Freud begins the final chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams by recounting a dream from an unknown source—a patient of his heard it at a lecture and then related it to Freud (7.1.1).
The dream was dreamed by a man whose son had been fatally ill for days. When the child died, his body was laid out in his room, with tall candles burning around it. The child's father went into an adjacent room to lie down and soon fell asleep.
As Freud says, "[a]fter a few hours' sleep, the father had a dream that his child was standing beside his bed, caught him by the arm and whispered to him reproachfully: 'Father, don't you see I'm burning?' He woke up, noticed a bright glare of light from the next room, hurried into it, and found that the old watchman had dropped off to sleep and that the wrappings and one of the arms of his beloved child's dead body had been burned by a lighted candle that had fallen on them" (7.1.2).
This dream interests Freud because it demonstrates further similarities and differences between the ways sleeping and waking minds process information. In his view, the light of the burning fire simply "shone through the open door into the sleeping man's eyes and led him to the conclusion which he would have arrived at had he been awake, namely that a candle had fallen over and set something alight in the neighbourhood of the body" (7.1.3).
At the same time, the dream also seized an opportunity for wish-fulfillment. Rather than prompting the father to wake right away, the dream enticed him to sleep just a few moments longer so he could see his beloved child "alive" once again (7.1.5).
Freud also finds this dream interesting because its meaning seems so obvious. As he notes, much of The Interpretation of Dreams up to this point has been concerned with "the secret meaning of dreams" (7.1.6).
For Freud, this dream highlights the fact that his "psychology of dreams" is not yet complete.
Despite the fact that he has established a complex and detailed methodology for dream-interpretation, he feels that he has yet to explain the mental processes that give rise to dreams. This is the topic that he will now take up for the remainder of the book.
Returning to the literary conceit in which he describes The Interpretation of Dreams as a kind of hike or "walking tour," Freud now cautions his readers that they are about to start off on a difficult new path.
Freud writes that "before starting off along this new path, it will be well to pause and look around, to see whether in the course of our journey up to this point we have overlooked anything of importance. For it must be clearly understood that the easy and agreeable portion of our journey lies behind us" (7.1.7).
Freud continues, "Hitherto, unless I am greatly mistaken, all the paths along which we have travelled have led us towards the light—towards elucidation and fuller understanding. But as soon as we endeavour to penetrate more deeply into the mental processes involved in dreaming, every path will end in darkness" (7.1.7).
With that said, Freud gets reader to tackle a whole new set of questions about human mental processes.