Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 5, Section B

By Sigmund Freud

Chapter 5, Section B

Infantile Material as a Source of Dreams

  • Freud begins this section by reminding readers that some dreams make use of "impressions which date back to earliest childhood" and "which seem not to be accessible to waking memory" (5.3.1).
  • Freud admits that it can be difficult to know for sure when certain impressions actually stem from childhood, but he cites a number of examples in which this is certainly the case. For instance, he writes:
  • "A physician in his thirties told me that from the earliest days of his childhood to the present time a yellow lion frequently appeared in his dreams; he was able to give a minute description of it. This lion out of his dreams made its appearance one day in bodily form, as a china ornament that had long disappeared. The young man then learnt from his mother that this object had been his favourite toy during his early childhood, though he himself had forgotten the fact" (5.3.3).
  • Freud notes that both the "manifest" and the "latent" content of dreams can contain impressions from childhood, and he offers some brief examples to support this statement. For instance, he points back to his own Dream of the Botanical Monograph, in which one of his earliest childhood memories (the scene in which he and his sister tore a book apart "leaf by leaf, like an artichoke") influenced the "latent" content of the dream.
  • Freud also reminds readers that in some dreams, the "latent" content expresses and fulfills a wish that "is derived from childhood" (5.3.6). In these cases, he writes, "we find the child and the child's impulses still living on in the dream" (5.3.6).
  • Freud returns to his Dream of Uncle Josef in order to illustrate some of these points.
  • Freud begins by confessing that the dream "showed a pathological ambition which I did not recognize in myself and which I believed was alien to me" (5.3.7). Since he is not used to thinking of himself as such an ambitious man, Freud searches for the origin of the ambitiousness that inspired the dream.
  • This search leads Freud to remember a story that he had been told many times in his childhood. It seems that when he was born, a peasant woman had told his mother that she had "brought a great man into the world" (5.3.8).
  • Freud then remembers another childhood experience, in which a poet at a restaurant told him that he would probably be a Cabinet Minister when he grew up (5.3.8). This memory makes Freud realize that by representing his colleagues as simpletons and criminals in the Dream of Uncle Josef, he was in fact treating them as the Minister of Education had done in real life (by refusing them positions because they were Jewish).
  • "I was behaving as though I were the Minister," Freud writes: "I had put myself in the Minister's place. […] He had refused to appoint me professor extraordinarius and I had retaliated in the dream by stepping into his shoes" (5.3.8).
  • Freud searches for more examples like these in another series of his own dreams—dreams that were "based upon a longing to visit Rome" (5.3.9). In all of these dreams, Freud is able to trace associations that lead back to various childhood memories and impressions, many of which are related to political relationships between Jewish and Christian people and to young Sigmund's experiences on the receiving end of anti-Semitism.
  • Freud goes on to note that adult dreams rarely reproduce entire memories from childhood—that is, memories that haven't been shortened or modified (5.3.15). However, he also says that he has heard of some dreams where this has happened, and so he provides a number of brief examples from his patients' records (5.3.15-26).
  • After providing these examples, Freud turns again to examples from his own dream-life.
  • The first of the personal dreams that Freud recounts is his Dream of the Three Fates. It begins in the following way:
  • "I went into a kitchen in search of some pudding. Three women were standing in it; one of them was the hostess of the inn and was twisting something about in her hand, as though she was making Knödel. She answered that I must wait until she was ready. (These were not definite spoken words.) I felt impatient and went off with a sense of injury. I put on an overcoat. But the first I tried on was too long for me. I took it off, and was rather surprised to find that it was trimmed with fur" (5.3.29).
  • The dream continues on from there and includes a number of scenes that relate to Freud's adult life. By interpreting the dream closely, Freud also unearths a number of childhood impressions that have contributed to the dream—among them, going into the kitchen as a child and being told by his mother that he "must wait till dinner was ready" (5.3.30).
  • Before Freud turns to the next dream, he prefaces it with a long "preamble." As he tells us, one summer, he was preparing to board a train. As he stood on the platform, he saw a prominent politician board another train without showing a ticket (a sign of his rank and privilege). Freud idled on the platform, humming a revolutionary tune from Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro.
  • As Freud waited on the platform, he saw another gentleman—"a Government invigilator at medical examinations"—try to weasel his way into a better compartment "in virtue of his official position" (5.3.34). His demands were granted, and Freud was annoyed: he had paid full price for his own ticket and was frustrated to see privileged men wielding their rank and power so shamelessly.
  • When he boarded the train, Freud was given a compartment that had no access to a bathroom. He complained to a railway official but wasn't given a better compartment. Freud says that he took "revenge" by complaining that the official "should at all events have a hole made in the floor of the compartment to meet the possible needs of passengers" (5.3.34).
  • In the wee hours of the morning, Freud woke up "with a pressing need to micturate," having had a dream that begins like this:
  • "A crowd of people, a meeting of students.—A count (Thun or Taaffe) was speaking. He was challenged to say something about the Germans, and declared with a contemptuous gesture that their favourite flower was colt's foot, and put some sort of dilapidated leaf—or rather the crumpled skeleton of a leaf—into his buttonhole. I fired up—so I fired up, though I was surprised at my taking such an attitude" (5.3.34-35).
  • The dream is a long one, and it continues for some time. In it, Freud also passes through a ceremonial hall in a university, then heads to a train station. He boards a train alone, but, sometime later in the dream, finds himself "in front of the station" once more, "in the company of an elderly gentleman"(5.3.36-38).
  • Freud writes: "I thought of a plan for remaining unrecognized; and then saw that this plan had already been put into effect. It was as though thinking and experiencing were one and the same thing. He appeared to be blind, at all events with one eye, and I handed him a male glass urinal […]. So I was a sick-nurse and had to give him the urinal because he was blind" (5.3.36-38).
  • Freud spends a long time interpreting this dream, and his analysis reveals multiple elements that relate to his adult life. He also discovers a number of impressions from his early childhood.
  • The most important of these impressions is a memory of a night in which Freud—at "seven or eight years old"—committed a social faux pas. Before going to sleep, he used the chamber pot in his parents' bedroom while they were present. His father said angrily: "The boy will come to nothing" (5.3.45).
  • Freud notes that this memory reappears often in his dreams and that references to it "are always linked with an enumeration of my achievements and successes, as though I wanted to say: 'You see, I have come to something'" (5.3.45).
  • With this in mind, Freud recognizes that the blind old man in his dream represents his father—and that the dream is taking revenge on his father by making him debase himself by urinating in front of others.
  • Having considered various kinds of childhood memories in dreams, Freud now makes a tentative amendment to his argument. He suggests that "every dream [is] linked in its manifest content with recent experiences and in its latent content with the most ancient experiences" (5.3.47).
  • Freud concludes this section by drawing one more conclusion about the nature of dreams.
  • Freud writes: "Dreams frequently seem to have more than one meaning. Not only, as our examples have shown, may they include several wish-fulfilments one alongside the other; but a succession of meanings or wish-fulfilments may be superimposed on one another, the bottom one being the fulfilment of a wish dating from earliest childhood" (5.3.49).

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