Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 7, Section C

By Sigmund Freud

Chapter 7, Section C

Wish-Fulfillment

  • Freud now returns to the topic of wish-fulfillment in dreams.
  • Freud states that wishes fulfilled by dreams are wishes that we don't necessarily perceive in our waking lives but that are able to present themselves while we are sleeping.
  • Freud then identifies three possible origins for wishes like these:
  • "It may have been aroused during the day and for external reasons may not have been satisfied; in that case an acknowledged wish which has not been dealt with is left over for the night"; or
  • "It may have arisen during the day but been repudiated; in that case what is left over is a wish which has not been dealt with but has been suppressed"; or
  • "It may have no connection with daytime life and be one of those wishes which only emerge from the suppressed part of the mind and become active in us at night" (7.4.3).
  • Freud then associates each of these kinds of wishes with a different area of the "ψ-system" and adds one more kind of wish to the list: "wishful impulses that arise during the night (e.g., those stimulated by thirst or sexual needs)" (7.4.3-4).
  • After discussing some of the differences between the intensities of childish and adult wishes, Freud suggests that "a conscious wish can only become a dream-instigator if it succeeds in awakening an unconscious wish with the same tenor and in obtaining reinforcement from it" (7.4.6).
  • In Freud's view, unconscious wishes "are always on the alert, ready at any time to find their way to expression when an opportunity arises for allying themselves with an impulse from the conscious and for transferring their own great intensity onto the latter's lesser one" (7.4.6).
  • (If you want, you can think of these wishes as obnoxious conversationalists—you know, the kind who take every opportunity to turn other people's comments back toward themselves.)
  • If that simile isn't working for you, check out Freud's: "These wishes in our unconscious, ever on the alert and, so to say, immortal, remind one of the legendary Titans, weighed down since primaeval ages by the massive bulk of the mountains which were once hurled upon them by the victorious gods and which are still shaken from time to time by the convulsion of their limbs" (7.4.6).
  • Freud makes another crucial addition to his theory when he adds that "a wish which is represented in a dream must be an infantile one" (7.4.6). Freud admits that he can't prove that this is a universal rule, but he insists that it "can be proved to hold frequently" (7.4.6).
  • As Freud continues to review the various kinds of thoughts that shape our dreams, he returns to a dream that he related earlier in the book—one in which his friend Otto seems to have Grave's disease (7.4.9).
  • Freud notes that although certain concerns from his waking life did help to shape the dream, the real core of the dream had to do with a "megalomaniac" wish from his childhood (7.4.9). As Freud argues, this wish simply used his conscious worries about his friend as an opportunity to make itself felt.
  • Freud goes on to discuss the ways in which dreams handle upsetting elements like "worries," "painful reflections," and "distressing realizations" (7.4.10). He says that in some cases, these elements will be replaced; in others, they will influence the "manifest" content of the dream (7.4.10). What's more, the affects that are attached to such elements in dreams may either be negative, positive, or indifferent (7.4.10).
  • Here again, Freud demonstrates why dreams like these may still be considered wish-fulfillments.
  • Freud also returns to the question of "punishment dreams" and argues that "they differ from other wishful dreams" (7.4.12). Here, he suggests that punishment dreams deal with wishes that don't belong to the "repressed" (i.e., the unconscious), but to the "ego" (i.e., the conscious) (7.4.12).
  • Since Freud isn't prepared to launch a full defense of this argument, he turns to an example instead. It's another of his own dreams—a particularly strange one, in which his son seems to be dressed like a seal (7.4.14).
  • Freud's analysis of the dream explores the distressing elements that it incorporated from Freud's waking life—among them, his worry that his son (a young soldier serving in WWI) would be killed in action. Buried beneath these elements, however, Freud discovers a deep sense of envy—the kind that is "felt for the young by those who have grown old" (7.4.15).
  • As Freud continues to discuss the relationship between "the residues of daytime life" and the unconscious wishes that make up dreams, he introduces a new simile:
  • "A daytime thought may very well play the part of entrepreneur for a dream; but the entrepreneur, who, as people say, has the idea and the initiative to carry it out, can do nothing without capital; he needs a capitalist who can afford the outlay, and the capitalist who provides the psychical outlay for the dream is invariably and indisputably, whatever may be the thoughts of the previous day, a wish from the unconscious" (7.4.16).
  • Freud goes on to discuss more details related to "the day's residue in dreams" (7.4.20), now introducing the term "transference" to explain how impressions taken from our waking lives can be linked to unconscious wishes (7.4.20-22).
  • Freud repeats yet another crucial point. Here, he argues that, while the "day's residues" are the "disturbers of sleep," dreams attempt to "guard" sleep (7.4.23). He promises to return to this point later.
  • For the moment, Freud returns instead to the question of why the unconscious "has nothing else to offer during sleep but the motive force for the fulfilment of a wish" (7.4.24).
  • To answer this question, Freud elaborates on the quasi-neurological argument that he's been developing and suggests that the unconscious seeks to "discharge" any stimuli that excite or disrupt it (7.4.25).
  • Here, Freud also suggests that in the earliest stages of the mind's development—that is, while children are very young—there may be a state in which wishes are "discharged" in such a way that they end in hallucinations, even during waking life (7.4.25). He suggests that, eventually, the experience of "seeing" our wishes fulfilled is relegated to our dreaming lives.
  • As Freud puts it, "What once dominated waking life, while the mind was young and incompetent, seems now to have been banished into the night—just as the primitive weapons, the bows and arrows, that have been abandoned by adult men, turn up once more in the nursery" (7.4.26).
  • With this in mind, Freud continues to explore how the "preconscious" system manages unconscious impulses during our waking lives—and how it relaxes its hold while we sleep.
  • Freud then goes on to discuss further similarities and differences between the dreams of "healthy" persons and the symptoms of "hysterics."
  • Freud concludes the section by repeating his point that dreams fulfill the dreamer's wish to sleep—a wish that he now associates with the preconscious system, specifically (7.4.29-33).

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