Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Family

By Sigmund Freud

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We're willing to bet that at some point, you've come across Freud's infamous theory of the Oedipus complex. What's that, you ask? Well, in The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud says that traditional family dynamics are much less straightforward than most turn-of-the-century Europeans would ever have believed. According to him, our parents are the first objects of our sexual desires. Like tragic King Oedipus in Sophocles's play Oedipus Rex, all of us (well, all guys, anyway; girls apparently have an "Electra complex") are fated to "direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father" (5.5.46).

How's that for a dysfunctional dynamic? Arrested Development's got nothing on this.

Questions About Family

  1. In The Interpretation of Dreams, what leads Freud to conclude that young children think of their parents as sexual rivals?
  2. To what extent does Freud explore the Oedipal dynamic in his own life—whether in terms of his childhood relationship to his parents, or in terms of his children's relationships with him?
  3. Aside from Freud's actual father, Jakob Freud, how many other father-figures appear in the personal dreams that Freud analyzes throughout the book? Why are they significant?

Chew on This

Although Freud thought of the Oedipus complex as a universal phenomenon, his theory was modeled on observations of conventional nuclear families—families including a father, mother, and one or more children. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud gives little sense of how different family dynamics might shape the psychological development of a child.

Although Freud explores his relationship with his father throughout The Interpretation of Dreams, he offers much less commentary on his relationships with his own sons. This suggests that he preferred not to think about the hatred and murderous wishes that his own boys might be directing toward him.

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