Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 6, Section C

By Sigmund Freud

Chapter 6, Section C

The Means of Representation in Dreams

  • Freud begins this section by noting that in addition to dream-condensation and dream-displacement, "two further determinants" shape the way dream materials are chosen.
  • Before he gets into that, though, Freud pauses to explain the reason he's only willing to develop his dream-interpretations up to a certain point. He says he's well-aware that the best way to prove his theories would be to choose a dream and go through it piece by piece, leaving absolutely nothing out. But he says that to do that would mean revealing very intimate details about himself—details even more intimate than those he's shared already. As much as he wants to prove his point, Freud isn't willing to go that far.
  • With these caveats in place, Freud gets back on track with his theorizing.
  • Freud begins by examining how dream-thoughts relate to one another. He asks the following: after the censoring processes of the dream-work have jostled, rearranged, and displaced our dream-thoughts, "what happens to the logical connections" that had previously brought the dream-thoughts together?
  • Freud argues that dreams themselves are incapable of representing certain kinds of logical connections, such as the causal, comparative, and hypothetical relationships represented by conjunctions like "if," "because," "just as," "although," and "either—or" (6.4.5). These kinds of relationships, he says, are only made clear by our interpretations after the fact.
  • With that said, Freud also argues that there are certain ways in which dreams do attemptto represent logical connections. One of these is by representing logical connections through "simultaneity in time" (6.4.12). He says that if a dream displays two elements "close together," "this guarantees that there is some specially intimate connection between what correspond to them among the dream thoughts" (6.4.13).
  • Freud goes on to argue that dreams also have two very similar procedures for representing causal relations. The most common is that the order of dreamed elements will suggest a cause-and-effect relationship. That is, the introductory element of a dream will be followed by another element that, during the course of interpretation, may be understood as the effect of the former.
  • As an example, Freud recounts a dream that was told to him by one of his female patients. In it, she began by dreaming that she "went into the kitchen, where her two maids were, and soon found fault with them for not having got her 'bite of food' ready. At the same time she saw a very large quantity of common kitchen crockery standing upside down in the kitchen to drain; it was piled up in heaps. The two maids went to fetch some water and had to step into a kind of river which came right up to the house or into the yard" (6.4.16).
  • This "introductory dream" was then followed by another, which Freud calls the "main dream." The "main dream" began with the patient "descending from a height over some strangely constructed palisades," and feeling "glad that her dress was not caught in them" (6.4.16).
  • Freud's interpretation of these dreams suggests that the "introductory dream" "related to the dreamer's parents' home," which was somewhat "mean and depressing." The "main dream" showed the dreamer at a "height," and Freud interprets this as a wish-fulfillment that expressed the woman's desire to be of "high descent." So, Freud argues that the "main dream" was actually shaped by the following thought: "Because I am of such low descent" (the "mean and depressing" circumstances represented by her parents' home), "the course of my life has been so and so" (6.4.17).
  • Freud adds that it isn't always safe to assume that a causal relationship is implied when one dream or dream-element follows another, but he says that this does seem to be the case in some dreams.
  • The other way that dreams attempt to represent causal relationships, says Freud, is by replacing one image with another. He notes, though, that "[t]he existence of a causal relation is only to be taken seriously if the transformation actually occurs before our eyes and not if we merely notice that one thing has appeared in the place of another" (6.4.19).
  • Freud argues that the concept of "either—or" "cannot be expressed in dreams in any way whatever." Instead, "[b]oth of the alternatives are usually inserted in the text of the dream as though they were equally valid" (6.4.21).
  • Freud also states that dreams "disregard" contraries and contradictions entirely, and seem to like combining them or "representing them as one and the same thing" (6.4.26). This can make interpretation tricky, because if dreams feel free "to represent any element by its wishful contrary," then it can be hard to tell whether the element itself, or its opposite, is closer to the kernel of the dream.
  • According to Freud, the most common logical connection that dreams make use of is "just as." He argues that dreams attempt to represent this relationship in a number of ways, including "identification" and "composition" (6.4.29).
  • In "identification" one person (or more than one) is represented by another. This happens in the Dream of Irma's Injection, as well as in Freud's Dream of Uncle Josef. In the Dream of Irma's Injection, "Irma" was identified with two other women, one of whom was Freud's wife. In the Dream of Uncle Josef, Freud understood that his friend "R." was his Uncle Josef.
  • Freud also notes that because dreams are "completely egoistic," it is often the case that when other people appear in our dreams, they may represent ourselves (6.4.34).
  • Freud adds that "localities"—i.e., places—can also be subject to identification, and he provides some examples (6.4.35).
  • Moving on to the topic of "composition," Freud writes that—unlike identification, which relates mostly to persons—"composition" relates to relationships between things.
  • (By "composition," Freud means "composite structures"—that is, composites of multiple things.)
  • As an example, Freud recalls an element from one of his patients' dreams in which a blossoming branch represented multiple things at once. The fact that she was holding the branch reminded her of religious iconography associated with virginity and purity; however, because the blossoms on the branch were red, they also seemed to represent sexual impurity (6.4.27). As Freud notes, the blossoms also reminded the dreamer of cherry blossoms, which called to mind many memories from her childhood and young adulthood (6.4.27).
  • Freud offers another example, in which a patient's dream of caviar combined a number of thoughts related to food, physical illness, and moral decline (6.4.37).
  • At this point, Freud repeats his statement that dreams have no way of expressing contradictions, contraries, or the concept of "no."
  • Freud also returns to his earlier comments on the concealment of dream-thoughts through their opposites, and he gives a number of examples in which successful interpretations required him to "reverse" the dream contents (6.4.38-41).
  • Freud moves on to consider the significance of varying "intensities" in dreams—that is, the fact that some dream-images seem crystal-clear, while others are frustratingly vague.
  • Freud argues that intensity is determined by two primary factors: "the elements by which the wish-fulfilment is expressed are represented with special intensity" and "the most vivid elements of a dream are the starting-points of the most numerous trains of thought" (6.4.46).
  • In other words, "the greatest intensity is shown by those elements of a dream on whose formation the greatest amount of condensation has been expended" (6.4.46). In even plainer plain speech: the elements that are most closely related to the true "kernels" or "cores" of the dream are the elements that'll stand out to us most vividly.
  • Freud also argues here that "[g]losses on a dream, or apparently innocent comments on it, often serve to disguise a portion of what has been dreamt in the subtlest fashion, though in fact betraying it" (6.4.49). This relates to his earlier statement that the associations that arise during the course of interpretation are always related to the dream-thoughts.
  • Freud provides a number of brief examples, then moves on to consider another quality of dreams: the fact that two or more dreams occurring in the same night might be different expressions of the same core meaning.
  • As one example, he recounts the story of Pharaoh's dreams of famine and plenty in the Book of Genesis. In one dream, Pharaoh dreams of ears of corn; in the other, he dreams of cows. In both, the symbolic objects prophecy the future of Egypt's agricultural production (6.4.54).
  • Freud also offers a number of other examples that his colleagues have collected, including examples from the records of Carl Jung and Otto Rank (6.4.55-57).
  • Freud now returns once again to the issue of "inhibited movement" in dreams. Having already demonstrated how this can work in "exhibition" dreams—dreams in which we appear naked, or partially clothed—he now discusses how inhibition can relate to other kinds of dream-content.
  • As an example, Freud uses another of his own dreams. This one makes an intriguing specimen because it seems to contradict Freud's earlier statement that dreams are incapable of expressing the concept "no."
  • The dream begins like this: "The place was a mixture of a private sanatorium and several other institutions. A manservant appeared to summon me to an examination. I knew in the dream that something had been missed and that the examination was due to a suspicion that I had appropriated the missing article" (6.4.60).
  • "Conscious of my innocence and of the fact that I held the position of a consultant in the establishment, I accompanied the servant quietly. At the door we were met by another servant, who said, pointing to me: 'Why have you brought him? He's a respectable person.' I then went, unattended, into a large hall, with machines standing in it, which reminded me of an Inferno with its hellish instruments of punishment. Stretched out on one apparatus I say one of my colleagues, who had every reason to take some notice of me; but he paid no attention" (6.4.60).
  • This long dream includes a number of other elements but ends as follows: "I was then told I could go. But I could not find my hat and I could not go after all."
  • In his interpretation of the dream, Freud concludes that it fulfilled his wish to "be recognized as an honest man." However, because he still found himself unable to leave at the end of the dream, it was as though the dream were saying to him: "After all you're not an honest man" (6.4.61).
  • Freud concludes that his inhibition in this dream not only helped to express a dream-thought, but also signified a strong "no"—a contradiction of the validation that Freud had been wishing for.
  • Freud goes on to argue that in other dreams, physical inhibition may represent "a conflict of will." That is, by seemingly wanting to move but finding ourselves unable to, our sense of inhibition may stand in for some other internal contradiction that we're grappling with.
  • Freud concludes this section by saying that he'll eventually discuss the strange but frequent circumstance in which we find ourselves saying, while asleep, "after all this is only a dream" (6.4.63).
  • For the moment, though, all Freud'll say about this is that this mode of self-assurance is meant "to detract from the importance of what is being dreamt." In other words, he believes that it's another form of censorship (6.4.63).

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