Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 3

By Sigmund Freud

Chapter 3

A Dream is the Fulfilment of a Wish

  • Freud begins Chapter 3 with a literary conceit. In it, he imagines that he and his readers have been walking through "a narrow defile" and now "suddenly emerge upon a piece of high ground, where the path divides and the finest prospects open up on every side" (3.1.1).
  • Freud admits that by concluding that every dream is "the fulfilment of a wish" (2.1.43), he has opened the floodgates to a tide of new questions, such as the following:
  • "[W]hat is the origin of the remarkable and puzzling form in which the wish-fulfilment is expressed?"
  • "What alteration have the dream-thoughts undergone before being changed into the manifest dream which we remember when we wake up?"
  • "How does that alteration take place?"
  • "What is the source of the material that has been modified into the dream?"
  • "What is the source of the many peculiarities that are to be observed in the dream-thoughts—such, for instance, as the fact that they may be mutually contradictory?"
  • "Can a dream tell us anything new about our internal psychical processes?"
  • "Can its content correct opinions we have held during the day?" (3.1.2).
  • Freud decides to set these questions aside for the time being.
  • Having demonstrated that his Dream of Irma's Injection fulfilled a wish, Freud writes that before he can move on, he first has to "enquire whether this is a universal characteristic of dreams" (3.1.3).
  • Freud begins by discussing dreams that "reveal themselves without any disguise as fulfilments of wishes"—such as thirst and hunger dreams in which sleepers dream that they are drinking and eating tasty beverages and foods (3.1.4).
  • Freud goes on to describe "dreams of convenience"—such as dreams where sleepers imagine that they're already awake and getting ready to start their days (3.1.5).
  • Freud then describes a number of wish-fulfillment dreams that have been dreamt by women he knows. For example, one woman dreamed that she was on her period when in fact she was pregnant. Freud interprets this dream as an expression of the woman's desire to "go on enjoying her freedom a little longer before shouldering the burden of motherhood" (3.1.7).
  • Freud moves on to a discussion of children's dreams. He argues that they are often "pure wish-fulfilments," uncomplicated by the kinds of alterations and modifications that appear in the dreams of adults (3.1.10). As examples, he recounts a number of dreams that have been dreamt by his own children.
  • After commenting on these examples, Freud remarks that he doesn't know what animals dream about, but he suspects that their dreams are wish-fulfillments, too.
  • Freud concludes the chapter by arguing that linguistic idioms can reveal a lot about "the hidden meaning of dreams" (3.1.19).
  • Freud writes: "on the whole, ordinary usage treats dreams above all as the blessed fulfillers of wishes. If ever we find our expectation surpassed by the event, we exclaim in our delight: 'I should never have imagined such a thing even in my wildest dreams'" (3.1.19).

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