Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 7, Section A

By Sigmund Freud

Chapter 7, Section A

The Forgetting of Dreams

  • The first issue that Freud takes up is the relationship between memory and dreams.
  • Freud notes that "[i]t has been objected on more than one occasion that we have in fact no knowledge of the dreams that we set out to interpret, or, speaking more correctly, that we have no guarantee that we know them as they actually occurred" (7.2.1).
  • As Freud says, many other thinkers have raised concerns about the possibility that we may not only remember our dreams in an incomplete and fragmentary way, but also in a "positively inaccurate and falsified" way (7.2.2-3).
  • Freud reminds his readers that, up to this point, he has addressed such concerns by arguing that even the distortions, substitutions, or gaps that our memories produce as we interpret a dream can reveal something significant about the meaning of the dream.
  • As Freud says: "It is true that we distort dreams in attempting to reproduce them," "[b]ut this distortion is itself no more than a part of the revision to which the dream-thoughts are regularly subjected as a result of the dream-censorship" (7.2.6).
  • Freud also argues that doubt about the validity of dream-reports is another "derivative of the dream-censorship"—that is, "of resistance to the penetration of the dream-thoughts into consciousness" (7.2.8).
  • In Freud's view, if a dreamer feels particularly uncertain about a portion of a dream, it is probably because that element of the dream is encountering the most "censorship" and resistance.
  • With this in mind, Freud goes on to state that the "forgetting of dreams" is another example of strong censorship (7.2.9-10).
  • Turning once again to the dream in which he shared a train compartment with a pair of English siblings, Freud discusses the memory that "served as the model" for the grammatical error in the dream (7.2.11). Because the memory of the grammatical error in the dream had emerged "as an afterthought" during his analysis of the dream, he concludes that it must be particularly significant.
  • Although he refuses to enter into a full analysis of the dream (he says its contents are too indecent), Freud relates just enough to let us know that his grammatical error in the dream was attached to a number of associations having to do with gender and bodily functions (7.2.11).
  • Freud goes on to recount a number of examples in which his patients have "forgotten" full dreams, or parts of dreams, that were then remembered during the course of their analysis.
  • Freud also offers further examples of how repression causes dreams to be forgotten soon after they occur, and he states that without a strong understanding of repression, the processes of having and forgetting dreams cannot be understood (7.2.15).
  • Freud now shares another detail that lends support to his argument. He explains that in his experience, it has sometimes been easier to interpret one of his own dreams one or two years after the fact. In his view, this is because in the long time between the dream and the interpretation, he has been able to "overcome some of the internal resistance which had previously obstructed" his analysis (7.2.16).
  • With all of this in mind, Freud offers a number of other tips and tricks for the interpretation of dreams, including the importance of practice, of letting go of self-criticism and bias, of exercising patience, of not being too quick to assume that the true meaning of the dream has been discovered, and of not assuming that every dream can be interpreted (6.2.17-23).
  • As Freud returns to the issue of forgotten dreams, he says that there is one very important question left to be addressed. If some of our dreams encounter so much repression and resistance that we forget them, how is it that they came to be dreamed at all?
  • Freud's answer is that psychical resistance must be weaker at night (or whenever we are sleeping) than it is while we are awake (7.2.24). He also suggests that there's another possibility, but he says he'll come back to it later.
  • First, Freud wants to deal with "another set of objections" to his method of dream-interpretation—namely, that there's no justification for following apparently random associations wherever they may lead (7.2.26-27).
  • In response to these objections—which are mostly hypothetical—Freud insists again that our chains of association and "streams of ideas" are never without purpose. In his view, they always have significance (7.2.29).
  • As he moves toward the conclusion of this section, Freud offers some quasi-neurological examples to support this point and hypothesizes relationships between chains of associations and "organic cerebral processes" (7.2.30-35).

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