Electric Dreams

Freud and the Interpretation of Dreams 

Part II: Method

Matthew Parry 

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Parry, Matthew (1995 February 24). Freud and the Interpretation of Dreams -- Part II: Method. Electric Dreams 2(3). Retrieved July 31, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

By Matthew mettw@newt.phys.unsw.edu.au


When first looking at a dream it is very easy to see nothing but a quite silly combination of (seemingly) unrelated events and images. This sort of impression though comes mainly I think from trying to interpret the dream within our conscious experience. That is, to see many of the experiences in waking life, they would indeed be ridiculous. The fault with doing this is that in sleep there are no physical laws that must be obeyed, and there is no-one to whom we are communicating, so there is no need for particularly precise or easily intelligible expression. The dream is as free to express itself as the modern artist.

The first step to interpreting a dream is then to take a particular dream element and to freely allow your mind to form whatever associations come to you. It is important here that you don't reject any thought as being too trivial or especially for being so painful or repugnant that you feel it couldn't possibly be relevant. The idea behind this method of `free association' is that you know the meaning of the particular dream element unconsciously, and, by allowing your mind to wander around the dream element, you will bring up other associations to the latent dream thought that caused the dream element. By putting all the associations together you should be able to find the common link between them all and therefore unlock the latent thought behind the dream element.

To take an example from a young girl who was a patient of Freud:

She was walking across the hall of her house and struck her head against a low-hanging chandelier and drew blood. No reminiscence, nothing that had really happened. The information she produced in response to it led in quite other directions. `You know how badly my hair's falling out. ``My child,'' my mother said to me yesterday,``if this goes any further you'll have a head as smooth as a bottom.'' ' So here the head stands for the other end of the body. We can understand the chandelier, without any help, as a symbol: all objects capable of being lengthened are symbols of the male organ. It was therefore a matter of bleeding at the lower end of the body, which had arisen from contact with a penis. This might be ambiguous. Her further associations showed that what was in question concerned a belief that menstrual bleeding arises from sexual intercourse with a man - a piece of sexual theory which counts many faithful believers among immature girls.

Thank god for sex education. This dream throws up two characteristics of Freud's theory: first, there is the belief that objects which can extend, rise, grow larger, eject water or other liquids, come in threes etc. should all be taken as phallic symbols. This has led to the common misconception that Freud used a dream dictionary, but this is simply not true. The conclusions Freud reached about phallic symbols came from many years of getting the same free associations to the same dream symbols; we all share common experiences, and so it is not all that surprising that we should come up with common dream symbols. The great majority of dream symbols however can't be instantly recognized like this, and so the free association method is necessary for every dream.

The second characteristic of Freud's theory is that it was formed with the dreams of the neurotic, sexually repressed of the turn of the century, and particularly the hysterical adolescent petty bourgeois girl. The latter is something noticed by Freud himself, his theory being that the lower classes see sex around them as they grow up, especially those raised in the country who see the animals having sex. As a result they are less likely to become frigid from having their first sight of sex on the marital bed. Some have criticized Freud's method of dream interpretation for this reason, but I personally can't see any correlation between the types of dreams studied and the method of free association. It has worked for me in every dream I've tried it on, and my dreams are not overly sexually obsessed.

Freudian interpretation is therefore a simple one; allow your mind to wander free, and it bring up associations that revolve around the latent dream thought.


Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1995 February 24). Freud Bibliography for Researchers. Electric Dreams 2(3). Retrieved July 31, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams


Note: For the bibliophiles and researchers I've added this little supplement to Matthew's essay. If you have some favorite references about dreams from Freud or annotations to these selections, please send them in and we'll start piecing together a collective bibliography. -Richard

Freud, Sigmund. (1900/1953). The Interpretation of Dreams.Standard Edition, 4&5. London: Hogarth Press.

--------. (1965; first published 1900). The Interpretation of Dreams. James Strachey,Trans. New York: Avon Books.

--------. (1956). Delusion and Dream. Philip Rieff, Ed. Boston: The Becon Press.

--------. (1938). Dream interpretation as an illustration. In (Chap v). An Outline of Psychoanalysis. New York,NY: W.W. Norton.

--------. (1933). Dreams and the occult. In (Chap xxx), New Introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

--------. (1933/32). Revision of the theory of the dream. In New Introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis. Standard Edition, 22, 5-183. London: Hogarth Press.

--------. (1925) Some additional notes upon dream-interpretation as a whole. Standard Edition, 19, 127-138. London: Hogarth Press.

--------. (1923/1922). Remarks upon the theory and practice of dream-interpretation. Standard Edition, 19, 72-105. London: Hogarth Press.

--------. (1922). Dreams and telepathy. Standard Edition, 18, 197-220. London: Hogarth Press.

--------. (1914-1917). A metapsychological supplement to the theory of dreams. In Vol. 14, The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Standard Edition, pp. 222-235). London: Hogarth Press.

--------.(1912/1924). The employment of dream-interpretation in psycho-analysis. In Collected Papers, II. London: Hogarth Press.

--------. (1913a). An evidential dream. Standard Edition, 12, 269-277.

--------.(1913b). The occurrence in dreams of material from fairy-tales. Standard Edition, 12, 281-287. London: Hogarth Press.

--------. (1911). The handling of dream interpretation in psycho-analysis. Standard Edition, 12, 91-96. London: Hogarth Press.
--------. (1908). Creative writers and day-dreaming. In Charles Kaplan and William Anderson (Eds.), Criticism: Major Statements,3rd Edition, 1991.

--------. (1907/1906) Delusions and dreams in Jensen's Graviva. Standard Edition, 9, 7-95. London: Hogarth Press.

--------. (1901-1904). On Dreams. In Vol. 5, The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Standard Edition. London: Hogarth Press. 633-686.

--------. (1978; first published 1900). The Interpretation of Dreams. A. A. Brill (Trans.) New York: The Modern Library.

Freud, S. & Oppenheim, D. E. (1958). Dreams in Folklore. New York: International Universities Press, Inc.