Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Religion

By Sigmund Freud


Chapter 2

An example of this procedure is to be seen in the explanation of Pharaoh's dream propounded by Joseph in the Bible. The seven fat kine followed by seven lean kine that ate up the fat kine—all this was a symbolic substitute for a prophecy of seven years of famine in the land of Egypt which should consume all that was brought forth in the seven years of plenty. (2.1.3)

Although Freud didn't exactly set out to write a book that would challenge religious beliefs, many elements of The Interpretation of Dreams do just that. By dismissing "the old prophetic significance of dreams" (2.1.3)—that is, the belief that some dreams might be communications from a higher power—Freud develops a purely secular method of dream-interpretation.

Chapter 3

Other people who are attacked by thirst in the night may wake up without having had a dream; but that is no objection to my experiment. It merely shows that they are worse sleepers than I am. Compare in this connection Isaiah xxix, 8: "It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awakes and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite." (3.1.4)

Throughout The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud frequently uses scriptural references to support or illustrate his points. As in this example, he tends not to use these references for their spiritual meaning; instead, he uses them to make points about culture rather than to debate the finer points of theology.

Chapter 5, Section B

What I have in mind is a series of dreams which are based upon a longing to visit Rome. For a long time to come, no doubt, I shall have to continue to satisfy that longing in my dreams: for at the season of year when it is possible for me to travel, residence in Rome must be avoided for reasons of health. (5.3.9)

In Sigmund Freud's Dreams, Alexander Grinstein looks closely at Freud's numerous Dreams of Rome and argues that Freud's longing to visit the city was mixed up with many conflicting emotions about Judaism, Christianity, and the political and religious climates of turn-of-the-century Europe (source).

"When I was a young man," he said, "I went for a walk one Saturday in the streets of your birthplace; I was well dressed, and had a new fur cap on my head. A Christian came up to me and with a single blow knocked off my cap into the mud and shouted: 'Jew! get off the pavement!'" "And what did you do?" I asked. "I went into the roadway and picked up my cap," was his quiet reply. This struck me as unheroic conduct on the part of the big, strong man who was holding the little boy by the hand. (5.3.12)

This scene is one of Freud's most striking childhood memories. As he tells us, he "may have been ten or twelve years old" when his father told him this story (5.3.12). Although Jakob Freud seemed to be telling the story so that his young son could see "how much better things were now than they had been in his days," young Sigmund later finds himself comparing his father unfavorably to more "heroic" Jewish men (5.3.12-13).

Chapter 5, Section D

Let us consider first the relation between father and son. The sanctity which we attribute to the rules laid down in the Decalogue has, I think, blunted our powers of perceiving the real facts. We seem scarcely to venture to observe that the majority of mankind disobey the Fifth Commandment. Alike in the lowest and in the highest strata of society filial piety is wont to give way to other interests. (5.5.33)

The Fifth Commandment that Freud mentions here is the injunction to "Honor thy father and thy mother." What does Freud mean when he says that the "majority of mankind" disobeys it?

Chapter 6, Section D

It is true that I know of patients who have retained an architectural symbolism for the body and the genitals. […] For these patients pillars and columns represent the legs (as they do in the Song of Solomon), every gateway stands for one of the bodily orifices (a "hole"), every water-pipe is a reminder of the urinary apparatus, and so on. (6.5.11)

In this discussion of dream-symbolism, Freud throws in a reference to the Old Testament's Song of Solomon. In Freud's view, is religious symbolism the same as any other kind of symbolism, or does it have special significance?

He told me that on this occasion he had driven the exalted official into a corner and had asked straight out whether the delay over his appointment was not in fact due to denominational considerations. The reply had been that, in view of the present state of feeling, it was no doubt true that, for the moment, His Excellency was not in a position, etc. etc. (4.1.8)

In his "preamble" to the Dream of Uncle Josef, Freud explains that he recently had a visit from a colleague who had been recommended for an appointment as "professor extraordinarius"—an academic position that would be something like an assistant professor today (4.1.7-8). When Freud speaks of "denominational considerations" here, what he really means is "religious discrimination." His colleague's nomination was rejected because he was Jewish.

My Uncle Josef represented my two colleagues who had not been appointed to professorships—the one as a simpleton and the other as a criminal. I now saw too why they were represented in this light. If the appointment of my friends R. and N. had been postponed for "denominational" reasons, my own appointment was also open to doubt; if, however, I could attribute the rejection of my two friends to other reasons, which did not apply to me, my hopes would remain untouched. (4.1.16)

Although Freud's conscious thoughts about his nomination for a professorship took account of the anti-Semitism in turn-of-the-century Vienna, his Dream of Uncle Josef let him indulge in a different view of the situation. In the dream, Freud could cast off his concerns about the effect that anti-Semitism would have on his career in the form of telling himself that his friends had been passed over for very different reasons.

Incidentally, the situation in the dream of my removing my children to safety from the City of Rome was distorted by being related back to an analogous event that occurred in my own childhood: I was envying some relatives who, many years earlier, had had an opportunity of removing their children to another country. (6.8.31)

Freud makes this remark in relation to one of his Dreams of Rome. The dream gave rise to associations with scriptural accounts of oppression and specifically to associations with Passover and the historical flight of the Hebrews from Egypt (6.8.28-31). As in many of his Dreams of Rome, this dream expresses unconscious concerns about the status of Jewish families in Christian Europe.

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