By Matthew email@example.com
PART II - METHOD
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
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
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
--------. (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.