Study Guide

Freud's Children in The Interpretation of Dreams

By Sigmund Freud

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Freud's Children

Sigmund and Martha Freud had six children together: Mathilde, Martin, Oliver, Ernst, Sophie, and Anna. All of them appear in The Interpretation of Dreams, but Freud doesn't always distinguish or identify them by name.

For instance, in the third chapter of the book, Freud recounts a number of his children's dreams in order to illustrate his argument that "[t]he dreams of young children are frequently pure wish-fulfilments"—that is, wish-fulfillments that haven't been disguised or obscured through mechanisms such as dream-condensation and dream displacement (3.1.10).

Although Freud doesn't assign names to the dreams he recounts, he does tell us the ages of the children who dreamed them. By lining up the dates of the dreams with the dates of each child's birth, intrepid readers can figure out which child was dreaming what.

For example, at eight-and-a-half years old, Mathilde dreamed that a new friend had become part of the family (3.1.12); at five-and-a-quarter years old, Oliver dreamed of climbing up to a lookout high on a mountain (3.1.11). Freud's other children dream of driving in a chariot with the legendary hero Achilles (3.1.15), taking a rowboat out onto a lake (3.1.14), and eating a feast of strawberries, omelet, and pudding (3.1.16).

In addition to describing his children's dreams, Freud also recounts a number of personal dreams in which his children play prominent roles. In one memorable example of a dream from his middle age, Freud dreams of one of his sons dressed up strangely in sports clothes and "a little cap"—a costume that makes Freud think of a seal (7.4.15). As Freud interprets this dream, he realizes that it expresses feelings of anxiety about his son's participation in the First World War. On top of that, Freud realizes that the dream also reveals his feelings of envy toward his son.

How's that? Although the thought of his son being killed in the war is understandably upsetting to Freud, the middle-aged father also envies his son's youth and "gallantry" as a young soldier (7.4.15).

Although Freud spends a lot of time in The Interpretation of Dreams discussing the hostility that sons can feel toward their fathers, this personal dream is one example of a very different kind of father-son hostility—that is, the kind that an older man might feel toward a younger and more active man.

As with the other family members, friends, and colleagues who appear throughout The Interpretation of Dreams, the Freud children's presence in Freud's own dreams tends to tell us more about our protagonist than it does about the children themselves. But unlike most of the other characters who are mentioned throughout the book, the Freud children also appear as active dreamers and wishers in their own right.

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