cyclamen, which is his wife’s favorite flower. He notes that reference to this flower gives him a sense of guilt because he rarely brings flowers to his wife although she would like it if he did.

Martin Freud
Martin Freud was Freud’s second child and eldest son, born in 1889. Freud mentions a dream of Martin’s, when he was eight years old, in which, having read stories from Greek mythology the previous day, he dreamed he was ‘‘riding in a chariot with Achilles, and Diomedes was the charioteer.’’ Freud uses this as an example of the way in which children’s dreams can be interpreted as simple wish-fulfillments. Martin Freud’s Sigmund Freud: Man and Father was published in 1958.

Mathilde Freud
Mathilde Freud was Freud’s eldest child, born in 1887. He describes two of Mathilde’s childhood dreams in a discussion that demonstrates the simple wish-fulfillments expressed in the dreams of children. Mathilde is further mentioned in Freud’s discussion of his important dream featuring a patient of his named Irma. By association, the dream calls to mind his daughter Mathilde in two different ways: an illness observed in Irma in the dream resembles an illness suffered by Mathilde several years earlier; the name Mathilde also calls to mind a patient of Freud’s by the same name whose treatment he had handled badly.

Oliver Freud
Oliver Freud was Freud’s third child, born in 1891, whom he named after the famous English statesman Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658). Freud mentions an indirect reference to Oliver in a dream concerning his own ambitious nature. He had named this son after ‘‘a great figure in history who had attracted me powerfully when I was a boy.’’ He explains that his own aspirations to greatness were transferred onto Oliver with the act of naming him after a ‘‘great figure in history.’’ Freud comments, ‘‘It is not difficult to see how the vaulting ambition which the father has suppressed is transferred in his thoughts onto his children.’’

Freud’s nephew is referred to in The Interpretation of Dreams simply as John. Although John was Freud’s nephew, he was a year older than Freud, and the two had been constant playmates throughout their childhood. Freud mentions John in describing a dream that makes reference to ‘‘very early scenes of the childhood quarrels’’ between the two boys. He describes his ‘‘complicated infantile relationship’’ to John as one which became a template for his later relationships, both personal and professional, to other men:

Until I was almost four we had been inseparable, had loved each other and fought each other; and this childhood relationship has been decisive . . . for all my later feelings for companions of my own age.

Freud’s assessment of the effect of his relationship with John on later relations is that ‘‘all my friends are in some sense incarnations of this first figure.’’ He elaborates upon this dynamic:

An intimate friend and a hated foe have always been necessary to my emotional life; I have always been able to create for myself afresh embodiments of both, and not infrequently my childhood ideal went so far that friend and foe coincided in one person—no longer at the same time, of course, or switching repeatedly from one to the other, which was probably the case in my earliest childhood years.

Biographers frequently refer to this dynamic in Freud’s life, particularly in discussion of his famous irrevocable falling-out with his once intimate friend and devoted disciple Carl Jung. A similar dynamic was enacted in Freud’s relationship to friend and colleague Josef Breuer.

Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke
Ernst Brücke (1819–1892) was a German professor of physiology at the University of Vienna from 1849 to 1891. While in medical school, Freud worked in Brücke’s physiological laboratory and through him was influenced by the work of Hermann von Helmholtz. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud describes one of his dreams, which takes place in Brücke’s laboratory where Freud has been assigned the task of dissecting his own pelvis. Upon analysis, Freud associates the dissection of his pelvis with the process of self-analysis, which resulted in the writing of The Interpretation of Dreams. The dream also calls to mind an occasion when he was a student and Brücke reprimanded him for arriving late to the laboratory several times. Freud concludes that the dream is in part a wish-fulfillment that he submit his book for publication before it is too ‘‘late’’—that is, before he grows old and dies.

Professor Ernst Fleischl von Marxow
Ernst Fleischl (1846–1891) was a close friend of Freud’s. His death from cocaine addiction was both personally painful and professionally embarrassing to Freud for several reasons. One of Freud’s earliest scientific accomplishments was the discovery that cocaine could be used as an anaesthetic, a finding that he published in 1884 (before anyone realized that cocaine use is both habit forming and unhealthy). Freud had encouraged Fleischl to use cocaine (instead of morphine to which Fleischl was already addicted) as a painkiller to alleviate his health problems. Fleischl subsequently developed an addiction to cocaine, which eventually led to his death. Freud mentions several dreams in which Fleischl appears, either directly or by association. In a dream that includes several references to food and nourishment, Freud associates the name Fleischl with the German word fleisch, meaning ‘‘flesh’’ or ‘‘meat.’’ In another dream, Fleischl appears in a laboratory where Freud studies among several colleagues. In the dream, these colleagues are acknowledged to be dead.




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