Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 5, Section A

By Sigmund Freud

Chapter 5, Section A

Recent and Indifferent Material in Dreams

  • Having introduced the broad topic of the chapter, Freud rolls up his sleeves and gets to work.
  • Freud begins with a section on "recent and indifferent material in dreams." He argues that "in every dream it is possible to find a point of contact with the experience of the previous day" (5.2.1).
  • Freud notes that this assertion has already been proved by the Dream of Irma's Injection and the Dream of Uncle Josef, but he offers some additional—very brief—examples for those readers who haven't yet been convinced.
  • After providing these examples, Freud reiterates his argument that while dreams "can select their material from any part of the dreamer's life," there will always be "a train of thought linking the experience of the dream-day (the 'recent' impressions) with the earlier ones" (5.2.5).
  • At this point, Freud introduces his Dream of the Botanical Monograph as a specimen for further analysis. Here's how it goes: "I had written a monograph on a certain plant. The book lay before me and I was at the moment turning over a folded coloured plate. Bound up in each copy there was a dried specimen of the plant, as though it had been taken from a herbarium" (5.2.7).
  • Freud begins his analysis of the dream by noting that on the morning of the "dream day"—"the day immediately preceding the dream" (5.2.2)—he had walked by a bookstore and seen a book called The Genus Cyclamen displayed in the window.
  • As he traces a number of associations through his detailed analysis of the dream, Freud reflects that Cyclamens are his wife's favorite flowers and that he rarely thinks to bring her any. This thought makes him think of a story he liked to tell at parties. In it, a young man forgets to bring flowers to his wife on her birthday, and she takes his forgetfulness as a sign of his waning affections (5.2.9).
  • As Freud continues to trace his associations to the dream, he remembers that he once "really had written something in the nature of a monograph on a plant, namely a dissertation on the coca-plant" (5.2.10). This monograph had contributed to the discovery of the anesthetic properties of cocaine, though Freud didn't make that discovery himself. Instead, it was made by an acquaintance of his, Karl Koller.
  • This realization makes Freud remember that during the day after he had the Dream of the Botanical Monograph, he'd indulged in a little daydream. In it, he had imagined going to Berlin for eye surgery—but without revealing his identity. Freud had fantasized that while the surgeon would "boast once again of how easily such operations could be performed since the introduction of cocaine," he wouldn't give "the slightest hint" that he himself "had had a share in the discovery" (5.2.10).
  • Recalling this self-indulgent daydream helps Freud to realize that "the recollection of a specific event lay behind it" (5.2.10). Some years previously, his father had undergone surgery for his glaucoma. Between Freud, the surgeon (Dr. Königstein), and the anesthesiologist (Dr. Koller), the surgery had "brought together all of the three men who had had a share in the introduction of cocaine" (5.2.10).
  • This memory causes Freud to reflect that a few days earlier, he had been thinking about the discovery of cocaine. Then, he suddenly remembers that he had actually seen Dr. Königstein on the previous evening. Then, he remembers that while he was talking to Dr. Königstein, he had seen another colleague, Dr. Gärtner (whose name means "gardener"). Freud had complimented Dr. Gärtner and his wife on their "blooming" looks (5.2.11).
  • With all of these recollections coming together, Freud's analysis begins to reveal how interrelated thoughts about "gardens," "blooms," "plants," and "cocaine" all contributed to the Dream of the Botanical Monograph.
  • Freud's analysis doesn't end there. He now considers the "dried specimen of the plant," which looked like it had come "from a herbarium." This element of the dream makes him remember that when he was a young student at secondary school, his headmaster had asked the boys to clean the school's herbarium. Freud was given just a few sheets to clean, and they included plants from the Crucifer and Compositae families.
  • This memory makes Freud reflect that artichokes are part of the Compositae family, and that they are his own "favourite flowers." He also reflects that his wife often makes a point of bringing artichokes home for him, whereas he rarely thinks to bring her flowers.
  • Freud moves on to consider another element of the dream: the fact that he saw the monograph "lying before" him. This detail makes him recall that his friend Wilhelm Fliess had recently sent a letter in which he claimed to be able to see The Interpretation of Dreams "lying finished" before him (5.2.13).
  • As Freud considers another element of the dream—the "folded coloured plate"—he recalls that when he was a student, he was "enthralled" by the colored plates that came in medical monographs (5.2.14). He also recalls that when he began to publish papers of his own, he had had to draw his own illustrations (some of which were pretty bad).
  • These associations suddenly give way to another. Freud remembers a scene from his childhood in which his father had allowed young Sigmund and his eldest sister to destroy a book with colored plates. Freud can remember pulling out the pages "blissfully," "leaf by leaf, like an artichoke" (5.2.14).
  • Freud explains that there are clear connections between this happy childhood scene, his later love of monographs, and his self-proclaimed identity as a "book-worm" (5.2.14). He also recalls that his passion for books once got him into trouble: when he was seventeen years old, he ran up "a largish account" at a bookstore and couldn't afford to pay it back on his own. He had to turn to his father, who, as Freud says, "had scarcely taken it as an excuse that my inclinations might have chosen a worse outlet" (5.2.14).
  • This memory leads to another association, as Freud suddenly recalls that in his recent conversation with Dr. Königstein, he had discussed the fact that he was "being blamed for being too much absorbed in my favourite hobbies" (5.2.14).
  • At this point, Freud wraps up his analysis of the Dream of the Botanical Monograph.
  • As he sums up the meaning of the dream, Freud states that it shares something in common with the Dream of Irma's Injection. Both, in his view, are "self-justification" dreams (5.2.15).
  • Freud notes that the "manifest" content of the dream "related only to a single event of the dream-day," whereas the "latent" content of the dream revealed "a second source of the dream," which "emerged in another experience of the same day" (5.2.15).
  • As Freud examines the relationship between these two sources of the dream, he notes that "[i]n the manifest content of the dream only the indifferent impression was alluded to"—that is, the fact that he saw The Genus Cyclamen displayed in a bookstore's window (5.2.16). The dream's "latent" content, however, was more concerned with the second, more important impression that had shaped the dream—that is, the conversation with Dr. Königstein in which Freud discussed the fact that he was being blamed for spending too much time on his "favourite hobbies."
  • Here, Freud rejects the idea that dreams are simply trivial and argues that "our dream-thoughts are dominated by the same material that has occupied us during the day" (5.2.16). He adds that "we only bother to dream of things which have given us cause for reflection in the daytime" (5.2.16).
  • With this in mind, however, Freud is forced to answer this question: "Why is it, then, that though the occasion of my dreaming was a daytime impression by which I had been justifiably stirred, I nevertheless actually dreamt of something indifferent?" (5.2.17).
  • By way of answering, Freud reminds his readers of what he has already said about dream-distortion. It is because of psychic censorship that the "manifest" content of dreams is often trivial. In other words, the apparently unimportant nature of dreams' surface-level content helps to disguise the true meanings of dreams.
  • Freud calls this form of censorship "dream-displacement" (5.2.19).
  • Freud also notes that connections between the "manifest" and "latent" content of dreams are not always clear, and that they "may only be established retrospectively, in the course of the dream-work" (5.2.21).
  • Freud goes on to explain another quality of dream materials: the fact that "[i]f in the course of a single day we have two or more experiences suitable for provoking a dream, the dream will make a combined reference to them as a single whole; it is under a necessity to combine them into a unity" (5.2.22).
  • As an example, Freud recounts another of his own experiences—a dream inspired by two separate conversations that he had had in one day and that incorporated elements of both.
  • Freud anticipates another question related to the arguments he's proposing here, and he asks whether the "recent event" that inspires a dream needs to have actually occurred, or whether "an internal experience"—that is, "the recollection of a psychically important event"—can instigate a dream as well.
  • The answer? Yes, internal experiences can instigate dreams just as well as actual events can.
  • Freud states that his readers will be right to conclude that, in his opinion, there are no such things as "innocent" or meaningless dreams (5.2.31). "Dreams are never concerned with trivialities," he writes; "we do not allow our sleep to be disturbed by trifles" (5.2.31).
  • In Freud's view, dreams that seem innocent are really "wolves in sheep's clothing" (5.2.31).
  • As examples, Freud recounts a number of apparently "innocent" dreams that have been told to him by other people. These include women's dreams of buying vegetables at the market (5.2.32-34), having the piano tuned (5.2.35-36), breaking a candle accidentally (5.2.39-40), and packing a trunk full of books (5.2.41).
  • Freud's analyses demonstrate that all of these dreams have underlying sexual content that has been censored through dream-distortion.

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